Sounds of Brazil: A Window into Its History

The Rio Olympics have landed, and anyone unfamiliar with Brazilian culture got to enjoy a taste of it during the Olympics opening ceremony. Samba music, dancing, and a sea of tropical colors served as backdrops for vignettes about the country's identity, which is rooted in its festive attitude, strong connection to nature (beaches and rainforests), and a past that grappled with slavery and economic disparity. 

Faulkner's line "The past is never dead. It's not even past," has rung particularly true for Brazil this year. The country has faced economic downturns, political scandals, the Zika outbreak, and it has struggled to preserve its natural resources. It was hard to watch some of the ceremony's opulence and feel excited knowing that so many people in Brazil are not doing well. 

 Rio

Rio

That said, the Brazilian people have repeatedly shown the world that there's always joy to be found amidst hardship, and the expression of this optimism has never been more clearer than in Brazilian music. Brazil holds a special place in our house, and we have our mother to thank for that. She often refers to Brazil as one of her "spiritual homes," adores the footballer Neymar, and played Brazilian music for us long before I was old enough to know who the Beatles were. 

Everyone in our family has their own favorite style of Brazilian music. Alexandra likes traditional Brazilian songs and samba. Her first year of college she used to play it during the traumatizing Chicago winter months so she could "imagine herself in a warmer and happier place." Astrud Gilberto's Non-Stop to Brazil became her winter anthem: "Overall I like Astrud Gilberto a lot, and her voice and the instrumentals combine for a very dreamy sound."

Our mother loves Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, masters of bossa nova. Bossa Nova is similar to samba and incorporates classical guitar and heavy percussion. It's music to party to, and whenever she puts on these songs, our apartment transforms into a mini carnival. Especially if there are caipirinhas present.  

She also pointed me in the direction of Gui Boratto for dance and light techno, and Tim Maia for funk. Boratto isn't a surprise given how much I like electronic music, and Maia introduced me to styles of disco and funk that emphasize tropical flourishes and a uniquely Brazilian twist. Baile Funk, which really kicked off in the 80s, combines funk and soul, and the baile of today is much more hard-throbbing than its predecessors. Our friend Emilie, who's spent a lot of time in Rio, sent us a bunch of newer baile funk, and if I'm ever struggling to wake up on a Monday morning, that's what I put on. 

 Sylva Koscina, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim and Mylene Demongeot at Copacabana Palace, Steno (1962)

Sylva Koscina, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim and Mylene Demongeot at Copacabana Palace, Steno (1962)

A common themes throughout Brazilian music are stories about romance and partying, but what makes a lot of Brazilian music unique are its discussions about race, class, and political discontent. Baile, in particular, introduced conversations about poverty and social injustice to Brazilian dance music. Like the opening ceremony in Rio, Brazilian music makes you want to jump around and forget most other things, but you're never all that far from Brazil's past or its future. 

P.S. a really cool Brazilian mix