The (Brazilian) Beat Goes On

I fell in love with Brazilian music began before I ever set foot in Brazil.

Indeed, I remember with great sharpness my first formal “introduction” to Brazilian music (I’m not including elevator versions of “The Girl from Ipanema”). I was in my early 20s and living in Paris and had just fallen in love with a Brazilian who took me to see a musician/singer-songwriter from Bahia by the name of Gilberto Gil.

Although I’d heard his name before, I knew nothing about Gil’s music. On the occasion of the launch of his new album at the time, Gil gave a small pocket show at a large Parisian record store and my excited and homesick and very new boyfriend insisted we go.

I was moved by Gil’s warm, honey-like voice and the fluid embrace of his melodies, but what really made an impression was the reaction of the Brazilian fans, among them my boyfriend.

I was moved by Gil’s warm, honey-like voice and the fluid embrace of his melodies, but what really made an impression was the reaction of the Brazilian fans, among them my boyfriend. As Gil sang, their faces lit up and their bodies started jiggling, swaying, samba-ing. Sweetly, lustily, as if their lives depended upon it, they sang along with Gil (often overwhelming him). Uncannily, they seemed to know all the lyrics to all the songs.

I remember hanging back, stiff, silent, and terribly seduced. Not only had I never heard Gilberto Gil, but I had never seen this side of my boyfriend; I was terribly impressed and even a little jealous at feeling excluded from what I intuited was a vast and powerful world; the world of música brasileira.

I decided, then and there, that I wanted a passport to this place – I wanted IN!

From that moment on, I was hooked. Not only on the boyfriend, but on the music.

Of course, the boyfriend was more than happy to share the music with me. He bought me fitas (cassettes – ah the good old days!) of musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa, Elis Regina, Milton Nascimento … each one a vast, autonomous province within this seemingly limitless musical territory. He also painstakingly, and with great pride, translated all the lyrics for me.

But, while on one hand, I was avid to know what these captivating voices were singing about, truth be told, the rhythmic and sensual sounds of Brazilian Portuguese in themselves were enough for me. Before long, mispronouncing terribly, I could croon along rapturously with the likes of Caetano and Gal – (like all Brazilians, I was quickly on an intimate first-name basis with the country’s leading musical stars) – even though I often had only a vague notion of what exactly they were singing about.

My love affair with Brazilian music only intensified once I learned Portuguese, visited Brazil, and finally moved here. It’s impossible to overstate how entwined Brazilian life and Brazilian music are. And just as there are many Brazils, there are countless Brazilian musical styles. For me, one of the best things about living in Brazil was that some of this beautiful music became not only a backdrop, but a rich soundtrack to key events of my life.

I used to be pretty up-to-date with the Brazilian music scene, but in recent years I’ve lost touch somewhat. Like in other parts of the world, Brazil’s record industry is deflated and nobody buys CDs anymore. The musical scene is still incredibly rich, but it’s more fragmented and indie-oriented. Moreover, like many of my friends (now in their 40s), I’ve become somewhat nostalgically hooked on the classics, which I play over and over again.

For this reason, I was happy to discover that NPR had just broadcast a two-part series devoted to new Brazilian music on its Alt.Latino program. Curated by Béco Dranoff, a leading Brazilian record, film, and radio producer who provides enthusiastic and informative commentary, the music featured on “All About Brazil” Part I and Part II hails from all over the country.

Mixing international genres (hip-hop, electronica) and local roots (samba, manguebeat) in unique and audacious manners, the songs chosen are incredibly eclectic; while some are beguilingly Brazilian (see the above clip for Samba do Blackberry by the band, Tono, whose guitarist is Gilberto Gil’s son, Bem), others are so transcendental that they could have been produced anywhere on the planet.

I highly recommend that anyone with a fleeting interest in Brazilian music, or music period, log on and listen to both 30-minute shows (you can also download the individual songs, watch videos, and visit artist websites with many more offerings). Personally, listening to these selections was an exciting experience; it whetted my appetite to do a lot more traveling in the vast world of música brasileira.


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