Joe Sixpack's Brazilian Music Glossary
Brazilian Glossary picture


This page is an attempt to clarify some of the terms which get thrown around when discussing Brazilian music... just in case you find yourself getting a little bit lost. Speaking of which, please feel free to write me if you come across anything in my Brazil site that you don't understand, or something you think should be included on this page. Also, if you're a big know-it-all Brazilian music fan, and think that I've described something the wrong way, I'd love to hear from you, too. Also, check out my Brazilian Music Guide for thousands of record reviews, artist profiles and different styles of Brazilian music.

Axe - A contemporary Afro-Bahian pop style, incorporating samba, rock, soul and other musical influences.

Batucada - Intense, polyrhythmic percussion. Batucada is a style which emphasizes Brazilian culture's African heritage. Look for any of the various compilation records available - a few are listed on my batucada and capoeira pages

Berimbau a Brazilian instrument with African origins, the berimbau de barriga is a simple stringed instrument attached at its base to a hollowed out gourd, which acts as a resonator. The berimbau is closely associated with Brazil's black slave culture, and in the 1800s was intimately tied into the music of the martial arts style known as capoeira (see below). The revival of the berimbau as a popular instrument in the 1960s and '70s was in part a move to align the popular music of the times with Brazil's folkloric past.

Bossa Nova - A suave, romantic style which started in the 1950s, replacing samba as the national music. Typically, bossa nova (which means "new way" in Portuguese) is very mellow and laid-back, and very, very cool. In the early 1960s, bossa nova rhythms became popular with jazz and pop musicians in the U.S. and Europe. See: Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Capoeira - A style of martial arts developed by Brazilian slaves in the 1700s. Capoeira was developed surreptiously, with practitioners pretending that they were taking parts in dances, when in fact they were practicing their kicks and blows. Thus, there is also a whole style of capoeira music which goes along with the martial arts culture -- check out my batucada and capoeira pages

Carioca - A native of Rio de Janiero. Also the name of a dance in a Mel Torme song, and the namesake of the 1960s vocal band, Os Cariocas.

Carnaval - Brazil's annual national Lent celebration, known for its colorful parades, wild street parties, and awesome live performances by large samba "schools." Similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, though Carnaval takes place all across Brazil, and different cities try to top each other with their insane partying; in recent years it has become a more regimented, controlled event... But, still... what a party!

Choro - An improvisational instrumental style from the late 19th and early half of the 20th Century. Similar to New Orleans trad jazz, choro was closely connected with the early development of samba, and is typically played by a small ensemble -- over the years the instrumentation has expanded to include more instruments, such as clarinet and mandolin... Early stars of the genre include flautist Pixinguinha, mandolin player Jacob do Bandolim, and guitarist Garoto.

Forro - Upbeat, catchy dance music from the Northeast of Brazil. Usually features an accordion, and syncopated rhythms similar to samba. In some ways, forro is analagous to mariachi in Mexico, or cumbia music in Columbia: although a few artists (such as Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro) are well-known, national stars, thousands of others have recorded for small, regional labels and much of forro is relatively informal and localized.

Frevo - An early popular Northeastern caranval style which features a march-like quality. Like choro, frevo is closely related to the samba, and has grown and adapted into a more modern sound. Frevo is most popular in Pernambuco state, especially in Recife.

Jovem Guarda - Prefab teenybopper rock'n'roll, modeled on the American and British pop scenes and foisted on Brazilian listeners in the late 1950s and early '60s... The jovem guarda scene was spearheaded by pop idol Roberto Carlos, who hosted a TV that featured much of the top talent. In its heyday, jovem guarda music superseded bossa nova as the most popular music in Brazil, much to the dismay of the high-minded bossa crowd. With the rise of the post-tropicalia MPB scene, jovem guarda fell by the wayside, and many of its stars became soft-pop, mainstream romantic balladeers, singing in the brega (or "tacky") style of the 1970s. Still, I really get a kick out of some of the old JG stuff... Here's a whole section devoted to it...

Lambada - A dance style whose popularity peaked in the late 1980s, when the group Kaoma had an international hit. Heavily influenced by Caribbean music -- particulary the merengue -- Lambada is typically more aggressive and hard-driving than samba or pagode.

Musical Instruments - Here are some Portuguese words for various musical instruments, and their English equivalents. baixo = bass; bateria = drums; contrebaixo = acoustic bass; flauta= flute; gaita = harmonica; teclas = (electric) keyboards; violao = guitar

Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB) - Pretty much a catch-all phrase for any Brazilian pop which comes after bossa nova. The Tropicalia movement (see below) used to be what people meant when they were talking about MPB, but now it's almost an absurdly far-reaching phrase that musical poseurs use when they want to sound cool. (Just watch how often I use it!)

Pagode - Modern samba, sometimes slowed down, sometimes amped up, always with great rhythm. Poppy dance music, often with great back-up vocal choruses. Originally, in the late 1960s and early '70s, pagode was an acoustic style, tied to a revival of traditional samba music, but since then the word has been used to describe a blander, more prefab pop style, particularly popular in the 1990. Many Brazilians came to loathe "pagode," because it was EVERYWHERE, on the radio and TV, etc. -- sort of what disco was like for us back in the '70s. Thus, one must be careful to make clear which kind of pagode you're talking about: I like the old stuff.

Samba - A syncopated, addictive dance style which was invented in the late 1800s as part of Brazil's carnaval celebrations. Carnaval sambas were typically performed by large percussion ensembles, and were an expression of Brazil's West African heritage. Later on, in the 1920s and '30s, samba became increasingly complex, as writers such as Ary Barroso transformed it into a pop style, blending African rhythms with European melodies. Out of fashion during the bossa nova craze of the late 1950s and early '60s, samba had a resurgence of popularity in the 1970s, typified by popular singers such as Clara Nunes, Beth Carvalho and Alcione.

Tropicalia - A late-'60s/early-'70s musical movement that combined North American rock, blues, jazz, pop kitsch and psychedelic music with Brazilian and other latin american styles. In part, tropicalia was a reaction to the perceived stodginess of bossa nova music, which had been the dominant pop style since the late 1950s. In turn, the major tropicalia stars became the musical status quo from the 1970s onward, and younger musicians alternately rebelled against the hegemony of the tropicalistas, or enjoyed working with them. For more information and artist profiles, see my Tropicalia site.

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