Strong influences on the music of Brazil include musical comes from Africa, India, Portugal and the natives of the Amazon rainforest and of other parts of the country. Samba is undoubtedly the most internationally famous form of Brazilian music, though bossa nova and other genres have also received some sporadic attention outside of the country.

Table of contents
1 Pre-20th century
2 20th century
3 References

Pre-20th century

The earliest known descriptions of music in Brazil date from 1578, when Jean De Léry, a French Calvinist pastor, published Viagem ŕ Terra do Brasil (Journey to the Land of Brazil). He described the dances and transcribed the music of the Tupi people. In 1587, Gabriel Soares de Sousa wrote Tratado Descritivo do Brasil about the music of several native Brazilian ethnic groups, including the Tamoios and Tupinambás.

In 1739, Domingos Caldas Barbosa wrote a series of modinhas that were extremely popular; thus began Brazilian popular music.

Towards the end of the 18th century a form of comedic dance called bumba-meu-boi became very popular. It was a musical retelling of the story of a resurrected ox. These dances are led by a chamador, who introduces the various characters. Instruments used include the Brazilian tambourine, the tamborim, the accordion and the acoustic guitar.

By the mid-1830s a form of dance and music called the lundu had developed among slaves, and it quickly spread to the white middle-class.

20th century

Choro and samba

In Rio de Janeiro in the 1870s a type of reserved and private music called choro (SHOEH- roeh) developed out of fado and European salon music. Choro was usually instrumental and improvised, frequently including soloss by virtuosos. Originally, a choro band used two guitars and cavaquinho (kah-vah-KEEN-nyoh), later picking up the bandolim (ban-doe-LING), the clarinet and the flute. Famous choro musicians include Joaquim Antonio da Silva Calado Júnior, Valdir Azevedo, Jacob do Bandolim, Pixinguinha and Chiquinha Gonzaga; Pixinguinha's "Lamento" is one of the most influential choro recordings. The late 1960s saw a revival of the choro, beginning in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, and culminating with artists like Paulinho da Viola.

By the beginning of the 20th century, samba had begun to evolve out of choro in Rio de Janeiro's "Little Africa" neighborhood, inhabited mostly by poor blacks descended from slaves. Samba's popularity grew through the 20th century, especially internationally, as awareness of samba de enredo (a type of samba played during Carnival) has grown. Other types of samba include:

  • Samba breque - reggaeish and choppy
  • Samba da garrafa - popular recent development in samba
  • Samba do pagode - variety that first brought samba to international attention
  • Samba-canção - typical variety of nightclubs

Forró and Northeastern music

Northeastern Brazil is known for a distinctive form of literature called literatura de cordel, which are a type of
ballads that include elements incorporated into music as repentismo, an improvised lyrical contest on themes suggested by the audience.

Música nordestina is a generic term for any popular music from the large region of Northeastern Brazil, including both coastal and inland areas. Rhythms are slow and plodding, and are derived from accordions and guitars instead of percussion instruments like in the rest of Brazil. In this region, African rhythms and Portuguese melodies combined to form maracatú and dance music called baião has become popular. Most influentially, however, the area around Recife is the home of forró.

Forró is played by a trio consisting of a drum and a triangle and led by an accordion. Forró is rapid and eminently danceable, and became one of the foundations for lambada in the 1980s. Luiz Gonzaga was the preeminent early forró musician who popularized the genre in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the 1940s with songs like "Asa Branca".

Eastern Amazonia

Eastern Amazonia has long been dominated by carimbó music, which is centered around Belém. In the 1960s, carimbo was electrified and, in the next decade, DJs added elements from reggae, salsa and merengue. This new form became known as lambada and soon moved to Bahia, Salvador by the mid-1980s. Bahian lambada was synthesizer-based and light pop music. French record producers discovered the music there, and brought it back with them to France, where a Bolivian group called Los K'jarkas saw their own composition launch an international dance craze. Soon, lambada had spread throughout the world and the term soon became meaninglessly attached to multiple varieties of unrelated Brazilian music, leading to purist scorn from Belém and also Bahia.

Another form of regional folk music, boi, was popularized by the Carnival celebrations of Parintins and is now a major part of the Brazilian national scene.

Bossa nova and descendants

Antonio Carlos Jobim and other 1950s composers helped develop a jazzy popular sound called bossa nova, which developed at the beach neighborhood of Ipanema and, later, the Copacabana nighclubs, b. The first bossa nova record was João Gilberto's "Desafinado", which quickly became a massive hit in Brazil. Bossa nova was introduced to the rest of the world by American jazz musicians in the early 1960s, following in the footsteps of Vinícius de Morães's "The Girl from Ipanema", which remains the biggest Brazilian international hit. By the end of the decade, artists like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil added politically-charged lyrics amid the social turmoil of the time, thus beginning a genre called Tropicalia, eventually morphing into a more popular form, MPB (música popular Brasileira), which now refers to any Brazilian pop music, especially artists from Salvador and Bahia.

MPB's capital remains Salvador, where artists like Virginia Rodrigues and Silvia Torres help keep the region a hotbed of musical innovation. Percussion is an important part of music across Latin America, but in Salvador it has become perhaps the most important aspect of music. In the final three decades of the 20th century, reggae, salsa and samba rhythms mixed to form a type of dance music called fricote. Stars like Abel Duere, Margareth Menezes and Daniela Mercury became international stars, alongside bands like Olodun, who inspired American musician Paul Simon to incorporate Brazilian percussion on his influential The Rhythm of the Saints album.


  • Cleary, David. "Meu Brasil Brasileiro". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 332-349. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0