Rebeca Duran

Rebeca Duran

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Brazilian Music Styles

Rebeca Duran

Rebeca Duran

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Brazil is known worldwide by its diversity, reflected in culture, society and religion. The large range of diversity can be also perceived in music.

Bossa Nova is worldwide recognized as a Brazilian music style, mainly due to Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Morae's song: Garota de Ipanema. The song is the second most listened to in the whole world and was translated into English with the name of The Girl from Ipanema. It was sung by a lot of international artists such as Frank Sinatra, Cher, Madonna and Amy Winehouse and it's still listened to nowadays.

Girl from Ipanema, may have rocked generations worldwide, but despite it's success Bossa Nova and Samba aren't the only musical styles derived from Brazil. The country – as the Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso has sung – "it's an absurd/ might be an absurd/ So far so good/ not bad/ Brazil is an absurd/ But he's not deaf/ Brazil has a musical ear/ That is not normal".

The Foreign Influence X National Style

Caetano's song couldn't be more accurate when describing Brazil as a country with an abnormal musical taste. The singer's compliment to Brazilian music is very linked to the different and diverse origins from which the national music was born.

During its history, the country had seen so many people, languages, nationalities and ethnicities manifesting and establishing themselves in this territory that it isn't any surprise that Brazilian music was influenced by this wave of immigration.

In the colonial period, Portuguese influence – through colonizers, and followed by Africans transported by slave ship – arrived in Brazilian lands. European religious songs and African rhythms were the first musical notes heard in Brazil after the decimating of the Indians, letting their music and culture fall into oblivion.

The First Music Styles

These were the first styles that appeared in Brazil, marked by the huge influence of foreign rhythms:

  • Modinha: arrived in 1750 from Portugal with melodic, romantic and dramatic aspects.
  • Lundo: brought by Congo and Angola in 1780, was one of the embryonic elements that composed the future Samba.
  • Rancho Carnavalesco: through drumming of African origin, the first traces of Samba are drawn in Rio de Janeiro in 1870.
  • Choro: in 1880 a new gender of music appeared in Rio de Janeiro through small instrumental groups.

Brazilian Identity and Recognition

In the beginning of the XX century, Brazilian identity started to show up with maxixe, the first dance derived from a genuine Brazilian musical gender. Maxixe is a mix of the african lundo with the tango from Argentina, with the cuban habanera and the polca.

The dance was considered so scandalous and polemic for it's time that it caught not only national eyes. In 1914, during the First Great War, for the first time in it's history, Brazilian Music was a target of European attention as an embryonic and provocative style of samba. Until 1922, maxixe became one of the largest successes of dance on the old lady lands.

Brazilian Music Nowadays

After maxixe has launched the Brazilian true roots in music, other genders take place in the country all over the century. Due the large extension of the territory and the mixture of different peoples, a large quantity of music styles were and still are originated in Brazil. Above you find out the most famous and listened nowadays.


The journalist and writer, Cornélio Pires, was the pioneer of the sertanejo music. He started to bring a lot of rural habits to urban centers via theater and music. In 1922, a famous Brazilian writer – Mario de Andrade – invited Cornélio to participate in the Week of Modern Art – a very important event in Brazilian history that launched modern art in the country. His presentation during this week was later recognized as the first performance of setanejo.

The style spread over the whole Brazilian territory after the 1930's and, with time, a huge number of artists were launched, but now organized into duets. Chitãozinho and Xororó, Leandro and Leonardo, Zezé di Camargo and Luciano and lot of other duets started to pop up in Brazil until the beginning of the 1990, when sertanejo lost his popularity. It was only in the 2000's that this music style passed through a revival phase, with new names appearing in the sertanejo scenario.

In 2009 Luan Santana – the first teen idol of sertanejo music – started to make success. Since then, sertanejo revived on radio music broadcasts, in TV and also in Brazilian youth; although, the oldest aspect of rural and rustic music in which sertanejo was born received a new name: música de raíz. The new generation of this style change the sertanejo approach, giving it some glam and replacing the old guitar by the electric one.


The year 1917 is considered the official birth of samba, a mixing of maxixe with rhythmic phrases of the Bahia folklore. Samba was after spread throughout Brazil dominating the carnival and the whole world. Samba is the most famous Brazilian musical style, and for that reason has many other sub genres inside it such as:

  • Pagode: Born in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in the 70s, and won the radios and dance floors in the next decade. Has a repetitive rhythm and uses percussion instruments and electronic sounds. Spread rapidly throughout Brazil, thanks to simple and romantic lyrics. The main groups are: Fundo de Quintal, Negritude Jr., Só para contrariar, Raça Negra, Katinguelê, Patrulha doSamba, Pique Novo and Travessos.
  • Samba-canção: Appears in the 1920s, with slow rhythms and sentimental lyrics. Example: Ai Ioiô by Luís Peixoto.
  • Carnival Samba: composed by samba marches – known as marchinhas – and made to be danced and sung in carnival events. Examples: Abre alas, Cabeleira do Zezé, Bandeira Branca, Chiquita Bacana, Colombina and many others.
  • Samba-exaltação: With patriotic lyrics highlighting the wonders of Brazil, with orchestral accompaniment. Example: Aquarela do Brasil, from Ary Barroso recorded in 1939 by Francisco Alves.
  • Samba de breque: This style has moments of quick stops, where the singer can include comments, many of them in critical or humorous tone. One of the masters of this style is Moreira da Silva.
  • Samba de gafieira: It was created in 1940 and has orchestral accompaniment. Fast and very strong in the instrumental part, it is widely used in ballroom dancing.
  • Sambalanço: Emerged in the 50s in nightclubs in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Received a strong influence of jazz. One of the most significant representatives of Sambalanço is Jorge Ben Jor, which mixes elements of other styles too.

Bossa Nova

Bossa nova is a Brazilian popular music movement of the late 50s released by João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and by middle class young singers and/or songwriters from the south area of Rio de Janeiro. The style was derived from samba, with a strong jazz influence. Initially, the term “bossa nova” was used only to describe a new way of singing and playing samba at that time.

With the song Chega de Saudade from Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, recorded by Elizabeth Cardoso in 1958, the bossa nova is finally inaugurated in Brazil and in the world. Bossa nova gave space to new marks to traditional samba and gave to it a more sophisticated approach. Over the years, bossa nova became one of the most influential movements in the history of Brazilian popular music, with the song Girl from Ipanema, mentioned earlier, becoming it's anthem.

Although, in the first half of the 1960s, the style went through transformations derived from a new generation of composers. The new artists appeared in the music scenario named as sons of bossa nova. Sons like Geraldo Vandré, Taiguara, Edu Lobo and Chico Buarque de Hollanda had little or nothing of this music style. That's why the winning of the II Festival of Brazilian Popular Music by Disparada from Geraldo Vandré and by A Banda from Chico, made bossa nova finally come to an end.

Música Popular Brasileira (MPB)

Appreciated mainly by the urban middle classes in Brazil, MPB emerged in 1966, with the sons of Bossa Nova. In practice, the abbreviation MPB announced a merger of two previously divergent musical movements: bossa nova –defending the musical sophistication– and folk engagement of Popular Culture Centers of the National Union of Students (UNE) – defending loyalty to Brazilian music roots.

The purposes of both movements were mixed, and with the dictatorial regime in 1964 the two movements have become a broad cultural front against the military regime, adopting the abbreviation MPB in their battle flag. The new genre at first present a distinctly nationalistic profile, but with time, comprised several diffuse trends of Brazilian music.

MPB has cover other mixtures of rhythms like samba and rock – giving rise to a new style known as samba-rock – and pop and Samba, with famous artists like Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque and others.

At the end of the 1990s, the mixture of Latin music influenced by reggae and samba gave space to a new genre known as samba reggae. Even though extensive, the MPB should not be confused as comprising all music of Brazil, it's a specific music style.


When in 1945 the northeast musician Luiz Gonzaga recorded Dança Mariquinha, the first generation of Forró was launched - a rhythm and type of dance typical of the Northeast of Brazil. Given the vagueness of the term, there is no consensus on the definition of forró as a musical style, the name is usually associated as a generalization of various musical rhythms of Northeast region.

Forty years later, in the 1980's decade, another northeast musician named Jorge de Altinho inaugurated a second Forró generation, together with Alcimar Monteiro and Novinho da Paraíba, with the introduction of wind instruments in this music style.

The third generation arrived with the 1990's in the city of Fortaleza. The band Mastruz com Leite, created a model of forró band that stands up to the present: a mega structure with alternating musicians, costumes and a great marketing apparatus. After Mastruz com Leite, in 2000, appeared in the university students scenario the band Falamansa, that tried to revive the first generation of forró.

Funk Carioca

In 1970, in Rio de Janeiro arises a typical carioca phenomenon: the baile funks – funk balls. This genre of music originated from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, despite the name, is different from the funk from the United States. Funk in Rio was influenced by a new rhythm of Florida, Miami Bass, which featured songs full of eroticism and faster beats.

From 1989, when the balls started to attract more and more people, songs in Portuguese were released. The lyrics portray the daily lives of favela's inhabitants, but those weren't the only fans of funk. In the mid of the 2000's decade, funk invaded concert halls and nightclubs of the elite, becoming fashionable among young upper class.

The funk continues today in high across the country, mainly in Rio de Janeiro, and also makes quite successful among foreigners who visit Brazil. Names like MC Naldo, MC Marcinho, Tati Quebra Barraco and Bonde Tigrão make a lot of success.

Although funk is a very successful style in Brazil, it's target of strong criticism from society because of creative poverty, by presenting an obscene and vulgar language, and to it's incitement to violence and to consumption and trafficking of drugs.

Axé Music

Axé emerged in the state of Bahia in the 1980s during the demonstrations of the Carnival of Salvador, mixing frevo from Pernambuco, african-Brazilian rhythms, reggae, merengue, forró, maracatu and other rhythms african-Latinos.

In 1985, the song Fricote, by Luiz Caldas, officially inaugurated the movement axé music, characterized by strong use of Brazilian instruments of percussion and by lyrics about the sensuality of the body, the sway of the hips and dances, the irony and the double meanings.

The word “axé” is a religious greeting which means positive energy, used in Candomblé and Umbanda – religions with African origins are very common and practice in Bahia. With the push of the media, the axé music quickly spread throughout the country with the completion of off-season carnivals, the Micaretas.

This style strengthened with a great market potential, producing successes throughout the whole year, with the biggest names being Daniela Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, Claudia Leitte, among others.