The daughter of samba, bossa was the creation of some Brazilian musicians wishing to discover new horizons, inseparable from the enthusiasm raised by the election of Juscelinho Kubitschek, bossa nova (or “new way”) is the musical style born in the fifties that combines Samba with cool and sleek jazz, while emphasising sensuality.
The birth of bossa nova: poetry and cool samba
Since the beginning of the 20th century, samba alone represented Brazilian popular music. In the booming fifties evoked with enthusiasm by the new President Juscelinho Kubitschek, a whole section of the so-called “middle class” population aspired to a new genre. Samba became synonymous with an old-fashioned past with its simplistic melodies and wild rhythms that left little room for listening to music. A new style would form on the Brazilian musical landscape, before enveloping the whole world with its dreamy melody.
It was in Copacabana’s “clubes” that new musicians hatched their talent in the second half of the fifties: the composer and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim refined his new melodies and arrangements with the guitarist João Gilberto including the legendary “Desafinado” (out of tune). The new songs, sweetly whispered, were based on texts by the poet-diplomat Vinicius de Moraes. Further, their meeting with the singer Elizeth Cardoso allowed the creation in 1958 of the disc, Canção do Amor Demais, which is considered as the founding act of bossa nova.
But very quickly, Gilberto wished to come to the fore and recorded in the wake of his first record, Chega de Saudade, which contains, in addition to the track of the same name, the famous Desafinado which would become one of the essential standards of bossa. The proposed music is very different from samba, although it’s impossible to deny their relation, bossa nova has multiple influences, from classical music to American jazz. These scores with complex chords that began to garner millions of worshipers around the world brought Brazilian musicians to a wider audience. The rhythms remain syncopated, but at a tempo that opposes the fury of samba.
World recognition of bossa nova
The appearance of bossa nova was a veritable generational break in the production of samba songs or carnival sambas, blurring the boundaries between sophisticated music and popular music. In fact, curious ears began to stretch towards Brazil from outside its borders.
In 1958, the French director Marcel Camus brought his vision of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to life in Rio and to stick more closely to the particular atmosphere of the city, asked “Tom” Jobim to take charge of the music. Jobim called Luiz Bonfá and Roberto Menescal to the job, and his accomplice Vinicius de Moraes for the lyrics. The result would be Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, and “A felicidade” and “Manhã Carnival” as new unforgettable melodies of bossa nova.
In 1962, a group of Brazilian musicians received the honor of playing at the famous Carnegie Hall in New York. Jobim, Gilberto, Menescal and Zama were there to show their bossa to an American audience, only Moraes declined the invitation for fear of seeing the “Yankees” imitating their newly found gem. It was actually the Americans that came to them.
Present in the room, the saxophonist Stan Getz found the musicians behind the curtains and very quickly a collaboration between him and João Gilberto was envisaged. Two years later the most famous “bossa-jazz” record ever recorded was born; Getz / Gilberto. The standards were subtly revisited by Getz’s “cool” tenor sax, and Gilberto’s wife, Astrud, sang in her falsely detached voice what would become THE emblematic piece of bossa, covered over 300 times, The girl from Ipanema ( Garota de Ipanema ).
The intrinsic strength of this song is that it summarizes all that Brazil could convey as dreamy imagery: the girl – perfectly beautiful roams dreamily on the sunny Ipanema beach and makes all the boys turn around who cannot believe their eyes. The alliance of bossa with jazz would become the trendy movement of the early sixties (everyone wanted to come to record their bossa record in Brazil) and delight the intellectual elite.
Bossa nova has been enriched at the harmonic level by the contribution of jazz, however it also owes its richness to classical music. Carlos Jobim brought to the genre inverted chord overtones that jazz itself was unaware of, and these came from classical music. These musicians were influenced in the melodic and orchestral construction of their pieces by European masters such as Chopin, Ravel or Stravinsky, but also Brazilians like Hector Villa-Lobos.
The heritage of bossa nova
The coming to power of Marechal Castelo Branco during a military coup in 1964 hindered the rise of bossa nova at the national level, considered “intellectually too much to the left,” but this was not the case internationally. The young musicians, like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso exiled themselves and spread the good word in Europe and elsewhere in the world, soon joined by the new wave, Toquinho, Chico Buarque, Airto Moreira , Sergio Mendes, and the famous Baden Powell.
Even if it is now supplanted in the hearts of younger generations by new trends, Bossa nova remains very present in Brazil. The new generations of musicians, including the band Bossacucanova with their remarkable album Uma batida diferente , reinvented bossa nova in 2004 by integrating all the possibilities of electronic music.
If samba is a more “primitive” music, inseparable from the festival in Brazil, Bossa nova is the internationally recognized expression of a rare finesse and elegance in chords and musical phrasing, with lyrics telling the truth of life in the streets. Bossa nova and Moraes’ texts have paved the way for the MPB (Música Popular Brasileira).