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J.C. McGowan, author of The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil (Marc

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Mar 18, 2009, 9:41am Top

Please welcome Chris McGowan, author of The Brazilian Sound. JC will be answering questions about his books and his writing until March 30th.

Mar 18, 2009, 10:33am Top


I want to thank Abby and Library Thing for hosting this chat. I'll be talking about a music study that I wrote with Ricardo Pessanha called The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil (Temple University Press). It's the only work of its kind in English, a comprehensive look at Brazilian music genres and leading historic and contemporary musicians. We have just published a revised, third edition. From the book description:

"Here is an illustrated guide to the rich music of Brazil—its history, styles, performers, instruments, and impact on musicians around the globe. From the boisterous rhythms of samba to the cool elegance of bossa nova to the hot percussion of Bahian axé music, The Brazilian Sound celebrates a world music phenomenon. This revised and expanded edition includes discussions of developments in samba and other key genres, the rise of female singer-songwriters in recent years, new works by established artists like Milton Nascimento and Marisa Monte, and the mixing of bossa with electronica. This clearly written and lavishly illustrated encyclopedic survey features new entries and photographs, an extensive glossary of Brazilian music terms and more."

Edited: Mar 24, 2009, 4:36pm Top

This is my favorite book on Brazilian music and I have both the previous editions. It introduced me to many of my now-favorite Brazilian artists. I just got the 3rd edition, and it seems that you have augmented the book quite a bit. Can you tell us about some of the additions?

Mar 18, 2009, 11:15am Top

I'm looking forward to getting a copy of your book, which I probably would never have known about had I not been on LibraryThing.

I'm particularly interested in Forró and related Northeastern music, like baião and xote. Do you cover these in your book? And do you describe the differences and similarities of these, which I don't understand at all? (Are baião and xote forms of Forró, or are they all different but related forms, or is it all horribly controversial among musicologists, getting them into fistfights at international conferences?)

Thanks for being open for this chat. I look forward to following it!

Mar 18, 2009, 1:14pm Top

In answer to bossanovaguy's question, the 2nd edition appeared in 1998, so we bring the book up to date with what's been happening since then. We talk about new artists in samba, MPB, regional, and instrumental music, and take an expanded look at the popular música sertaneja genre (Brazil's "country" music), and Brazilian funk, rap/hip-hop, and electronic dance music. We also explore the music coming out of Belém, which is becoming a new musical center with genres like guitarrada and technobrega. There are a few historical "expansions," as well, such as an extended discussion of Jobim's famous composition "Aguas de Março" (Waters of March).

Mar 18, 2009, 1:26pm Top

Responding to afbroman, the answer is yes. We have a chapter devoted to northeastern music, and it's also referenced elsewhere in the book, as so many Brazilian musicians (whether in MPB or rock or samba or jazz) utilize northeastern songs and rhythms at some point in their careers.

I've never witnessed any fisticuffs over forró among musicologists, but there indeed is a difference of opinion regarding these definitions and the word's history. It doesn't derive from the English "for all," as a widespread bit of lore would have it. Rather, it probably comes from the word forrobodó, which dates back to at least 1833, according to Cascudo.

Forró is a generic term for the lively, accordion-driven styles of the northeast such as baião and xote and xaxado, originally popularized by the great Luiz Gonzaga. Forró is also used by some to designate a certain variation of the baião.

Mar 18, 2009, 11:48pm Top

I realize that I can grab a 1997 edition of the book at my local library, and will do that on Thursday (19 Mar).

I don't think I have any real knowledge of Brazilian music, except that I really like the sound of Virginia Rodrigues. I am not even sure what her style might be called.

Mar 19, 2009, 12:29pm Top

Virginia Rodrigues is from Salvador, Bahia and has diverse influences, ranging from church choir singing to the music of Bahia's Afro-Brazilian blocos afro to MPB (an acronym that often refers to the eclectic Brazilian popular music that followed bossa nova).

Hey, please tell your local library about the new edition!

Mar 19, 2009, 3:02pm Top

I once saw a Bahian percussion group and was blown away. I would like to find out more about this. Also, I love electric guitar- which Brazilian players should I listen to?

Mar 19, 2009, 4:47pm Top

Howdy, JC. Great book, by the way--I think I have a copy of every edition.

I was wondering if you perform that traditional activity of music experts, making lists of the best albums of the year. If so, could you share some recent annual Brazilian music lists?


Mar 19, 2009, 4:55pm Top

Just thought of another question. In your opinion, among today's artists which ones are doing the most interesting work in the fusion of Brazilian styles with the music of other countries and cultures?

Thanks again!

Edited: Mar 29, 2009, 7:02pm Top

Clay, thanks for the compliment. I'll answer your questions first.

Brazilian musicians have always madly mixed their own styles with genres from other countries. They pride themselves on their "cultural cannibalism," as celebrated in the Tropicalia movement.

Not too long ago, bossa nova mixed samba, Jobim's genius, classical harmonies, and jazz influences. MPB artists like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, os Mutantes, and Milton Nascimento mixed Brazilian music with North American sounds. Samba-reggae and other types of axé music fused Brazilian and Caribbean, and lambada (now "guitarrada") threw together carimbó, merengue, cumbia.

These days we're seeing samba, bossa, MPB, maracatu, etc. combined with funk, rap and electronica.

In terms of a "best albums" list, there is such a wide diversity of Brazilian music that there's something for everyone's taste. I would recommend Marisa Monte's recent two-album releases (Universo ao Meu Redor, Infinito Particular) and Maria Rita's Samba Meu for most everyone. I also like recent work by Lenine, Celso Fonseca, Carlos Malta and Jovino Santos Neto.

Going back a little further, here is a list of twenty personal favorite Brazilian albums that I published on my website a few years ago (I am about to update the list):

1. Milton Nascimento, Clube da Esquina 2
2. Marisa Monte, Marisa Monte
3. Elis Regina and Tom Jobim, Elis & Tom
4. Chico César, Aos Vivos
5. Mestre Ambrósio, Fuá Na Casa Do Cabral
6. Gilberto Gil, Parabolicamará
7. Beth Carvalho, Alma do Brasil
8. Carlinhos Brown, Alfagamabetízado
9. Uakti, Mapa
10. Paralamas, Bora Bora
11. Karnak, Karnak
12. Toquinho and Vinícius de Moraes, Vinícius and Toquinho
13. João do Vale, João do Vale
14. Antonio Carlos Jobim, Urubu
15. João Gilberto, Chega de Saudade
16. Egberto Gismonti, Solo
17. Hermeto Pascoal, Lagoa da Canoa
18. Zizi Possi, Valsa Brasileira
19. João Bosco, Gagabirô
20. Paulo Moura and Raphael Rabello, Dois Irmãos

The page also has my co-author Ricardo's top-twenty list and the best Brazilian albums lists of several experts in the field. You can find it here:

Edited: Mar 23, 2009, 8:03pm Top

Vince, we have a chapter on Bahia that talks about the big drum-and-percussion groups such as Ilê Aiyê and Olodum. The "blocos afro" and "afoxés" parade during Carnaval with thousands of participants and huge colorful drum sections, pounding out samba-reggae, ijexá, and other rhythms, and creating a heavy, dense, multi-layered sound that can be absolutely mesmerizing.

You asked also about Brazilian electric guitarists. I think Brazil is first and foremost the land of the classical guitar, of which it has, and has had, many virtuosos. One of the greatest right now is Yamandú Costa, whom everyone should check out.

The country has also produced many fine electric guitarists. A few personal favorites include Sergio Dias Baptista of the Mutantes, Ricardo Silveira (on many MPB classic albums), Herbert Vianna of the Paralamas, Pepeu Gomes (who started with Novos Baianos), Helio Delmiro (on many great bossa and jazz albums), and Toninho Horta (who influenced Pat Metheny's sound). Heitor "T.P." Texeira Pereira was a guitar phenom who left Brazil at a young age to play with Simply Red, and then moved to Los Angeles to become a successful producer and soundtrack composer. Frejat, who started with Barão Vermelho, is quite proficient, though not spectacular, in the R&B realm. But every note is just right...

The "trio-elétrico" sound of Bahia and "guitarrada" of Pará are two electric-guitar styles that are distinctively Brazilian. The former is frenetic, crazy, high-pitched, and mixes everything from frevo to choro to rock. Mestre Vieira (the creator of guitarrada/lambada) and Banda Calypso's Chimbinha are adept in the latter style, which is not well known in or out of Brazil.

And there are so, so many others....

Mar 19, 2009, 11:17pm Top

I went to Youtube and randomly picked out a Yamandu Costa video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy0vt4_szx0 , and was quite impressed.

Mar 19, 2009, 11:26pm Top

Edited: Mar 22, 2009, 5:47pm Top

YouTube and MySpace are excellent ways to get acquainted with the music of all those Brazilian musicians whose CDs and DVDs aren't available in your local record store (if you still have a local record store...). They are resources that didn't exist when we did the first two editions of the book.

Bookstores are also steadily disappearing, or downsizing, and I want to take this moment to emphasize that The Brazilian Sound can be purchased online anywhere through amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. I have a list of links here, on the Brazilian Sound website:


Edited: Mar 21, 2009, 12:01am Top

I did pick up the library copy of Brazilian Sound and will order it for my own library. Seems to cover quite a lot of territory.
Here is a Youtube link to one of Virginia Rodrigues' videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYTiCOPcnUA . I had mentioned her in an earlier post.

Another link to Rodrigues, a video which gives homage to the Argentinian resistance. You don't see the singer in it all, but the music is from her album, Nos, and this video is a better reproduction of her voice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fw6L-xjRwMw

Mar 22, 2009, 5:58pm Top

That second Rodrigues video is of the song "Uma História de Ifá," written by Margareth Menezes and recorded previously by her on her 1990 Elegibo album, where it is called "Elegibo (Uma História de Ifá)." What a different treatment Rodrigues gives it. Beautiful and lyrical.

Edited: Mar 22, 2009, 6:04pm Top

I want to congratulate you and your co-author on the third edition of The Brazilian Sound. It's nicely updated, even more comprehensive (which I didn't think was possible) than before, and compelling to read. Could you tell us who is on the the beautiful cover of the book?

Mar 23, 2009, 10:12am Top

Allison, thank you very much. The cover is a photo of a singer named Adryana BB and the group Pernambatuque. They specialize in the rhythms and music of Recife, a large coastal city in the state of Pernambuco. They play maracatu, ijexá (a rhythm from the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé), and other local styles, often blended with modern influences and instrumentation. I would highly recommend seeing Adryana in concert the next time you're in Rio (where she is now based). Great shows and some famous northeastern musicians like Alceu Valença often stop by to perform with her.

Mar 24, 2009, 4:34pm Top

As you can tell by my name, I love bossa nova. As a style, it seems to have endured in popularity both in Brazil and overseas. Can you give us a status report on bossa in 2009?

Edited: Mar 26, 2009, 8:45pm Top

Bossa nova celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2008, dating from the 1958 release of João Gilberto's "Chega de Saudade" (written by Jobim), considered the first bossa nova single and the full-fledged birth of the genre. It is still an exceedingly popular style, despite having suffered a backlash for a time following its 1960s international success and a surfeit of corny renditions of "The Girl from Ipanema" and other bossa standards. It never really went away, as it became an established genre in Brazil as well as part of many jazz musicians' repertoires. Then in the '90s, it enjoyed a big resurgence due to lounge-music collections, and drum'n'bass and other electronica remixes of bossa songs. In this decade, new Brazilian composers and interpreters, such as Bebel Gilberto and Celso Fonseca, and yet more foreign musicians (Yo-Yo Ma, Sting, Ryuichi Sakamoto, so many others) have explored the genre. Marcelo D2 has mixed it, with surprising beauty, with rap. In 2009, bossa is firmly established and much more diverse in its interpretations.

Bossa nova is such a cool, elegant, serene style, sophisticated yet simple, pure and essential, that it will endure for a long time to come, I'm sure.

Edited: Mar 29, 2009, 7:25pm Top

I discovered The Brazilian Sound after having read your science-fiction novel The Big God Network, which is full of references to Brazil, some scenes there, and a half-Brazilian protagonist. I have a rather off-the-wall question: do you listen to much music while you're writing? If so, what artists?

Edited: Mar 29, 2009, 7:15pm Top

Not off the wall at all. Sometimes I need silence while writing, but usually background music is important to setting a mood or stimulating my imagination. While writing my novel The Big God Network, which is both science fiction and rather mystical, I got in the right frame of mind by listening to Peter Gabriel's "Passion" (his further development of the "Last Temptation of Christ" soundtrack), a sublimely evocative album and brilliant world-music fusion, and different albums from Uakti, the great instrumental group from Minas Gerais that creates their own instruments.

While working on this new edition of The Brazilian Sound, I was listening to as much new Brazilian music as I possibly could, either on a small sound system in my office, or on iTunes on my Macintosh computer. And I revisited a lot of old classics. For example, I played Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Águas de Março" (Waters of March) over and over while expanding our section on that song and its importance.

Edited: Mar 29, 2009, 7:14pm Top

My chat on Library Thing is winding down and ends tomorrow (Monday the 30th). I wanted to thank Abby for giving me this opportunity to interact with LibraryThing readers. The Brazilian Sound is available from Temple University Press, barnesandnoble.com, and Amazon.com worldwide.

I also have a supplemental blog for Brazilian music notes, essays, interviews and observations that couldn't fit in the book. It just started:

There is more information on my Brazilian Sound web site:

I also publish select blogs about Brazil and Brazilian music at the Huffington Post:

Mar 29, 2009, 7:27pm Top

Do you think Brazilian music has had a lot of influence on American music, or the other way around?

Edited: Mar 30, 2009, 1:05pm Top

Both. American music has strongly influenced Brazilian music. Jazz and rock especially have become part of the Brazilian music vocabulary. Many bossa musicians were influenced by jazz. Rap and funk have had an impact on many artists. And country music has had an impact on Brazil's música sertaneja.

The influence of Brazilian music on North American and international popular music is also profound, and we devote a lot of space in The Brazilian Sound to that subject. Brazilian music—its rhythms, instruments, harmonies, melodies, and textures—had an enormous influence on American music from 1962 on. Percussionists were a large part of that impact. Brazilian music helped create a new rhythmic emphasis in jazz and became an important element in the emerging style called “jazz fusion.” Airto Moreira led the way in this rhythmic revolution and Naná Vasconcelos had a strong impact a few years later. Other influential Brazilian drummers and percussionists in the 1960s and 1970s were Don Um Romão, Édison Machado, Milton Banana, Laudir de Oliveira, Guilherme Franco, and Paulinho da Costa, all of whom recorded and toured with numerous jazz, rock, and pop artists in the United States. Their instruments and playing affected our popular music, from Michael Jackson to Paul Simon.

Brazilian rhythms have been prominently incorporated into the music of international jazz and pop artists and global dance music. Bossa nova has become a permanent sub-set of jazz. In addition, the melodies and harmonies of the great Brazilian songwriters, from Ary Barroso to Tom Jobim to Milton Nascimento to Ivan Lins, have been incorporated into the great world songbook, as so many foreign musicians have covered Brazilian songs.

I would argue that Brazilian music has had more of an influence on international music than any other country except for the United States.

Mar 30, 2009, 8:24pm Top

I love Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema," "Corcovado" and "Desafinado" from the bossa nova era, among others. What would be your personal favorite songs of all time in different Brazilian musical genres?

Edited: Mar 30, 2009, 9:11pm Top

It's hard to narrow the list down, but here goes. These are personal favorites, and I'm not citing them as the most important songs in these genres. Just ones I like to listen to, over and over.

In terms of bossa nova, there are just so many, and nearly all by Jobim. I especially like "Corcovado" (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars), "Desafinado," "Dindi," "Samba de Uma Nota Só (One-Note Samba), and "Samba do Avião." I love Jobim's "Gabriela" and "Águas de Março," which don't fit into the bossa category (the latter is a modern samba). Baden Powell and Vinícius de Moraes also collaborated on many great tunes, which fall somewhere between bossa and samba (or "afro-samba").

In terms of samba-canção, I love Ary Barroso's "Aquarela do Brasil" (Brazil) and "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" (sometimes called "Baia"). Dorival Caymmi also wrote a lot of my favorite sambas, but I think my favorite song of his is the canção praieira "Promessa de Pescador" (Promise of a Fisherman), which many Americans know from a version by Paul Winter. You can't go wrong with Barroso and Caymmi.

Paulinho da Viola and Martinho da Vila are great samba songwriters. And many beautiful sambas have come out of pagode samba. I love Zeca Pagodinho's version of Serginho Meriti's "Deixa a Vida me Levar" (Let Life Take Me). Either Zeca or Fundo de Quintal will introduce you to many great sambas, especially in the partido-alto style. Samba is so vast an area, with so many marvelous composers, I won't list more (see chapter two in the book!).

In terms of composers often identified with MPB (eclectic post-bossa music), Milton Nascimento is my favorite, although I love many tunes also by Jorge Benjor (aka Jorge Ben), João Bosco, Ivan Lins, Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Edu Lobo, Geraldo Vandré, Alceu Valença, and Chico Buarque, and Marisa Monte and Lenine in recent years. Of Milton's work, "Morro Velho," "Travessia," "San Vicente," "Sentinela," "Ponta de Areia," and "Coração de Estudante" are some favorites.

In northeastern Brazil, I love many Luiz Gonzaga songs, most of all his classic "Asa Branca." The rather obscure songwriter João do Vale's songs like "Carcará," "O Canto da Ema," and "Na Asa do Vento" are wonderful, and I recommend seeking out two tribute albums with MPB stars singing his tunes. Zeca Baleiro is a good modern singer-songwriter mixing northeastern influences with MPB, reggae and rock.

You know, there are so many great Brazilian songs. I didn't get even around to choro (Pixinguinha...) or Brazilian rock and jazz. Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Pascoal are great composers, although not for everybody. Of course, there is Heitor Villa-Lobos in the classical realm.

I'm forgetting most of my favorites, I'm sure of it....Alas, this author chat is coming to a close!

I will say that The Brazilian Sound talks about hundreds of important songs in Brazilian musical history, and I will leave it at that...

Thanks again to LibraryThing for hosting this chat.

Edited: Jul 21, 2009, 3:05pm Top

"Bossa nova is such a cool, elegant, serene style, sophisticated yet simple, pure and essential, that it will endure for a long time to come, I'm sure." ARE YOU SURE?
Check here: http://luxvk26.5gighost.com/all.html

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