The popular music of Brazil is inherently a wide-ranging collection of influences and genres comprised of the voice of a culture. Many from around the world have narrowed their view of Brazilian music to simple Bossa Novas and the like without delving deeper into the history and vastness of possibilities. To this end, David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads, took it upon himself to compile Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical.
The compilation serves as an introduction to the vast nature of Brazilian music with artists like Jorge Ben, the under-recognized samba rock musician who has been sampled by countless American acts, many of whom have failed to recognize his ultimate impact on the music he has worked on.
Byrne also included more recognizable legends of the Brazilian music scene such as Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil, both key figures in the tropicalia and música popular brasileira, post-bossa nova popular music in Brazil. The music merges themes of social injustice, opposition to oppression, imperialism, and other social and political themes that have continued to plague Brazil culturally.
Thematically, the music Byrne has compiled is a group of 18 songs that includes a wide-range of topics embedded in music that stems from the late-‘60s tropicalia movement in Brazil. Tropicalia has its roots in both avant-garde poetry and the merger of African and Brazilian rhythms with world music. In 1928 Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade penned “The Manifesto Antropófago,” or the Cannibal Manifesto which argued that Brazil’s greatest strength culturally was its history of cannibalizing other cultures and in turn swallowing different traits, customs, rhythms, melodies, and the likes into the Brazilian sound. As such, it is important to note both the influences which went into the songs coming out of Brazil and the converse influence that Brazil was providing to the rest of the world. It is impossible to not recognize the impact popular Brazilian music has had in America throughout pop, hip-hop, rock, and many other genres. On the flip side, it is hard to not recognize the influence American rock, R&B, and funk in the ‘60s and ‘70s had on the music coming out of Brazil.
The cultural exchange that has happened between the two nations, among many other world music connections, is inspiring to the idea of the cultural exchange that is possible. Thematically and sonically, this compilation represents a great introduction to Brazilian music in a sense that it is more than just bossa. Expand your horizons and check out not only this volume, but the others David Byrne has compiled.
Words by Eric Sandler