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A Rough Guide To Brazilian Music


Despite all of the setbacks in the run-up to the opening ceremonies, Brazil threw the party of all parties last night as it welcomed the world to the first Olympic Games in South America, and Brazilian music played a big part in that opening ceremony.


SUAREZ: Whether you've been listening to bossa nova or samba for decades or you've just begun to get your groove on with funk or favela beats, we want to take advantage of Brazil's turn in the spotlight to give listeners a look at that country's musical heritage, so we asked Betto Arcos, host of the podcast Cosmic Barrio and world music guru to help us come up with a playlist. Good to talk to you again, Betto.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Ray.

SUAREZ: You've traveled to Rio in recent years, immersed yourself in the music there, you know the many genres of Brazilian music. Where should new listeners start out?

ARCOS: The first thing that is essential in wanting to get into the music of Brazil is starting with classics. I think one voice that was with me very present and a composer that was with me when I was there a couple of years ago are these two sort of towers of music from Brazil, Elis Regina and Tom Jobim. They recorded an album interestingly in Los Angeles of all places. This is their only album together, and this is, shall we say, a classic of classics.


ELIS REGINA: (Singing in Portuguese).

TOM JOBIM: (Singing in Portuguese).

SUAREZ: I think anyone who's heard Brazilian music will know that whispering relaxed voice - that's the "Waters Of March," if you've heard it sung in English, "Aguas De Marco," if you've heard it in Portuguese. Well, some of our longer time music fans will remember Stan Getz and those breakthrough albums that introduced us through Gilberto to American ears. There seems to be a style and a beat that's unique to Brazil.

ARCOS: The foundation of music that we know today in Brazil is samba.


SERGIO MENDES: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: Samba came from Bahia to Rio, and in the beginning of the 20th century, samba exploded as the format, as the style of music where Carnaval - where this great tradition of the parades of the floats would come on the streets of Rio in February.


MENDES: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: After that, you have the development of what's called musica popular brasileira and in the 1950s and early '60s, the development of what we know as bossa nova, which was influenced by American cool jazz. So the greats - Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes - all the great composers of this music ushered in a new way. You know, it's bossa nova, but at the heart of it, it's Brazilian music that we know as samba.


ROSA PASSOS: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: So that's how it all kind of exploded then into kind of an umbrella word that people know as MPB or musica popular brasileira, which is kind of what encompasses all of Brazilian music.

SUAREZ: At the opening ceremony, we saw a young Brazilian woman with a sound that would be familiar and comfortable to young American listeners and, perhaps, influential to young American artists. Her name is Anitta. Tell us more about her.

ARCOS: She actually has just come of age in the last five years or so. She's sort of a mix of sort of Beyonce and Katy Perry with a little bit of the Pussycat Dolls. She's considered sort of one of the big pop acts right now in Brazil.


ANITTA: (Singing in Portuguese).

SUAREZ: You know, Betto, it's hard to think about brazilian music without thinking about dance. They really are symbiotic. They live with each other. Those into martial arts would know capoeira and then there's Carnaval with batucada and samba. What did we see last night? Does Brazil have the opportunity now to bring an even wider audience to its prodigious cultural output?

ARCOS: One area that the country shines like no other country is music, music that at its heart, at its essence - it's African dance music. It's music that has a lot to do with the history of the country, much as, say, in the U.S. you have blues and jazz and rock. This is absolutely the time for people to get into this musical culture.

SUAREZ: Betto Arcos is our show's go to guy for world music. He hosts the podcast Cosmic Barrio. Betto, mucho obrigado.

ARCOS: Prazer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.