Tag Archives: Brazil

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 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.


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

Brasiliana: Journal for Brazilian studies


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

Revista Vórtex

Revista Vórtex


In 2013 the Escola de Música e Belas Artes do Paraná at the Universidade Estadual do Paraná launched Revista Vórtex, an open-access online publication.

The journal encourages the submission of works from research areas including composition, computer music, musicology, theory, music education, and ethnomusicology. Vórtex accepts the submission of articles, translations, interviews, and scores in Portuguese, English, or Spanish. Concert, festival, CD, DVD, and book reviews are also accepted.


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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New periodicals

Chico Buarque’s political activism

During the military dictatorship in Brazil, which reached a high pitch of political and social repression between 1965 and 1980, the songs of Chico Buarque became vehicles for a strong, albeit veiled, political activism.

Endowed with a phenomenal lyric gift and an ability to penetrate the psyche of the most diverse human beings, Buarque was also skilled in the use of metaphor, the double entendre, the between-the-lines song text. As a consequence, he was able to say a great deal in his songs, without seemingly spelling out anything.

The military censors kept a close eye on him, leading him to complain that, out of every three songs that he wrote, two would be censored. It is all the more surprising, then, that the censors allowed the release of the song Apesar de você (In spite of you, 1970), a very obvious diatribe against the military regime and, more specifically, against the then president Emílio Garrastazu Médici.

Buarque was interrogated several times and asked to explain who was the “you” to which the song consistently refers. According to one of the versions of the interview, he said that the “you” was a very authoritative and bossy wife, and the song was the rant of her unhappy husband. Needless to say, the censors did not buy the explanation, but there was nothing specific in the text of the song that they could point to as a direct attack on the government.

The song is emblematic of Buarque’s remarkable resiliency while navigating the political minefield of the time. Many of his songs from that period testify to this same ability. His highly nuanced, subtle, poetically charged song texts can indeed be read in many different ways, and could easily be construed as the depiction of a domestic, rather than a political, drama. Throughout the duration of the military regime he offered Brazilian society a vehicle in which its entire voice could reverberate, shielded from military scrutiny by the poetic beauty of the texts.

The text of Apesar de você  is reproduced in Chico Buarque: Tantas palavras—Todas as letras (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2006).

Today is Chico Buarque’s 70th birthday! Below, Maria Bethânia performs Apesar de você; a free English rendition of the song’s text appears under the video.

Apesar de você (In spite of you)

Tomorrow will be another day…

Today, you’re the one who calls the shots.
Whatever you say, it’s been spoken
And there’s no arguing.
Today, my people walk around
Talking sideways and looking toward the ground.
You who invented this situation
By inventing all darkness,
You who invented sin
Forgot to invent forgiveness.

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day.

I ask you, where will you hide
From the great euphoria when it comes?
How will you forbid it
When the rooster insists on crowing?
New water will be flowing
And our people will be loving one another, nonstop.

When that moment arrives
I’m going to charge you

For all this suffering of mine,

And with interest to boot, I swear.
All this repressed love,
All these contained screams,
All this samba in the dark.

You who invented sadness,
Now do us the favor of “disinventing” it.
You’re going to pay double
For every tear that I’ve shed

In this anguish of mine.

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day
I can hardly wait to see
The garden in full bloom,
The one you didn’t want to see blooming.

You’re going to be tormented,
Seeing the day break
Without asking your permission
And I’m going to have my big laugh at you
Because that day is bound to come
Sooner than you think.

In spite of you
Tomorrow will be another day

You will be forced to see the morning reborn
And pouring out poetry.

How will you explain it to yourself
Seeing that the sky has suddenly cleared,
And there’s no more punishment?

How are you going to stifle the chorus of our voices
Singing right in front of you,
In spite of you?

In spite of you
Tomorrow is going to be another day
And you’re going to be out of luck.


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Filed under Popular music

Folia de reis and family

The folia de reis Christmas tradition of southeastern Brazil involves a group of musicians and clowns traveling from house to house in a symbolic re-enactment of the journey of the Magi. The performers sing to bless the families they visit, and the families contribute money and food; the money is used to mount a festival on 6 January for the contributors.

Familial symbolism operates on various levels: At each stop, the group begins with an adoration of the Holy Family; then they sing directly to the members of the family they are visiting, with verses ordered to reflect traditional familial hierarchy; and the culminating festival unites all of the faithful in a symbolic extended family. The performing group itself is organized on a familial model.

This according to “The family in song: Vocal organization in the Brazilian folia de reis” by Suzel Ana Reily, an essay included in Ethnomusicologica II (Siena: Accademia Musicale Chigiana, 1993) pp. 203–213. Below, folia de reis in Miracema.

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Filed under Humor

Tropicália and Bahia


The tropicália movement of the 1960s, which coincided with a period of intense cultural and political unrest in Brazil, emphasized the country’s multiethnic identity by incorporating the entire spectrum of Brazilian music. Although the movement had an ostensibly political framework of national scope, many of its products had deep roots in the traditional music of Bahia, the most important reservoir of Afro-Brazilian culture.

Among tropicália’s most important figures were Afro-Brazilian singer-songwriters such as Gilberto Gil and Tom Zé; several other artists connected with the movement hailed from Bahia. An overview of song texts and musical features of tropicália shows that the influence of Bahia’s traditional music and culture remained a strong factor behind even the most avant-garde experiments of the various artists who converge under that rubric. The website Tropicália is an extensive resource for exploring tropicalismo, the aesthetic of tropicália.

This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.

Below, Gil speaks about Bahia, tropicália, and political suppression. Many thanks to James Melo for his help with this post!

Related article: Macunaíma and brasilidade


Filed under Politics, Popular music, Resources