The Music of Brazil: Daily Life in Other Accents


A good way to learn about the various sides of Brazil that influence and affect our daily lives is to listen: accents, songs, and stories

by Mayra Fonseca cover Coutto Orquestra / Melissa Warwick translated by Pronoia Tradutória

In Brazil, music blurs the boundaries between the traditional and the cutting edge. For as much as we categorize music as the center of our cultures, Brazilian music from the margins often provides a repertoire of daily life, habits, and behavior.

From these different sides of Brazil, stories are not told: they are sung. In its strength as a record and story of our culture, music is a language that helps us understand Brazilian behavior and conditions.

In many exploratory studies, the sounds of a place have been found to provide important clues about the origins of its historically creative inspiration (which continues to reverberate within a social group) and the transgressions to come (before talking about something new, we usually sing about a desire for it). When you are immersed in a place, it is essential to listen and follow the sounds and musical celebrations: a conversation, an accordion in the late afternoon, a drum, a rabeca fiddle… true invitations to get to know people and places in depth.

Evento de abertura da Rio 2016 - foto: Daniel Ramanho / Agif / Gazeta Press
2016 Opening Ceremony – photo: Daniel Ramanho / Agif / Gazeta Press

Speaking of celebrations, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016 showed that the power of Brazilian music is also a sign of the strength and beauty of our immateriality. Leaving criticisms of the controversial decisions and impacts of Rio 2016 aside, the two events can be compared to artistic performances that have left a legacy for our imagination.

As well as finally recognizing the aesthetics of improvisation as an effective creative methodology rather than a failure, the opening event highlighted the richness of our gestures, rhythms, and songs, breaking down the hierarchy that used to separate the exquisite from the popular: side by side, even with no material resource, the immaterial energy of Brazil (especially its musicality) is capable of promoting a true spectacle.

In the closing ceremony, Brazil was invited to display its everyday lives, often invisible to many: Parabelo by Grupo Corpo, Master Noemísia of the Vale do Jequitinhonha and Master Virgulino dancing with life-size dolls to the sound of baião music, Mateus Aleluia and his drums, and the Guaranis and their songs of ritual and routine, to give a few examples.

It was a reminder that verbal communication and music in the different regions of Brazil set the rhythm of daily activities, work, and the passage of time. The beat and the words of a song were once the only possible languages of resistance for some Brazilians: survival aesthetics used to talk about the possibility of freedom (as is the case with Jongo) or to keep a story that does not appear in textbooks alive. With music, we are able to revise our values: much of our current inspiration came from the margins of society and increasingly occupies the center.

Brazil in the margins: musical artists to listen

Expedição Voga da Coutto Orquestra / Foto Melissa Warwick
Voga Expedition by the Coutto Orchestra – photo: Melissa Warwick

The Coutto Orquestra, a band from the Brazilian state of Sergipe, undertook a cultural immersion by the São Francisco river when they created their album Voga (which in Portuguese means the movement of the oar on a boat, the latest fashion, or something that is popular at that moment). They spent time at the homes of local artists, but mostly they were getting to know the different sides of Brazil, retracing a path traveled by so many of us and that is so important to our history and our everyday life.

Zé Manoel is from the Brazilian outback, near the banks of the São Francisco river. He captures the rhythms and lyrics of washerwomen and country singers, and his songs reflect local artists and the desires of the great centers, such as in the lyrics of “Fantasia de um Alecrim Dourado”, adapted from folklore.

“If I lived in a little house on the riverbank, in the countryside,
And woke up with the birds announcing the dawn,
It was my love, who made me dream of happiness, a light that went out.
If it were up to me, when I die, I want to sprout from a rosemary plant.”
(Fantasia de um Alecrim Dourado, Zé Manoel)


B_T_pgdão, a collective of young artists from the Brazilian state of Bahia, study pagode music and reinterpret it in an urban context.

Grupo Mbeji
Mbeji Group

In São Paulo, the Mbeji group provides a deep and sensitive look at female presence in samba and other Brazilian rhythms. The group also organizes percussion classes and musical workshops focused on cultural and ancestral research.

Ava Patrya Yndia Yracema is the name of the award-winning record by singer Ava Rocha, in which she combines stories of cities and forests in harmonic cadence.

As Bahias e a Cozinha Mineira
As Bahias e a Cozinha Mineira

As Bahias e a Cozinha Mineira: Transgender singers Raquel Virgínia and Assucena Assucena joined guitarist Rafael Acerbi to sing about freedom of gender and regional stories, such as in their song Comida Forte.

A good way to learn about other sides of Brazil that influence and affect our daily lives is to listen to accents, songs, and stories.

By carefully observing Brazilian artistic expression, beyond the obvious social and geographical connections, you can train your senses and move closer to as yet unknown worlds. Listening and letting yourself be carried away by the sound is another way to really feel the power of this decentralization.

Versão resumida ×

Brasis adentro, produções musicais borram as fronteiras entre o que é tradição e o que é vanguarda. Em sua força como registro e contação de nossa cultura, a música é linguagem para compreender comportamentos e cenários brasileiros.

A banda sergipana Coutto Orquestra fez uma imersão cultural pelo Rio São Franscisco para a criação do seu álbum Voga (nome que significa movimento das remadas das embarcações, moda nova ou aquilo que está em evidência). Foram dias de pesquisa em casas, com artistas locais, mas principalmente foram dias de adentrar Brasis recuperando um caminho tão percorrido por tantos de nós e tão importante para a nossa história e cotidiano.

Zé Manoel é do Sertão e da beira do São Francisco. Ele retoma ritmos e letras de lavadeiras e de sertanejos e suas canções conversam com artistas locais e com os desejos dos grandes centros, como na letra de Fantasia de um Alecrim Dourado, adaptado do folclore.

Da Bahia, emerge o B_T_pgdão, um coletivo formado por jovens artistas que pesquisam o pagode e apresentam uma releitura de sua musicalidade para o contexto urbano.

Em São Paulo, o grupo Mbeji traz uma pesquisa profunda e sensível sobre a presença feminina no samba e outros ritmos brasileiros. O grupo também organiza aulas percussivas e oficinas musicais focadas em pesquisa cultural e ancestral.

Ava Patrya Yndia Yracema é o nome do premiado disco da cantora carioca Ava Rocha que mescla histórias das cidades e das florestas em cadência harmônica.

As Bahias e a Cozinha Mineira: as cantoras transexuais Raquel Virgínia e Assucena Assucena se juntaram ao guitarrista mineiro Rafael Acerbi para cantar liberdade de gênero e histórias regionais como na canção Comida Forte.

Acompanhar as expressões artísticas brasileiras com atenção, para além do óbvio social e geográfico, ajuda a treinar os sentidos para aproximação de mundos que não se conhecem.

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