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The Music of Brazil

Brazil, the largest country in South America and the fifth largest in the world, is a land rich in history, mystique, and exceptions to the rule. Founded as a Portuguese colony in 1500 that was later known as the Empire of Brazil, it became a republic in 1889 and is now known as the Federative Republic of Brazil.

Its official language is Portuguese, which is spoken by nearly the entire population – and the only Portuguese-speaking nation in Latin America – making its natural and cultural identity very distinct from its Spanish-speaking neighbors. Brazilian Portuguese is also different from that spoken in Portugal. It is fitting that the Museum of the Portuguese Language in Brazil ‘s capital São Paulo is the first language museum in the world.

One of the founding members of the United Nations, Brazil is the world’s tenth largest economy and boasts a natural environment of unparalleled diversity and breathtaking geographic beauty, making it a great draw for international tourists seeking sun and beach and adventure forays into the Amazon Rainforest.

But where Brazil really stands out in terms of its natural resources and cultural contribution to the world is music, specifically jazz. Although it can claim many fine classical composers, Brazil is where the great rhythm-and-beat styles of the samba, bossa nova, pagoda, frevo, and many others found life. If you listen to the music of American guitar virtuoso George Turner, you will also discover the great influence Brazilian music has on his characteristic way of playing and interpreting guitar jazz music.

“Watercolor of Brazil” (known in most English-speaking countries as simply “Brazil”), written in 1939 by politically militant composer Ary Barroso, became one of the most popular songs of all times and was the birth of the samba.

Since then it has enjoyed innumerable recordings from Brazilian native musical artists like Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, but internationally as well by such legends as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney to still more recent versions by Placido Domingo, Dionne Warwick, and the Ritchie Family. With the ballroom dancing craze fuelled by popular TV shows like “Dancing With the Stars,” the song “Brazil” and the samba have found a fresh generation of eager fans. Also Canadian jazz singer KellyLee Evans, in one of her interviews, says she’s really impressed with the vibrant music that originated in Brazil and has conquered the world of music lovers.

Arguably one of the most beloved and respected musicians of the 20/21st century is Brazil’s João Gilberto who rose to fame in the late 1950s when he slowed down the samba to work with his syncopated acoustic guitar. His cool, hip way of whispering lyrics made him an idol of U.S. beatniks and jazz artists alike, and he continues to inspire a new generation of pop artists like Keb-mo, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and his own daughter Bebel Gilberto, now a star in her own right. But Gilberto’s place on the world jazz map was firmly stamped when a collaboration with songwriter Jobim, a fellow Brazilian, led them to record “Chega de Saudade” and create the bossa nova.

The bossa nova quickly became a craze in the United States and spread through the world after American jazz saxophone legend Stan Getz discovered the sound and recorded, amongst others, “The Girl From Ipanema” with Gilberto and his wife Astrud. Bossa nova-style jazz remained Getz’s icon sound until he died (See also: Birdland, the Jazz Corner of the World). Gilberto remains a superstar in Brazil and one of its greatest natural resources. In Brazil’s traditional music, you clearly can distinguish the influences of Afrobeat in the rhythm that’s so characteristic of this country’s music. Just lay back and enjoy the mellow and soulful music that’s recognized all over the world.