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My New Year’s resolution for 2009 is to keep myself entertained. And, I ask you, what could be more entertaining than launching a worldwide exploration of music together? We’ll be starting our tour in South America—specifically Brazil, because I have a special place in my heart for all things Brazilian.
Befitting such a large and geographically diverse country, the musical styles of Brazil run the gamut from Bossa Nova to Rap to Metal. But my favorite style, not just of Brazil, but of any music anywhere, is Samba.
Samba, out of the tradition of Carnaval (the Brazilian Mardi Gras), is well-known for its breakneck pace, wild percussion, and, of course, the dancing. In Rio, Samba Schools compete for the Carnaval title in lavish parades where the women wear most of their costume on their heads, covering up their bodies only in the most strategic locations.
Think of a samba school as a sort of community organization. Originating in the favelas, or shanty towns, of Rio, each samba school brings together the residents of a neighborhood to build floats, create costumes, write music, and learn choreography, all with the hope of winning the Carnaval title.
A little further north, up the Atlantic coast from Rio, is Salvador da Bahia. Where Carnaval in Rio focuses on samba and the competition, in Salvador, the musical styles are Axe and Samba Reggae, a style popularized by Olodum, a group founded in 1979 that also doubles as a community organization, music being as integral to the fabric of Brazilian society as food and water.
Batucada is basically samba for percussion. If you close your eyes and let the drums take over, you’ll be transported. You won’t need a partner. You won’t even need sustenance. You might find yourself in a crowded nightclub or in the middle of a street filled with Carnaval revelers. You won’t care. All you’ll need is to keep dancing.
Stepping away from Carnaval is hard. The music stays in your head and in your heart. I have an Italian friend who says that the music of Samba makes her a little sad. I think it’s because she knows that eventually it will have to end and she’ll have to return to reality, where the music doesn’t always play.
But there are 51 additional weeks in the year, and Brazilians simply can’t live them without music. Here, Caetano Veloso and Roberto Silva, two giants of Brazilian music, share the stage for a much more subdued Samba.
Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB) is Brazil’s version of urban pop and encompasses whatever is being played on the airwaves. Here’s a song called “Bandeira” by Zeca Baliero, a popular MPB artist.
I have yet to hear a Brazilian musical style, or even a song, that I don’t enjoy. Just don’t ask me to translate the lyrics because my knowledge of Portuguese is limited to profanity. I’ll leave you with one of my all time favorites, “Magdalenha” by Sergio Mendes. I doubt you’ll be able to stop yourself from dancing.