By Lizoel Costa
The origins of what now is called “Brazilian Popular Music” (or MPB) go as far the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th with the musical parties of such pioneers as Chiquita Gonzaga. The music was a mix of the Portuguese “modinha” and the African “Lundu” and started to give a big shake at the well mannered dance ballrooms of its time with the malice and the rhythm created by the Brazilians with African adcendance.
Later, in 1917, Ismael Silva set again the world on fire with the arrangement for the historical “Pelo Telefone” (“By the Telephone”, the first samba ever recorded) written by Donga and Mauro de Almeida and sang by Bahiano. Ismael introduced a rhythmic pattern that was very distant from that mix of European and African music. The Brazilian chants, just like the music from the American slaves – the Blues, had the trademark of a crying that came from the Christian repression, that didn’t admit the African drums.
The Brazilian Music, made by our slaves, acquired the tolerance of the catholically priests, that accepted the afro religious cults as the “senzalas” (the place where the slaves stayed at the farms). This “syncretism license” left an unique and very particular mark in our musical history.
With all these secular foundations, where the mixture was given an inimitable face, the Brazilian Music started to evolve throughout the 20th century. We can name some brilliant followers like Sinhô, Pixinguinha, Noel Rosa, Geraldo Pereira, Assis Valente and Ary Barroso, the privileged voices of Mario Reis and Orlando Silva, or the charisma of Carmen Miranda.
All these motions will end up on the Golden Age of the Radio in the 50’s. The mutation of influences continues and they will become the famous (first in Brazil, later in the entire world) Bossa Nova. In my opinion a landmark moment, that João Gilberto (who allegedly created the new rhythm) didn’t admit to be called “samba-jazz”.
Although Carmen Miranda, even through a folkloric and kitsch approach, has showed the Brazil to the world with her Hollywood movies, the Brazilian Popular Music only won the international approval with the Bossa-Nova. The new musical style created a new “manual” of how to sing and play with more sophistication, in a perspective that only jazz used to have. Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Johnny Alf, Carlos Lyra e Roberto Menescal were the main ambassadors.
After the “stool and an acoustic guitar” era, a new generation started to drink from these waters and they would generate fruits that feed many decades of musical creation in the years to come. Forged, at first, on the huge musical festivals of the sixties (* note – in Brazil these Festivals where not Festivals in the Woodstock vein, but real competitions like a “Battle of the Bands”), the Tropicalia movement used the Bossa Nova as a starting point, but added a lot of new elements to the Brazilian Music like the electric guitar, something that upset and caused outrage at the most conservative people.
That was the tonic until the late seventies, where the political resistance had on the MPB and his icons like Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethanea, Elis Regina, Gonzaguinha and the people from the state of Minas Gerais (whose leader was Milton Nascimento) very important allies.
A new decade, the 80’s, shines on the horizon with new perspectives and more political freedom. There’s the “Vanguarda Paulistana” (or Sao Paulo avant guard) depurating old lessons from his masters, digesting everything and turning the MPB in something new. At the same time the Brazilian Rock also walks that same line of bringing a new ehisper, a feeling of rejuvenation, even if with the strong influence of the British rock movements. Even so, as the decade continues, bands like Os Paralamas do Sucesso, Titãs, Ira! And Legião Urbana, to name only a few, little by little leaves the foreign influences behind and starts to find their own way in the rich Brazilian melting pot.
The reunion of the Brazilian music with its deepest roots will happen in the 90’s, where the internet and the globalization start a revolution in the recording industry. Now, it’s not up only the major labels, and their old fashioned politics, that have the privilege to say what shouldn’t be played or heard.
Little by little the Brazilian rock is meeting sound of samba created by Sinhô almost a hundread years ago and coming with new proposals and ideas, throughout the new works of such pioneers as the Paralamas. It’s good to realize that the newest generations that keep coming don’t separate any concept regarding the way of making music.
Rock don’t feel any shame or embarrassment in flirting with samba and other Brazilians grooves, adding to the recipe the blips of the electronic music in a hallucinogen crucible with the ashes of the remains of the 20th century. And here we are, at the new millennium full of information yet to be fully digested that will end up, for sure, in new transformations on the Brazilian scene.
It’s still hard, and not very safe, to say something about the Brazilian music in the new century. Everything looks a little blurred and, in a slow place, you can see the new stuff getting ready to shine up. The moments is of expectation, but, as usual in every new century, more and new revolutions are on its way Just wait and see…
*Lizoel Costa is a journalist and musician. He was a member of the Brazilian group “Lingua de Trapo” in Rio. Now he lives in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso state, where he works at the Regional RadioFM hosting the show “Na cadeira do DJ”. lizoelcosta_terra.com.br