Brazilian music and rhythms: LET'S DANCE!

Moro num país tropical abençoado por Deus

E bonito por natureza mas que beleza, em fevereiro, em fevereiro

Tem carnaval, tem carnaval, tenho um fusca e um violão

Sou Flamengo e tenho uma nega chamada Tereza

For the dancers: congratulations if you plan to visit Brazil. Everything there is danceable. Probably one of the greatest treasures of Brazil are its rhythms, of all colors. The roots are basically the same as in the rest of Latin America: indigenous, European... and African. Especially African. But what really makes Brazil so special in comparison to the rest of its Latin American brothers is the language. The melody of the Portuguese combines perfectly with the music.

Brazil's endemic (and exclusive) styles are: sertanejo, forró, samba (includes tropicalismo, bossa nova, pagode), axé, popular Brazilian music and even the controversial funky (I do not recommend it!). But they also have good bands of rock, ska, and even Celtic music (especially in the south of the country, where there is a large population of Germans, English, Scots). A sertanejo while you are at a churrasco (barbecue) with some friends; some samba to dance (get ready to dance friend) in the "balada (club)"; some Brazilian popular music (known as MPB) or a Brazilian rock festival; bossa nova to relax. And so on to infinity.

But perhaps the most exciting thing is to attend a samba roda in the street. People gather, sometimes in an organized and sometimes in a totally improvised way, and play and dance. Pure spectacle and guaranteed fun! The instruments range from boxes, tambourines and drums (percussion) to whistles, clapping... By the way how they play the tambourine in Brazil, it is amazing. Here there is a link with the most used instruments in the samba:

Roda de samba in Barão Geraldo, Campinas

I would like to talk more about some of these typically Brazilian musical genres. Let's see some of them, taking into account some historical considerations and some of the bands that make up the picture of each.


Churrascos (barbecues) in Brazil would not be the same without sertanejo music. Contrary to what many would think, samba is not the most popular genre in Brazil, but the sertanejo. The songs of sertanejo have been the most popular musical genre in Brazilian radios since the 1990s, always topping the radios in the country.

This musical style, heir to the "caipira music" is characterized by simple and melancholic melodies, usually played by duos (often siblings). The adjective "sertanejo" originally refers to everything that belongs to the "sertões", that is to say, the "caipira people" (peasants) from the interior of Brazil (in fact, the sertanejo is also known as "music from the interior"), specially São Paulo, Minas Geráis, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná States.

There are two types: Sertanejo Antigo (the old school) and Sertanejo Universitario (the modern one). The first had its origins in rural Brazil in the 1920s. Cornelio Pires is the first major promoter of this music, he was the first to achieve that this style entered Brazilian record companies in 1928. As for the second, it is a new subgenre that has developed since the mid-2000s in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. It consists of a more acoustic style, with a predominance of guitars and has grown massively becoming very popular among the Brazilian youth.

I do not know many groups, because I was not much fan of this music although I loved listening to it in the "churrascos". Those sertanejo lovers, please bring your favorite groups here so we can enjoy them! Chitãozinho & Xororó are among the most representative of the old sertanejo (a song of them below); Michel Teló is very famous in the university sertanejo. Are you familiar with "Ai se eu te pego"?


One of the many musical styles born in the Brazilian Northeast. It is also a dance. In fact it is a set of several musical styles, among which we can mention "Baião", "Coco", "Rojão", "Quadrilha", "Xaxado", "Xote", and "Forro Dos Cumpadre". The lyrics of this music has to do with the cultural and daily aspects of the Northeast region of Brazil. The instruments originally used are the triangle, the accordion and the zabumba (typical Northeastern drum).

It seems that the name of this type of dance and music comes from the abbreviation of forrobodo, which means "drag-foot". It is believed that the forró was born in the nineteenth century, when the dance floors were made of mud, so that people danced shuffling to avoid lifting the dust. Forró was gaining popularity throughout Brazil from the 1960s. Currently there are several types of forró: electronic forró, traditional forró, forró universitario and forró pé de serra.

Forró fans: bring us groups! Here a song of Solteirões do forró:


Very popular musical movement, born in the state of Bahia (Brazil), which began in the 1980s. Actually axé was not created with the effect of being a musical style as such. Axé is a religious greeting used in Brazil for many years in candomblé and umbanda (religious worship in Bahia) that means positive energy and vital force.

This music quickly spread throughout Brazil and much of Latin America. It is rooted in several musical movements such as samba, frevo, funk carioca and reggae. Like many other Brazilian rhythms, this one stands out for its ability to convey joy and bring people to the dance floors.

The origins of the axé rhythm are in the fifties when Dodô and Osmar began to play rudimentary electric guitars on top of a Ford car in the street. The Electric Trio was born here, attraction of the carnivales that grows more and more even until our days. They played African rhythms like Ijexá and Brazilians like maracatú and samba. A powerful blend full of flavor shared cheerfully. Many claim that it was the Afro rhythms, the strength of the Bahia Carnival (Carnival of Salvador) and its powerful electric trios, which drove the origins of this music.

The art of making axé music was to ignore the difficulties of life, looking at things from a positive and happy perspective, an attitude characteristic of the people of Bahia, becoming a way of life where one only puts the energies in being happy.

There are many varieties of axé, among which are: Axé-Pagode, Caribbean-Axé, Afro-Axé, Pop-Axé. Some representatives of this broad style, and in which therefore there is much diversity, are:

  • Carlinhos Brown

  • É o Tchan!

  • Ivete Sangalo

  • Olodum


Capoeira is not a musical style as such, but an Afro-Brazilian martial art created by the Angolans brought as slaves to the country (they created it in the quilombos). But this is Brazil, and there must be music even in fights! Thus, music and rhythms are crucial for capoeira, with the berimbau as the main instrument (African origin). It is a single-string percussion instrument, similar to the musical bow ,made of a flexible wooden bow and a wire, to which is added a cashishi and a gourd, which acts as a resonator. Other percussion instruments such as tambourines and various drums usually accompany this warrior dance. Different styles and techniques were developed, some faster and some slower. Nowadays, more than a martial art is one of the most important symbols of Brazilian culture, and many foreigners come to learn the techniques, just as many tourists come to Argentina with the sole (or almost unique) purpose of learning tango.

Capoeira in the streets of Salvador de Bahia


The most internationally known style. In fact, along with caipirinha, carnivals and beaches is one of the first things that comes to our minds when listening to the word "Brazil". Well, when we talk about sambá, it is a little quilombo, as the Argentine brothers would say (and never better said, since the roots of these melodies are in the quilombos of slaves), because although this musical genre was born in Rio in the middle of the nineteenth century (African roots, of course) soon began to expand, existing many varieties and mixtures.

A little history of the genre. It was in the old capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, where the dance practiced by the slaves came into contact with other musical genres and incorporated them, acquiring a singular character: polka, maxixe, lundu, xote, among others. Of all of them, it was the samba from Rio that became the symbol of Brazilian national identity during the 1930s.

In the following years, samba took many directions. From the elegant samba-canção (samba-song) to the drum orchestras that accompanied the carnival parade. One of these new styles was the BOSSA NOVA, made initially by people of European origin of the middle class, mixing elements of jazz and techniques of classical music. The bossa nova gained worldwide popularity through the works of João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim. Therefore, bossa nova is actually a subtype of samba.

Some popular artists of the 60s are Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, Velha Guarda da Portela, Zé Keti, and Clementina de Jesús. In the 70s came to scene composers and singers like Martinho da Vila, Clara Nunes and Beth Carvalho. Below a song by Cartola (Preciso me encontrar):

In the beginning of the 1980s, after the popularity of disco and Brazilian rock had eclipsed its popularity, samba reappeared with a musical movement created in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. It was the PAGODE, a renewed samba, with new instruments (such as banjo and tantan) and a new, more popular language. Some Samba artists of this movement were Zeca Pagodinho, Almir Guineto, Grupo Fundo de Quintal, Jorge Aragão and Jovelina Pérola Negra.

And so, a lot of variants of samba to this day, which has even fused (attention lovers of the art of rhyming) with hip-hop (SAMBA-RAP). Marcelo D2 is the most popular representative:

In any case, the samba, in general, is characterized by a rhythm section that contains the main rhythm, usually a bass drum or tantan. Another important element is the cavaquinho (a small four-string instrument, similar to ukulele), which acts as a connection between the harmonic and rhythmic sections. Its presence usually distinguishes the "real samba" from its softer variations like bossa nova. The tambourine is the most present percussion instrument, whose rhythm is the most "complete". A violado (an acoustic guitar) is usually present, and its presence in the samba popularized the variation of 7 strings. The lyrics of samba range from songs of love and soccer, to politics and other subjects.

Some of the most distinguished representatives of samba are (parentheses marks the sub-genre of samba in which the artist was most focused):

  • Cartola

  • Chico Buarque

  • Jorge Ben Jor

  • Jorge Aragão (pagode)

  • Zeca Pagodinho (pagode)

  • João Gilberto (bossa-nova)

  • Tom Jobim (bossa-nova)

  • Vinícius de Moraes (bossa-nova)

  • Elis Regina (bossa-nova)

  • Tom Zé (bossa-nova)

  • Gilberto Gil

  • Caetano Veloso (tropicalismo)

  • Os Originais do Samba

  • Trem das Onze

  • Não deixa o samba morrer


I will not write about all genres because we would never finish, but I want to mention other composers, singers and groups from the Brazilian scene who would not fit into any of these genres.

Os Mutantes (and Rita Lee). Note: Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, Torquato Neto, Capinan, Rogério Duprat y Nara Leão collaborated to record the collective album Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis (1968), considered one of the best albums of the Brazilian history.

Tim Maia. One of the greatests voices and compositors in all Brazilian music history.

Roberto Carlos, Raúl Seixas, Cazuza, Titãs, Os Paralamas do Sucesso, Legião Urbana, Sepultura, Barão Vermelho, Cássia Eller, Mamonas Assassinas y Skank are some of the groups that make up the Brazilian Rock. This is a Skank song, one of my favorites Brazilian bands.

Terra Celta, O Rappa, Naty Ruts. Other three bands I like so much. This is a Terra Celta song I used to listen and sing when I was living in Brazil:

Music is everything in Brazil. It is much more than entertainment: it is the fucking soundtrack of life!

Roda de samba in the pre carnivals of São Luís


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