An Idiot's Guide To: Música Popular Brasileira

This week I’ve decided to delve into a genre of music which was undeniably one of the biggest music movements in South America.

Música popular brasileira, otherwise known as MBP, was a jumbled amalgamation of a variety of genres and influences that developed from the bossa nova movement in the 1960s. Indeed, most MBP tracks take a non-electronic ‘voice and guitar style’ that have clear hints of samba and baião yet also combine many foreign influences, like jazz, to produce a clearly unique genre of music.

Perhaps the best place to start with this guide is to look at the song that is considered the first true MBP song and was the track that propelled the genre to the forefront of the Brazilian music scene. In 1965, at the first Festival of Brazilian Popular Music – hosted by TV Excelsior – a 20-year-old Elis Regina performed her cover of Edu Lobo’s ‘Arrastão’ in a manner that had never been seen before in Brazil. The huge vocals were accompanied by dancing brass tones and a sultry bass line, with clear jazz influences. It was a far cry from the minimal, vocally restraining bossa nova genre that had dominanted the Brazilian music scene for years. Regina went on to win the nationally televised contest and the recording and release of her cover became the biggest selling record in Brazilian music history at the time. This was the birth of MPB.

The early stages of MPB in the 1960s attempted to replicate much of the style of bossa nova and so a lot of the music became a social commentary of sorts, attacking the government’s repression and non-action to social injustice. A lot of these songs were known as canção engajada (protest songs) and faced huge censorship from the government at the time. For example, Geraldo Vandré’s melodic ‘Caminhando (Pra não dizer que não falei das flores)’ – which attacked the government and lamented the famine in Brazil – was banned after its debut on national television in 1968. At the second Festival of MBP, ‘Disparada’ by Geraldo Vandré and Théo de Barros and ‘A Banda’ by Chico Buarque de Hollanda jointly won first place –  and both were critiques of the government. In a way, MBP, much like bossa nova, was an attempt to create a national sound for Brazil and, in doing so, united people through their political dissatisfaction.

The 1970s saw a revolution in the creativity of MPB songs, moving away from the formality of bossa nova influences to a true mixing pot of both foreign and domestic influences. Maria Bethania and Jorge Ben’s 1971 hit ‘Mano Caetano’ exemplifies this change. The previous formula had been replaced with horns and bass lines dancing over a rolling drum beat with huge samba and jazz influences, whilst voices and tones really pushed and pulled at the track, a far cry from the 1960s guitar strumming. The MPB track which readers may be most familiar with is Jorge Ben’s ‘Taj Mahal’, a tune that is obviously inspired by Indian music, with a sitar being heard strumming through the track. Recently, ‘Taj Mahal’ has played by DJ superstar Hunee in many of his sets.

“In a way, MBP, much like bossa nova, was an attempt to create a national sound for Brazil and, in doing so, united people through their political dissatisfaction.”

MPB, unlike many other genres that developed at the same time, has not seen a complete decline or end to its vitality. The 1980s and ‘90s brought rap and rock to Brazil yet MPB stood strong and evolved as a genre, incorporating those themes into new songs. Marisa Monte, who is often considered the most popular female singer in Brazilian history, made waves at the time with her MPB releases that further blurred the lines between the genres that MPB borrowed from and itself. Her 1994 release, ‘Maria De Verdade’, starts in a similar slow and formal manner to the MPB of the 1960s, yet later punches with heavy strings and a samba drum beat to truly exemplify the mixing pot that is MPB.

MPB is as much a reflection of the Brazil as it is a music genre. The wide immigrant population alongside the strong desire to explore social commentary through music led to a truly one of a kind style that developed with Brazil and continued to evolve under different influences. If the aim of MPB was to produce a national music sound for a nation of 207.7 million, I believe the genre has been pretty successful indeed.

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MusicGeorge ShawComment