Made in Brazil

Made in Brazil

Juan Souki · July 22, 2022

Brazilian music and culture have captivated audiences and artists around the world for generations. The country is so vast and its cultural imagery so rich that synthesizing it can become a daunting task. A focus on Brazil means diving into a world of its own.

Brazilian music and North American folk have more in common than you may think. Looking beyond form, you will find they are deeply connected at their cores: Both share a deep sense of place, inspire belonging, and are vehicles for socially informed discourse.

Brazilian music, specifically bossa nova, first became popular in North America in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when artists like João Gilberto started to pop up on radio stations across the country. Disc jockeys who were interested in new forms of jazz were pulled in by the genre. It was perhaps the most elitist form of Brazilian music, but it caught the world’s attention. 

In the early sixties, a cultural exchange program by the US government took musicians like Charlie Byrd and Dave Brubeck to Brazil. The trip is considered by many as the birth of iconic albums like jazz samba (Byrd and Getz, 1962) that made bossa nova even more visible in jazz circles. But the true soul of Brazilian music and heritage remained unseen to the world.

In the 1980s and 1990s David Byrne’s seven-volume Brazil Classics portrayed artists like Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Jorge Ben, Maria Bethânia, Milton Nascimento and Chico Buarque. Now shining a light over samba, forro, tropicalia and other genres. 

Chico Buarque performs in 1966

Photo by Agencia Estado

This year’s Festival artists Jerusa Leão (JER and Quintet) and Xenia França hail from Bahia, the epicenter of Afro-Brazilian culture and the birthplace of samba; where artists like Gilberto Gil, Olodum and Carlinhos Brown were born. Jer and França are part of a generation of artists who are shaping new narratives for Brazilian music.

Canadian musicians share their impressions of Brazilian music

MC, poet, and multilingual performer Vox Sambou writes and performs in Creole, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese and is a founding member of the Montreal-based hip-hop collective, Nomadic Massive. 

“My first visit to Brazil was to Sao Paulo and Salvador Da Bahia. I felt right at home with a great connection with the soil. The music, the food, and the hospitality of the people reminded me of my home town Limbe, Haiti. Brazilian culture has a powerful influence on the Indigenous people of the region as well as African, Asian, Arabic, and European people. Brazilian culture is unique in its diversity.

“Brazilian culture’s  most  important ingredient is music as a tool that unites people and its roots in Indigenous and  African spirituality; a celebration with powers to heal its people. Brazilian musicians are passionate, true, and authentic to their culture plus they’re very open-minded, humble, loving, and have a great ability to adapt and learn different rhythms.”

Nomadic Massive, Montréal's own multilingual supergroup. Since 2004,

Malika Tirolien is a Montreal-based singer-songwriter and pianist who sang on the Grammy Award-winning album Family Dinner – Volume 1 by Snarky Puppy.

“I first visited Brazil in 2014 with Vox Sambou's band where we got to experience a baobab ceremony. When I am in Brazil, I feel like I'm in a relative's house. The culture and people are very similar to Guadeloupe. Brazilian artists Milton Nascimiento and Pedro Martins are both in heavy rotation.”

Musician, composer, and music journalist David Rhyspan is a founder of Trio Bruxo

“I was introduced to Música Popular Brasileira (aka MPB or Brazilian post-bossa nova urban popular music) by the American pianist/composer Kerry Politzer in 2005. She gave me a list of what she was listening to, and I went to the library to do my homework. The first song I heard off of her list was Djavan’s ‘Tem boi na linha’ and it was like he reached through my headphones and grabbed me by the shoulders. My life totally changed.

“I heard about Curumin on a random music blog when his first album Achados e Perdidos came out, and that was my introduction to the contemporary São Paulo scene.

“A fellow radio host on CKUT 90.3 FM played me the Milton Banana Trio, which was my gateway into the generation of Brazilian piano trios from the ’60s and ’70s. I found Zimbo Trio shortly after, and I based my group Trio Bruxo on the idea of what a young, modern Zimbo Trio might sound like, playing instrumental versions of Curumin & Céu.”

The Brazillian Take

The Brazilian Take

Tatiana Dascal lives in São Paulo. Her company, Agogô Cultural, is focused on artist management and cultural production, both in Brazil and overseas, and manages the careers of Xenia França, João Donato, Rodrigo Campos, Jéssica Gaspar and Julio Fejuca.

“Talking about Brazilian music is very difficult because there are so many types of music, rhythms and influences in this vast country. It’s as rich and diverse as its own continental-sized country."

“It is very likely that samba or bossa nova is more popular overseas, but musical creativity is not limited to these genres. MPB doesn’t have only one facet or just a handful of artists representing it, but a whole background and context. It is important to emphasize this. We can mention numerous master creators such as Luiz Gonzaga, Dorival Caymmi, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben Jor, Caetano Veloso, Letieres Leite, Moacir Santos, and many others. Each represents a strand of MPB. There are countless performers and singers, both men and women—not to mention the sheer number of instrumentalists! Brazilian music is one of the most diverse in the world, and can only be compared, as I see it, to the variety of music created in North America.

“In market terms, the interesting phenomenon is that Brazilian music is consumed for the most part — around 90 per cent of it — by Brazilians themselves, within the country. African, Indigenous, and European influences and mixtures created an extremely original and culturally rich environment, in which classical and popular musical traditions merged.

“Diversity is found in each of the regions, from Oiapoque to Chuí—from north to south. Each place has its rhythms, songs, festivities, dances and food, among other expressions. However, according to Brazilian professor, researcher, and musician José Miguel Wisnik, the notion that the rhythms of Candomblé (Afro-Brazilian religion) contain all the codes of the rhythmic framework that have influenced the diversity of Brazilian music is becoming increasingly recognized. “Samba comes from one of the rhythms of candomblé, funk carioca from another, and so on. Brazilian music is a powerful system that owes immensely to black, Afro-Brazilian music.” 

“Talking about Brazilian music is very difficult because there are so many types of music, rhythms and influences in this vast country. It’s as rich and diverse as its own continental-sized country."

– Tatiana Dascal

We owe a great deal to Black culture, and it is time for Brazil to acknowledge this enormous wealth and cherish it. The structure of Brazilian society was a result of the country’s harsh history of colonization, slavery, and exploitation to which it was subjected. The culture we inherited, this eternal melting pot, is also the result of this past. The deep scars are still exposed to date, reflected in social inequality, systemic racism, and the veiled war against native peoples. 

Despite many improvements over the last two decades, today’s far-right government leaves exposed and bleeding the consequences of a political structure that excludes many and fails to make reparations. Sadly, it has gone even further, bent on destroying everything within its reach. We hope to change this reality with the elections this October. 

Juan Souki is the founder of Odelia Artists, a Toronto based music agency working with artists and producers from Latin America with the mission to share their unique cultures and visions with the world.

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