Brazilian music is one of the most beloved in the world—diverse, too. Brazil doesn’t have a sound, but numerous styles spread throughout the nation’s 3.2 million square miles. Among the most popular include choro, samba, bossa nova, funk carioca and MPB (Popular Brazilian Music), as well as folk styles such as capoeira music and afoxê.
One of the most important cultural events in modern Brazilian history was Tropicália, a fitting starting point for a discussion of the nation’s music. The artistic movement started in the early 1960s with a wave of theater, film, poetry and music forming the backbone of revolutionary efforts by a population enduring civil unrest under a military dictatorship. It is impossible to separate the art from the politics.
Two enduring figures from that era, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, continue to make music today. In 1969, both men were arrested, jailed for two months and forced to live in exile in London until 1972. History is never a straight line, though. Veloso went on to win nine Latin Grammy Awards and two Grammys, becoming one of his country’s greatest stars. Gil served as the country’s minister of culture between 2003 to 2008; he ended up working for the government that jailed him. Their contributions appear near the end of the playlist.
Jorge Ben was also involved in Tropicália, though his blend of samba, rock and bossa nova was way funkier than the above. That’s why “Ponta De Lanca Africano,” from his classic record “Africa Brasil,” jump-starts this playlist.
The first set remains upbeat. Sergio Mendes has released 55 albums since 1961. “Magalenha” is an anthemic dance floor hit. Keeping it moving, Barbatuques uses tap dancing, clapping and chest beating in their highly original music. “Baiana” is my favorite track from their vast catalog.
The next two songs, while upbeat, are also tragic. Chico Science was one of the innovators of manguebeat, a cultural movement centered in Recife. Along with Nação Zumbi, he created the most interesting sound of the genre before dying in a car accident at just 30 years old. Mitar Subotic, aka Suba, was a Serbian producer whose “São Paolo Confessions” is a classic in Brazilian electronica. He was working on a record with Bebel Gilberto (also featured on the playlist) when his studio caught fire. He died at age 38 trying to save their material, just days after his only record was released. The album he saved, “Tanto Tempo,” went on to become the biggest-selling Brazilian record outside of the country.
The playlist moves into some of Brazil’s top female singers: Cibelle, who cut her teeth singing on “São Paolo Confessions”; Céu, a São Paolo native who released her American debut on Six Degrees in 2007 (the album was picked up as the first international music release by Starbucks’ now-defunct Hear Music); Vanessa Da Mata, who’s megahit with Ben Harper is too good not to include; the aforementioned Bebel Gilberto, the famous daughter of João Gilberto and singer Miúcha; and Marisa Monte, one-third of supergroup Tribalistas alongside the poet-singer Arnaldo Antunes and percussionist-singer Carlinhos Brown. I consider this the “sit back and chill” segment.
In fact, keep chilling for Seu Jorge, who broke through to global audiences with “Carolina,” though his record of David Bowie covers really made a mark. I’ve always loved the gentle flow of “Bem Querer.” He’s followed by two upbeat projects: Zuco 103, a Dutch electronica ensemble that pays tribute to Brazil, and Forro in the Dark, a collection of expats based in New York City. In the past, I DJ’d with Forro often at the East Village club Nublu. Their recordings are solid, but nothing matches the energy of their live show.
From there, we wind down with the aforementioned Tropicália masters, as well as a peer of that group: Milton Nascimento didn’t break through globally until working with Wayne Shorter in 1974, but by then, he was well-established in his homeland.
I also included the very song that put Brazilian music on the map: “The Girl From Ipanema,” this version from “Getz/Gilberto,” featuring Astrud Gilberto on vocals. Expectable, I know, but a proper tribute is necessary.
Though playlists don’t have bonus tracks, I included what I impinged to be two such tracks at the end: Seu Jorge and rock band Almaz, covering Roy Ayers’ 1976 smash “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” and Caetano Veloso’s phenomenal version of Nirvana’s hit “Come As You Are.” Good luck getting that last earworm out of your head.
Photo credit: Jens Johnson, Unsplash