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Brazilian Music Styles - The Bossa Nova

March 15, 2021
Brazilian music: Bossa Nova from Rio

Rio de Janeiro is a popular destination for many Brazil trips, thanks to its unique sights. Besides Sugarloaf Mountain, the Statue of Christ, and Tijuca National Park, the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are especially popular. Copacabana district, more precisely the alley Beco das Garrafas, is said to be the birthplace of bossa nova. Bossa nova is a popular Brazilian music movement that emerged in the late 1950s and is characterized by strong influences of samba from Rio de Janeiro and American jazz.

The history of Bossa Nova

Before we start talking about the history of bossa nova, first a brief overview of the context of that time. It was a period after the Vargas dictatorship, in a Brazil that was just beginning to get used to the idea of freedom. There was talk of reform and change. Especially after the election of Juscelino Kubitschek as president in 1955, the motto was "modernization". In this sense, industrialization and urbanization were central elements of many speeches and actions of that time.

Music could not escape this feeling of ascent and modernization. At the time, the samba-canção was successful, but it no longer fit the lifestyle of young people. Roberto Menescal, one of the founders of bossa nova, says that he and his friends were looking for more modern, happy music whose lyrics spoke about what they felt. Thus, in the 1950s, a group of young people from the southern zone of Rio de Janeiro began to reinvent themselves. At these meetings were big names in music, such as Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, Chico Feitosa, Ronaldo Bôscoli, and the great João Gilberto. Gilberto presented a new way of playing samba and thus gave birth to bossa nova. In bossa nova, influences of both Brazilian samba and American jazz can be found. The genre really became popular in the late 1950s with the album by João Gilberto and his interpretation of the song "Chega de saudade" by Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes.

The bossa nova movement lasted a little more than a decade and ended in 1966. It is important to mention that the end of the movement did not mean the end of musical creation, since even today composers and musicians try to unite the melodic tones and the Brazilian samba, such as Bebel Gilberto, João Gilberto's daughter.
Among the most famous musicians of bossa nova are João Gilberto, Carlos Lyra, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Nara Leão, Roberto Menescal, Vinícius de Moraes, and Chico Buarque.

Origin of the term "Bossa Nova"

The term "bossa" was first used in a song composed by Noel Rosa, "Coisas Nossas," in the 1930s. In the lyrics, Noel says, "O samba, a prontidão e outras bossas, são coisas nossas" ("The samba, the readiness and other bossas, are things of ours").
The expression was used colloquially to mean "a way of doing things." In this way, artists appropriated the term "bossa nova" to suggest that they were composing and singing in "a new way."

What characterizes bossa nova?

The Brazilian musical style became famous for its melodies and lyrics. The tone is different from the successful one of the great singers of the time. The performers sing deeper and softer, sometimes it almost reminds of a whisper. The lyrics of the songs tell stories and everyday themes in a light, cheerful way.
In addition to these elements, bossa nova has also incorporated the theme of modernization in several lyrics. It is not uncommon to find the figure of a narrator who speaks of experiences specifically in urban centers, or who directly quotes the movement of people on the sidewalks and the traffic of cars on the asphalt roads.
The main instrument of bossa nova is the guitar. But other instruments are also used, such as piano, flute, trumpet, saxophone, tambourine, bass, and drums. The main element of the style, the guitar, is also called the "stuttering guitar" because it does not accompany the rhythm of the voices.

Dance style

The dance style of bossa nova, which emerged around 1960, did not have the same success as the music. Until the mid-60s, it was known as a fashion dance. There is a certain similarity to the American rumba or the slow two-step.
There are about ten different step sequences known, all quite simple and mostly danced in a square. Hip swings, a soft gait, and sideways movements are allowed in this dance style, which can be danced alone or with a partner.

Garota de Ipanema

One of the most famous and also internationally much played Brazilian songs is "Girl from Ipanema", composed by Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes. The lyrics of the song, from the musicians' point of view, tell the story of a beautiful girl who is on her way to the beach and draws the attention of the observer to her beauty. The young girl is the presenter and journalist Helô Pinheiro, then 17 years old.
Released in 1964, the song has been interpreted by artists such as Amy Winehouse, Frank Sinatra, Cher, Madonna, Mariza, Tim Maia, Ella Fitzgerald, and several others. It is estimated that the hit song has been re-recorded by over 160 Brazilian and international artists. In addition to the re-recordings, the song is also featured in several movies. "Girl from Ipanema" even won a Grammy Award in 1965 for the best recording of the year.

Famous Bossa Nova Songs

If you are curious now and would like to listen to the bossa nova sounds yourself, we have put together a small selection of well-known songs for you:

  • Garota de Ipanema
  • Chega de saudade
  • Corcovado
  • O barquinho
  • Águas de março
  • Desafinado
  • Eu sei que vou te amar
  • Outra vez
  • Insensatez
  • Samba de uma nota só
  • Coisa mais linda
  • Saudade fez um samba
  • Se todos fossem iguais a você

As you can see, there are more styles of music in Brazil than just samba. And who knows, maybe you will hear one or the other bossa nova song on the radio during your next Brazil vacation.

Sources: mundoeducacao.uol.com.br, www.culturagenial.com, www.latin-mag.com, www.wikipedia.org

Source: Aventura do Brasil