Brazilian Popular Music – all-time greats

The Opening Ceremony of the Olympics created a debate about the merits of the singers chosen. According to the previous news items, the organisers had chosen several artists who are currently popular – Anitta, Ludmilla, and Wesley Safadão – appearing to forget great artists of the past. But in the end the traditions of Brazilian music were well represented – Daniel for Tom Jobim, Jorge Ben Jor, Elza Soares and Zeca Pagodinho appeared, as well as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Paulinho de Viola and others. The most surprising omission was of Ivete Sangalo, the queen of present popular singers, and a most accomplished artist for large stadium crowds. (However, in an interview, she showed no resentment, saying those starting out should have their chance).

The Umbrella editors asked me to choose an alternative list of songs (and musicians) to represent Brazilian music. This is a big challenge, among the huge wealth of musicians and songs – but should be good for starting a debate about the ones missed out!

So here is a choice of 15 All-time greats from Brazilian Popular Music as made by me and my children (for the more recent ones) These are not in order of merit, but in chronological order – oldest first:


Pixinguinha: Carinhoso.

Born in Rio in 1897, Pixinguinha grew up in a household full of music – “Choro” – and early showed great talent for the flute, which he played professionally from 14 on. By his death in 1973, he had written some 2000 compositions – usually instrumental and typically fluid and melodic. He wrote Carinhoso in 1917, but put it aside because it didn’t have the 3-part format traditional at the time. He first recorded it in 1928, and in 1937 Braguinha fitted words to it. When it was recorded by Orlando Silva it simply took off in popularity, and has been a favourite ever since. Who doesn’t know “…. Vem, vem, vem, veeem/ Vem sentir o calor/ Dos lábios meus/ A procura dos teus…”?


João Gilberto: Chega de Saudade

João Gilberto is the guitar player from Bahia whose subtle rhythms and quiet singing started a revolution in Brazilian Popular Music from the late 1950s. Chega de Saudade was written by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, and quite transformed by João Gilberto’s way of singing it. In 1958 it was not an instant success, but the sophistication and subtlety were what the young needed to be different. They grasped it, became addicted, and in the huge wave of creativity which followed, the style of music became known as Bossa Nova. The link takes you to the song on João Gilberto’s original album.


Tom Jobim: Garota de Ipanema (1963)

Antonio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim is perhaps the best-known composer to emerge from the Bossa Nova movement. With lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, the duo produced classic after classic – gently swaying rhythm, subtle changes in harmony, charming romantic verses full of poetry.

The link takes you to the recording of the Girl from Ipanema which opened up the US market to the charms of Bossa Nova – sung by João Gilberto in Portuguese, Astrud Gilberto in English, with the tenor sax of Stan Getz and the sparse apposite piano of Tom Jobim.


Samba do Imperio Serrano: Aquarela Brasileira (Carnaval 1964)

Among the huge number of Carnaval sambas, this one by Silas de Oliveira has a special place because the words take you on a tour of all the regions of Brazil – praising each one in turn. Perhaps inspired by Aquarela do Brasil by Ary Barroso (but to not to be confused with it) this version of the Samba-enredo is sung by Martinho de Vila, another icon of MPB, and himself a prolific composer.


Beth Carvalho: Andança

I have always loved this song, with the interleaving of the soloist with the men’s chorus. It is great in the full, sonorous voice of Beth Carvalho, recorded in 1968.


Chico Buarque: Apesar de você

What to choose from the important production of Chico Buarque: fine songs with wonderful lyrics? This one from 1970 is special because the words are apparently about a lover’s quarrel, but also can be interpreted as a protest against the repression of the Military regime –.”..Você que inventou o pecado/ Esqueceu-se de inventar/ O perdão…..The censors passed the song for distribution, but when they realised it had become the hymn of the “resistencia” they withdrew it for a time from circulation.


Gilberto Gil: Expresso 2222 (1972)

This is a tour de force because of the tremendous rhythm and the percussion of the words against the beat. Brilliant.


Gonzaguinha: o que é, o que é? (1977)

This is a great samba, and the word are a philosophy of living: “..Viver!/ E não ter a vergonha/ De ser feliz……Somos nos que fazemos a vida/ Como der, ou poder, ou quiser… É a vida, é bonita/ E é bonita…”


Caetano Veloso: Sampa (1978)

For so many years Caetano is making music from the simplicity of voice and guitar… And it’s nice to hear someone singing the charms of São Paulo…not forgetting some criticism too…


Milton Nascimento: Canção da America (1980) 

Milton deserves a place for his fine songs and influence on other musicians – though I personally am not a great fan of his voice. Hard not to choose Travessia, but Canção da América wins with  the lines “Amigo é coisa para se guardar/ Debaixo de sete chaves/ Dentro do coração..”


Legião Urbana: Pais e Filhos

One of the outstanding Brazilian Rock bands from 1982 to 1996, Legião Urbana centred round Renato Russo, leader and vocalist. His lyrics were thoughtful, philosophical, talking about the issues for youth and their times. This one from 1989 is about family relationships, and leaving home: “…É preciso amar as pessoas/ Como se não houvesse amanhã/ Porque se você parar pra pensar/ Na verdade não há…”


Paralamas do Sucesso: Lanternas dos Afogados (1989)

Remarkably long-lived, Paralamas have been going from 1977 to now, in spite of their leader, Herbert Vianna, having suffered a tragic accident in 2001 in an ultraleve in Mangaratiba. Just a 3-man group, coherent, competent and with fine backing musicians, they have moved through the years from selling records, to doing shows, doing tours, recording videos clips and making DVDs – and still going strong!


Lenine: Jack Soul Brasileiro

Another long-lived, long-career artist – Oswaldo Lenine Macedo Pimentel is a Chemical Engineer from Recife and an ecologist apart from doing everything in the musical sphere. This 1999 track is tremendously swingy, with full orchestral backing and humorous words: “Eu canto pro rei da levada/ Na lei da embolada/ Nä língua da percussão/ A dança mugango dengo/ A ginga do mamolengo/ Charme dessa nação…


Ivete Sangalo: Quando a chuva passar (2005) 

Since carrying the Banda Eva from Salvador’s Carnaval to high success, Ivete has shown that she has multiple talents apart from her contralto voice – composer, presenter, instrumentalist, actress, businesswoman – a fine interpreter, remarkably good-looking, completely assured of herself. She can do megashows (the DVD of one in Maracanã sold a million copies) – and this song is an intimate moment from one of them.


Cidade Maravilhosa Marchinha (1935)

This Carnaval march composed by André Filho was first recorded in 1934 by the sister of Carmen Miranda, Aurora, and was always included by Carmen in her shows. In the 60s it was officially adopted as the hymn of Rio de Janeiro. No big show about Brazil can leave it out!

 If you go to read the digital version of this essay on, you can click on the link for each piece of music and hear it (from You Tube).


So no doubt this list is as notable for its omissions as its inclusions, but hear them if you can…… and Good Listening!

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