Discover the Brazilian rhythms that conquered generations
“É pau, é pedra, é o fim do caminho, é um resto de toco, é um pouco sozinho…”. This is a line from the song “Águas de Março”, from 1974. This quintessential Brazilian sound, strongly influenced by carioca culture, left its mark on a generation. Performed by Elis Regina and Tom Jobim, the song was a huge success and went on to become the soundtrack for a movie starring Charlie Sheen, the award-winning American actor of Platoon and Wall Street.
Bossa nova first appeared between the 50’s and 60’s. The word “bossa” is particularly colloquial and refers to a natural skill or talent. From there, a concept was born and gave way to a new musical trend. The recipe was painstakingly uncomplicated: happiness, rhythm and simplicity. Bossa nova songs talk about life, love and the world around us and the lyrics are fuelled with Brazilian passion and energy, which transcends prose, verses and melodies.
A Generation of Musicians
Which of these names do you recognise? Antonio Carlos Jobim, Elis Regina, Miucha, Caetano Veloso, Vinicius de Moraes, Toquinho, João Gilberto… Perhaps not all by name, but surely by the unmistakable sounds of their songs over the years…
“Eu sei que vou te amar
Por toda minha vida eu vou te amar
A cada despedida eu vou te amar
Eu sei que vou te amar♪♪♪”
The song “Eu sei que vou te amar”, written by Vinícius de Moraes, won legions of fans the world over. With his soft voice and captivating style of singing, the poet created a song that artists—both national and international—craved to interpret and cover. It’s been the soundtrack to soap operas, movies, not to mention the song of countless sweethearts around the world. In Brazil, it’s hard not to declare doting love without uttering that eternal lyric, “I will love you for the rest of my life”.
Vinicius and Tom Jobim, his trusted collaborator for many a track, played a major part in defining bossa nova’s harmony and soft approach to composition. One of the most significant recordings that marked this newfound sound was “Se todos fossem iguais a você”.
The impact of bossa nova was greater than originally anticipated. The musical movement gained followers in schools and universities. Young musicians would gather in Rio de Janeiro to be part of what would become one of the defining sounds of Brazilian culture around the globe. The initial idea had been to somehow transform samba into a new format that could be used as some form of popular protest, and, based on the lyrics, become one of the more prominent rhythms of revolutionary expression.
These fresh and original melodies turned bossa nova into one of the most significant historical movements in the musical world. Just as it was starting to gain international recognition, the song “Girl from Ipanema” exploded onto the scene in the US. The track was recorded by Astrud Gilberto, the then wife of singer songwriter João Gilberto, in a version that also featured jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. João—a fine singer, accomplished guitarist acknowledged “father of bossa nova”—injected delicate rhythmic signatures and harmonies to this new brand of music: It was almost as if he was whispering the music, a style that brought new sounds and sophistication to the movement. His influence ultimately defined the careers and direction of many jazz musicians that followed.
Several big-name stars of the international stage were seduced by bossa nova: Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Smith and Oscar Peterson. And, of course, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, both of who recorded albums composed entirely of Tom Jobim’s music
But despite this worldwide dominance, many artists criticised bossa nova for being too similar to American jazz. Subsequently, Edu Lobo, Dori Caymmi and Marcos Valle began trying to modify bossa nova, to try and bring it more in line with other Brazilian rhythms, like samba.
Que coisa mais linda
Mais cheia de graça
É ela menina
Que vem e que passa
Num doce balanço
A caminho do mar♪♪♪”
“Girl from Ipanema”, in 1964, was one of the songs that
kickstarted the international fanbase and put bossa nova on
the map. Tom Jobim won that year’s Grammy for Song of the
Year, beating tough competition from the likes of the Beatles,
the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. That’s how bossa nova
gained its recognition and worldwide influence.
Understand the lyrics
To learn more or simply reconnect with some of those special
songs, YouTube has a wide selection of tracks from the
golden age of bossa nova.
January 25 is National Bossa Nova Day in Brazil. The date
coincides with the birthday of one of its forefathers, maestro
A good read
For those that like reading as well as listening to music,
the story of bossa nova is the subject of an excellent book
entitled “A Onda que se Ergueu no Mar”, by journalist and
music critic Ruy Castro.
Bossa nova was a spontaneous movement that brought with
it a collective strength and belief in ongoing prosperity and