An Overview of Brazilian Music

Beyond Samba and Bossa Nova

Carnival Parade Drummers

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Although Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, with a total land mass larger than the United States, most people are only familiar with two of its musical forms: samba and bossa nova. But there exists much, much more than that. Music plays a significant role in Brazilian life, and Brazil’s music is as broad as the country itself and as diverse as it’s people.

Portuguese in Brazil

The Portuguese landed in Brazil in 1500 and soon started to import African slave labor into the country after accepting that the local tribes were not easily coerced into working for the invader. As a result, Brazilian music is an Afro-European fusion. While this is true in most of Latin America, the Afro-European traditions in Brazil differ in rhythm and dance form, since the dance does not take the couple form that it does elsewhere. And the dominant language is Portuguese, not Spanish.

Lundu and Maxixe

The lundu, introduced by the slaves, became the first 'Black' music to be accepted by the European aristocracy in Brazil. Initially considered an erotic, indecent dance, it changed to a solo song (lundu-canção) in the 18th century. At the end of the 19th century, it fused with the polka, the Argentinean tango, and the Cuban habanera, and gave birth to the first original Brazilian urban dance, the maxixe. Both the lundu and the maxixe are still a part of the Brazilian musical vocabulary


The choro developed in Rio de Janeiro in the late nineteenth century out of a blend of Portuguese fado and European salon music. As an instrumental form, choro evolved into a type of Dixieland​ / jazz musical style and experienced a revival in the 1960s. If you’re interested in listening to modern choro music, the music of Os Inguenuos is an excellent place to start.


Brazilian popular music began with the samba in the late 19th century. Choro was the forerunner to samba and by 1928, ‘samba schools’ were founded to provide training in the samba, not the least for Carnaval. By the 1930s, radio was available to most people, and the popularity of samba spread throughout the country. Various forms of popular music since that time have all been influenced by the samba, including Brazil’s earlier traditional song and dance forms

Bossa Nova

The influence of music from abroad continued throughout the twentieth century, and one of the most popular developments arising from Brazil’s understanding of jazz was the bossa nova. The first truly worldwide music of the Americas, it became popular as the music for the stage play Black Orpheus, written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Later, Jobim’s "The Girl from Ipanema" became the most widely known Brazilian song outside Brazil.

Baiao and Forro

The music of Brazil’s northern coast (Bahia) is relatively unknown outside of Brazil. Because of the proximity of Cuba and the Caribbean islands, the Bahian music is closer to the Cuban trova than to other Brazilian genres. Baiao songs tell stories that describe the people, their struggles and often voice political concerns. In the 1950s, Jackson do Pandeiro incorporated coastal rhythms to older forms and transformed the music into what is today known as the forro.

MPB (Musica Popular Brasilera)

MPB is the term used to describe Brazilian Pop after the late 1960s. The music that falls in this category is loosely defined and corresponds to what we would think of as Latin Pop. Roberto Carlos, Chico Buarque, ​and Gal Costa fall in this category. MPB transcends the geographical constraints of other types of Brazilian music. Popularity aside, MPB is interesting, innovative and the most popular music in Brazil today.

Other Forms

It would take a book to describe the plethora of musical styles available in Brazil today. Tropicalia, musica nordestina, repentismo, frevo, capoeira, maracatu, and afoxe are just some of the other popular musical styles that abound in a country that loves to sing and dance.

Essential Albums

  • Brazilian Classics Vol 1 - Beleza Tropical
  • Brazilian Classics Vol 2 - O Samba
  • Brazilian Classics Vol 3 - Forro, etc. (Brazilian Northeast)
  • The Antonio Carlos Jobim Songbook (Bossa Nova)
  • Canta Brazil: The Great Brazilian Songbook