Jan 8, 2019 in Analysis

Social History of Brazil Music Essay

Social History of Brazil Music

Brazilian music is famous in the world by the variety of its genres and carnival culture. There is one problem with it. People regard Brazilian music as an example of popular culture and do not treat the social history of it as an important factor of its analysis. Nevertheless, if to look at Samba, Choro, Bossa-nova, MPB, and Tropicália from the historical point of view, it is possible to notice in them not only an entertainment but a mirror of main social processes of Brazil.


The samba emerged in the first part of the twentieth century. Its emergence is closely associated with the World War I and especially the economic expansion, associated with it.  The immigrants from Japan and Ottoman Empire collaborated with citizens of African descent in search of high-paid jobs. Their cry of desperateness was conveyed with the help of music. Samba (based on both Angolan and Congolese cultures) showed by its upbeat tones that the workers would never give up. In addition, samba is closely related with Brazilian carnival. It was a popular street festival that preceded the Lenten season of self – sacrifice and created the opportunity for the lower classes to show themselves, protect their rights, and enjoy the life at all. As samba was used as a method of reaching social justice, the authors of its lyrics mainly raised serious social and political problems. The stylistic tools for it were word play, the juxtaposition of opposite characters (upper class vs. lower class), and double entendre. Although the postwar period broadens the popular appeal of the samba, the primary issues incorporated in it remain unchanged.

Choro is also the result of mixture of different cultures in Brazil. It appeared in Rio de Janeiro in the mid 1800s under the influence of contacts between African slaves, European descendants, and Brazilian native citizens.  Due to it, choro finds its roots in such features as European modinha, classical Italian music, and African musical forms: lundu and maxixe. In general, representatives of different classes and races could find home motifs in choro. It brought the extreme popularity to choro in the end of nineteenth century. Since that time, this genre has become the essential feature of the spotlight neighborhood bar, an opening part in a performance hall, and the radio programs before a government speech. There are also a lot famous musicians, associated with choro such as Joaquim Antonio da Silva Calado (1848-1880), Francisca Hedwiges Gonzaga (1847-1935), and Alfredo da Rocha Vianna Jr. (1897-1973).

Bossa-nova is characterized also by very interesting history of its creation. It is the flower of a short period of democracy in Brazil (the early 1950s – the mid 1960s), which finds its place between the times of military dictatorships. The social freedom is the main feature of Bossa-nova. In a musical way, it is showed with the help of such features as a guitar rhythm from samba, combined with a soft vocal timbre and percussive rhythms. The representatives of Bossa-nova in Brazilian culture are Antônio Carlos Jobim , Laurindo Almeida, João Gilberto, Sérgio Mendes, Sylvia Telles, Caetano Veloso, etc.

The second life of Bossa-nova was achieved with the help of Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) developed as a style in 1966. It completed Bossa-nova by an interesting mixture of rock with samba. The song Arrastão, by Vinícius de Moraes and Edu Lobo was the first try of this creativity. The popularity of MPB in Brazil was gained with the help of mass media. Singers Elis Regina, Maria Bethânia, Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Marisa Monte, and Caetano Veloso brought MPB to the sphere of popular culture with the help of television programs. 

Tropicália is an opposite movement in comparison with Bossa-nova. While Bossa-nova emerged as a response to democracy, Tropicália was the result of the implementation of military regime in 1968. The artists such as Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé released the common album under the name  Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis to calm down the citizens and bring them the assurance that together they would be able to stand against any troubles. The main style of Tropicália was the upbeat tones, bringing the message of protest. In fact, Tropicália was not long lasting movement. Nevertheless, it showed Brazilians that their power was in unity and collaboration.

To sum up, the analysis of such genres of Brazilian music as Samba, Choro, Bossa-nova, MPB, and Tropicália proves that music is not only the way of entertainment but the reflection of social life. Music can be a successful tool in struggle with oppression, social and racial discrimination, and tyranny. In addition, it can unite the traditions of different cultural and social groups and show that the power is in unity but not in egoism and war.

Capoeira in the History of Brazil

Music is generally regarded from the point of view of stylistic features, composers, and popularity.  Nevertheless, the main source of information about music can be found also in its history. Brazilian genre of music capoeira proves that music can be treated as a living organism, which is born (is created), exists (gains the popularity), and dies (looses the popularity). 

Capoeira was created by African slaves during the colonial period. People, brought from Congo, Angola, and Mozambique, used the music as the main way to preserve their cultural traditions. The primary function of capoeira was to incorporate in its dance African martial art. In addition, it was used as a tool, which could lift the spirit in the struggle with the oppression. In other words, capoeira was used as a mechanism of rebellion. It definitely had some achievements. Inspired by the cultural force of his nation, Zumbi  known as Zumbi dos Palmares (1655 – November 20, 1695) became the leader of the fight against the enslavement of Africans. He created the settlement under the name the Quilombo dos Palmares, in which all refugees could find a shelter. 

Unfortunately, the rebellion of slaves was defeated. Nevertheless, there was one feature of it which remained untouched. It was capoeira. The slaves preserved this musical treasure. They continued to play capoeira even after slavery. As it was very hard for former slaves to find jobs they turned into illegal gangs. Capoeira respectively turned into an illegal activity too.

The period after emancipation could be called as the death of capoeira. The elites hated this music as it was the direct recollection about the criminal catastrophe, caused by Africans. Due to it, the punishment for practicing this type of art was very severe – cutting the tendons on the back of the feet. Nevertheless, the adorers of capoeira found some ways how to preserve this art. They created a special rhythm under the name cavalaria, which informed them about police arrival. In addition, those who played capoeira created nicknames in order not to reveal their true identities.

Capoeira remained in a state of social death for 20 years. However, in 1918, it revived and attracted the community with new force. The return of capoeira was associated with the opening of the first capoeira school by Mestre Bimba in 1937. He achieved this goal because he managed to show that capoeira was not a threat to Brazil culture by African one but the reflection of actual Brazil history. Mestre Bimba explained the president Getúlio Varga that it was no use in prohibition of a soul of the nation. 

Nevertheless, Mestre Bimba did not simply return capoeira to life but gave it a new one. It is a creator of the subtype of capoeira known as capoeira regional. This subtype is mainly based on the Brazilian traditions in martial art rather than African ones. Capoeira regional dance is characterized by a great number of acrobatic movements. The common methods of it are strikes, head kicks, spinning movements, and jumping. However, it does not mean that African features of capoeira had disappeared irrevocably during the time of prohibition. They remained in the subtype Capoeira Angola. That is why it is up to people which style to choose.

To sum up, capoeira, in comparison to a living organism, underwent a long way of development and changes. It was born by African slaves as a type of martial dance, which inspired them for the struggle against oppression. As capoeira was associated with African rebellions and gang style of life, it faced its social death (prohibition) in the end of the 19th century. Nevertheless, capoeira was much more powerful than simple human beings from the point of view of its immortality. It revived in 1918 under the influence of Mestre Bimba. He did not only bring capoeira to life but gave it a new one in the form of capoeira regional – the martial dance inspired by combination of Brazil traditions with African one.


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