Tag Archives: Brazil

A modernist aesthetic of brasilidade

In Macunaímao herói sem nenhum caráter (Macunaíma, the hero without character) by the Brazilian musicologist, ethnomusicologist, poet, and cultural activist Mário de Andrade (1893–1945), the title character leaves his home deep in the jungle for a mystical quest to São Paulo to retrieve the muiraquitã, an amulet said to embody all of the history and traditions of his culture. Macunaíma succeeds in his mission, but in the process he undergoes a series of dramatic transformations; finally, he is changed into a constellation. He leaves for the firmament with a cryptic remark: He was not brought into the world to be a stone.

The story can be read as a metaphor for the cultural developments that Andrade helped to shape: He advocated bringing the jungle to the city to create the modernist aesthetic of brasilidade that informed the growth of the Brazilian creative arts and the parallel development of musicology and ethnomusicology there. Like Macunaíma, Brazilian modernism did not come into the world to be a stone, with all its implications of rigidity, contour, and well-defined boundaries—rather, brasilidade relishes improvisation, exploration, and fluid boundaries that can be perpetually transformed.

Read on in “Macunaíma out of the woods: The intersection of musicology and ethnomusicology in Brazil” by James Melo, an essay included in the RILM series Music’s intellectual history.

Other Bibliolore posts on Brazil:

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Literature, Musicology, South America

Astrud Gilberto, bossa nova cool

Astrud Gilberto, born Astrud Evangelina Weinert in Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil to a Brazilian mother and German father, was the voice of bossa nova. As a genre, bossa nova combined Brazilian samba rhythms and U.S. cool jazz elements while featuring an understated vocal style that complemented an acoustic guitar technique that featured plucked chords with jazz-influenced harmonies and chord progressions. Her rendition of The girl from Ipanema was sung quietly and melancholically without vibrato, in complete contrast to the extroverted rock ‘n’ roll numbers of the time. The song was composed in 1962 by Antônio Carlos Jobim and two years later appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto by singer and guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz. On the album–which marked the peak of the bossa nova craze, sold millions of copies, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year–Astrud sang two of the songs: The girl from Ipanema and Corcovado (Quiet nights of quiet stars).

As a young woman, she moved with her family to Rio de Janeiro in 1948 where she worked in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Astrud married João Gilberto in 1959 after meeting at a friend’s house with whom she had sung as an amateur in bossa nova shows. In 1963, she traveled to New York City and performed an English version of the song Garota de Ipanema on João’s LP with Stan Getz. The English release of The girl from Ipanema marked her international breakthrough, making both the song and bossa nova known throughout the world. Although The girl from Ipanema is one of the most covered songs, it was Astrud’s English version with a Brazilian accent that was first associated with the song.

Astrud continued her career with Getz Au Go Go (1964, with Stan Getz), The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965, nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Female Vocal Performance), and Look to the Rainbow (1966, with Gil Evans). Her hits included Água de beber (1965), The shadow of your smile (1965), and Desafinado (1966, with George Michael). Her final album, Jungle, was released in 2002. She received a Latin Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. Although Astrud never enjoyed massive success as a soloist, she was a prolific artist and collaborated with other major musicians throughout her long career as a vocalist.

Astrud Gilberto passed away on 5 June 2023 at the age of 83.

Read her obituary in MGG Online and locate information on her life and career in the Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Erudita, folclórica, popular (Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular, 2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).

Watch the video of Astrud Gilberto performing Corcovado below!

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Popular music, South America, World music

Luiz Gonzaga and traditional ecological knowledge

The Brazilian recording star Luiz Gonzaga made a career of singing about the drought-plagued northeastern Brazil countryside, where he is still revered as emblematic of the region.

For individuals who predict the weather based on natural patterns in the northeastern backlands, Gonzaga’s music continues to lend credibility, clarity, and local significance to the practice known as rain prophecy.

For example, his Acauã clearly conveys the meaning of the laughing falcon’s cry for the region’s inhabitants: it augurs and “invites” drought. “In the joy of the rainy season/sing the river frog, the tree frog, the toad/but in the sorrow of drought/you hear only the acauã.” The song ends with Gonzaga mimicking the bird’s call, evoking a sound that arouses powerful emotions in the region’s inhabitants.

When northeastern rain prophets cite Gonzaga’s songs, they add credibility to their own expertise, framing it in a context that most Brazilians can comprehend. Enhanced by his national fame and legendary status, Gonzaga’s voice continues to play a significant role in the maintenance of traditional ecological knowledge.

This according to “Birdsong and a song about a bird: Popular music and the mediation of traditional ecological knowledge in northeastern Brazil” by Michael B. Silvers (Ethnomusicology LIX/3 [fall 2015] 380–97).

Today is Gonzaga’s 110th birthday! Above, Gonzaga performing in the traditional costume of the northeastern rancheiros, in 1957 (Arquivo Nacional, public domain); below, his 1952 recording of Acauã.

BONUS: Gonzaga performs Acauã in a film intended for television broadcast. In his introduction he compares the local significance of the laughing falcon’s call with that of the purple-throated euphonia, which heralds rain.

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Filed under Animals, Curiosities, Popular music, South America

Gilberto Gil’s big hug

On Ash Wednesday 1969, shortly after being released from a military prison in the neighborhood of Realengo, Rio de Janeiro, Gilberto Gil composed the song Aquele abraço (Big hug), which would eventually become a landmark in the history of Brazilian popular music.

 It was his last day in Rio de Janeiro before he was placed under house arrest in Salvador (where he developed the melody and instrumentation for the song) and sent into exile due to his confrontation of the military dictatorship. The song became a kind of unofficial theme song of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In it, Gil referenced many personalities, events, neighborhoods, and traditions, creating a musical picture of the city. After his exile, the song acquired an added poignancy, as if he were greeting his beloved city from abroad.

Between that time and his work as Minister of Culture from 2003 to 2008, his musical innovations always went in tandem with his social and political activism, which were defining aspects of his career. Since the times of tropicália, Gil, along with his friend and fellow exile Caetano Veloso, has been at the center of some of the most important movements in Brazilian popular music. His imagination is boundless, his lyrics are superb poetic creations that honor the music and the cadence of the Portuguese language, and his effortless eclecticism continues to surprise.

Throughout his career, it was almost as if each new album stood at the beginning of something new. He has always been chameleonic and kaleidoscopic. No musical genre was beyond his reach: samba, choro, forró, reggae, rap, rock, folk song, ballad, candomblé. His works form a tapestry of the many musical traditions of Brazil, and it is literally impossible to single out any particular song as representative of his career.

His birthday comes two days after the traditional feast in honor of St. John (June 24), which is a major cultural event in northeastern Brazil, a showcase for the music, culinary traditions, dance, and costumes of the region. Here he is, donning a traditional hat from the heartlands of the northeast, celebrating the tradition in a live concert for the public of São Paulo. And so, “Aquele abraço” on his 80th birthday!

For a comprehensive biography, see GiLuminoso: A poética do ser–Gilberto Gil (São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial do Estado, 1999; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1999-49790). Above, Maestro Gil in 2012.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Capoeira’s hidden history

Capoeira, a Brazilian battle dance and national sport, was brought to Brazil by African slaves and first documented in the late 18th century. The genre has undergone many transformations as it has diffused throughout Brazilian society and beyond, taking on a multiplicity of meanings for those who participate in it and for the societies in which it is practiced.

Three major cultures inspired capoeira—the Congolese (the historic area known today as Congo-Angola), the Yoruban, and the Catholic Portuguese cultures. The evolution of capoeira through successive historical eras can be viewed with a dual perspective, depicting capoeira as it was experienced, observed, and understood by both Europeans and Africans, as well as by their descendants.

This dual perspective uncovers many covert aspects of capoeira that have been repressed by the dominant Brazilian culture. The African origins and meanings of capoeira can be reclaimed while also acknowledging the many ways in which Catholic-Christian culture has contributed to it.

This according to The hidden history of capoeira: A collision of cultures in the Brazilian battle dance by Maya Talmon-Chvaicer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2008-708).

Above, capoeira performers in São Paulo (photo by Fabio Cequinel licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0); below, capoeira performers in Salvador, Bahia.

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Filed under Black studies, Dance, South America, Sports and games

Forró and St. John’s Day

 

The date on the Catholic calendar commemorating the birth of St. John the Baptist, 24 June, is widely celebrated in northeastern Brazil. Festas juninas (June festivities, or St. John’s Day festivities) take place from early June to mid-July and are characterized by the presentation and representation of diverse cultural traditions of the region.

Forró, the typical music of this period, brings together diverse musical genres, dances, and a strong festive connotation. Although forró musicians born before the mid-1970s acquired their musical competence outside of formal educational institutions, large segments of the younger generation attend schools of music (though not necessary in lieu of other learning strategies). Meanwhile, changes in the organization of professional forró activities are linked to the larger transformations of northeastern festas juninas since the late 20th century.

This according to “Musicians in street festivals of northeastern Brazil: Recent changes in forró music and St. John’s Day festivities” by Carlos Sandroni, et al. (The world of music V/1 [2016] pp. 159–79).

Happy St. John’s Day! Above and below, forró as festa junina street dance.

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Filed under Dance, Popular music, South America

Jobim’s legacy

 

No other Brazilian musician has had as profound an impact on popular music as Antônio Carlos Jobim. He was at the vanguard of the Música Popular Brasileira movement, a cultural and sociological revolution of artists who shared a proclivity for flouting musical convention, and his 1959 Chega de saudade was fundamental in establishing the genre that became known as bossa nova.

While Jobim’s compositions contained elements of traditional Brazilian samba as well as classical and traditional music, his sophisticated harmonic sensibilities, adventurous approach to voice leading, and passion for tinkering with the traditional syntax and imagery of pop lyrics made him one of the most original and innovative musicians of his time.

This according to “Jobim, Antonio Carlos” by Jim Allen (Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century [New York: Routledge, 2013] p. 489); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Jobim’s 90th birthday! Below, singing his celebrated Águas de Março with Elis Regina, perhaps his greatest interpreter.

BONUS: Gal Costa sings Jobim’s Chega de saudade, often cited as the first bossa nova song.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Popular music

Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies

brasiliana

Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies is a dynamic academic forum where scholars from diverse disciplines in humanities and social sciences publish their research, establish academic discussion, exchange ideas, and draw on each others’ research within the field of Brazilian studies.

Brazil is currently establishing itself as an economic and political power within a global context, and the interdisciplinary study of Brazil is emerging at a high academic level. Several universities worldwide are offering programs under the term Brazilian studies, an area that differs from the more common Latin American studies. Academic communities of Brazilianists exchange ideas across universities and collaborate on research projects inside and outside Brazil. This is an academic journal absolutely dedicated to Brazilian studies.

Although the journal was launched by Statsbiblioteket, Aarhus, in 2012, it is new to RILM because vol. IV/1 (August 2015) is the first issue that features musical content.

Below, Vitor Ramil’s Milonga das sete cidades, the subject of one of the issue’s articles.

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Filed under New periodicals, Popular music

Gal Costa and tropicalismo

 

When tropicalismo erupted on the horizon of Brazilian popular music in the late 1960s, the Brazilian military dictatorship was in full swing. Not surprisingly, resistance, irreverence, and political confrontation became defining features of the movement, which in turn led the military government to pay very close attention to tropicalismo’s protagonists.

Gal Costa’s career unfolded in this highly charged context. She was the only female performer who was associated with tropicalismo from the very beginning and throughout the movement’s traumatic developments, and therefore became the muse-in-residence for all the tropicalists, and the most revered interpreter of their works.

Costa had an enormous impact on the reception of tropicalismo and its aesthetics, especially through her irreverent stage presence and performing style. She took to heart the confrontational aspects of tropicalismo and embodied them in her stage persona, which was constructed from a combination of musical, visual, and theatrical elements.

One of the most distinct aspects of her performances was the intense sexuality and eroticism that emanated from her onstage. She was a very accomplished guitarist, and for most of her early career she would accompany herself on the guitar, playing the instrument as she sat with her legs widespread and animated by a sensual, provocative movement that made many conservative spectators a bit uncomfortable. Her mass of unruly hair added an animalistic intensity that was made all the more vivid through her wild and aggressive vocalizations.

Costa gave voice to several of the iconic songs of tropicalismo, many of which were composed specifically with her vocal qualities in mind. In her first live album, Fa-tal: Gal a todo vapor (1971), she crystallized all the defining elements of her style. The album became a classic in the history of Brazilian popular music, and was ranked the 20th greatest Brazilian album of all time by Rolling Stone Brasil.

This according to “‘Eu sou uma fruta gogóia, eu sou uma moça’: Gal Costa e o Tropicalismo no feminino” by Rafael da Silva Noleto (Per musi: Revista acadêmica de música 30 [July–December 2014] pp. 64–75).

Today is Gal Costa’s 70th birthday! Below, the quintessential teasing, sultry tropicalista.

BONUS: A Brazilian friend describes this as “making Tom Jobim very happy in heaven.”

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Soap opera and social codes

 

The huge national prominence of popular music and soap operas in Brazil places both entertainment products as fundamental vectors of the social sharing of codes, values, lifestyles, and behavior.

For example, the interconnection between the song Você não vale nada mas eu gosto de você (You are worthless, but I like you) and the character Norminha in the soap opera Caminho das Índias (above) amplified a deep media debate about morality and sexuality, tempered with doses of humor and sympathy.

Through the plot and the soundtrack, a significant segment of Brazilian society interacted with strategies of sexual behavior as juxtaposed in the narrative with the vibrant sounds of electronic forró.

This according to “Sexualidad, moral y humor en la telenovela brasileña actual: Casamiento, traición, seducción y simpatía” by Felipe Trotta (TRANS: Revista transcultural de música/Transcultural music review 15 [2011]).

Below, Você não vale nada with stills from the show.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Popular music