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When was the last time you heard a song and couldn’t stop singing it for days? If you lived during the 1960s, that song might have been the quintessential Bossa Nova tune, “The Girl from Ipanema.” This slow yet rhythmic song is more than just cliché elevator music; it is a classic in Latin Jazz. It’s also a perfect example of the understated music genre known as Bossa Nova.
What exactly is Bossa Nova? Where did it come from and why did it grow so popular in America and elsewhere? Here’s everything you need to know to improve your musician friends … in the form of five surprising facts about the history of Bossa Nova!
When you think of the 1960s, you may think of songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles or “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. However, “The Girl from Ipanema” was famous in its own rights. First written and recorded in 1962, the song later became a worldwide hit and won a Grammy for “Record of the Year” in 1965.
It was also inducted into the Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and in 2004 was one of the 50 songs chosen by the Library of Congress to join the National Recording Registry. In 2009, the Brazilian edition of Rolling Stone also voted that the tune was the 27th greatest Brazilian song in history.
So if you really think you’re a music aficionado … walk the walk by listening to “Tall and tan and young and lovely/The girl from Ipanema goes walking.”
Love Bossa Nova? Then you have Brazil to thank. Bossa Nova originated in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950s as a combination of traditional Brazilian music, American jazz and Portuguese lyrics. The key instruments used include the guitar, piano, electronic organ, acoustic bass and drums.
Like most internationally-recognized trends, it’s unclear exactly how Bossa Nova went from Brazil to America. Some say that an American tourist discovered the music at one of Rio’s many thriving nightclubs. Other suggest that men from the U.S. joined locals playing the tunes, creating the melodious mix of American and Brazilian influences. Either way, Americans heard Brazil’s new beat for themselves at a 1962 concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Antônio Carlos Jobim, the writer of “The Girl,” is considered one of Bossa Nova’s fathers. For him, “music is the silence between notes” – and while that attribute may typically go unnoticed in music, Bossa Nova features plenty of pauses.
Bossa Nova is also known, however, for embracing musical collaboration. Besides Jobim, other big names in Bossa Nova history include Vincius de Moraes, João Gilberto and Roberto Menescal.
Vinicius de Moraes, nicknamed “Poetinha” or “the little poet,” was known (and criticized) for bringing American influences into the genre. Gilberto was one of the original Bossa Nova creators from the 1950s, and is known for hits like “Chega de Saudade.” Menescal was a jazz guitar player and one of Bossa Nova’s most important composers.
Unlike some genres, Bossa Nova doesn’t have a foundering singer for fans to look to. Instead, it boasts a group of artists who combined their musical talents to create a new kind of beat.
When you were a teenager and heard songs like “We Are Young” by Fun., it may have felt impossible to not get up and dance. For teenagers in the 1960s, Bossa Nova music boasted a similar appeal. Compared to popular music of the time, Bossa Nova was more optimistic and featured everyday themes like love, loss, passion and homesickness. Bossa Nova is also more colloquial in its rhythm; instead of belting out the words, singers seem to rhythmically “talk” out the lyrics.
“The Girl from Ipanema” was even inspired by a teenager. In particular, the composers based the song from 17-year-old Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now Helô Pinheiro). She would take daily trips to the Veloso bar-café to buy cigarettes for her mother, and often left to an orchestra of whistles. The song transformed Heloisa into a celebrity and she is considered one of the muses of Bossa Nova.
Although this genre appeared decades ago, its unique history and characteristics are still appreciated today. The genre is political in its birth, emerging during a brief glint of democracy in between two periods of military dictatorship in Brazil.
It’s also political in its popularity. Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso explains, “What was revolutionary about bossa nova is that a third-world country was creating high art on its own terms, and selling that art around the world. It remains a dream of what an ideal civilisation [sic] can create.”
Bossa Nova fuses sounds from Africa, Europe and Latin America and stands as an example of intercultural exchange. To explore some tantalizing tunes, get started with the famous song that started it all – “The Girl From Ipanama” – and move on to music by people like Laurindo Almeida, Sérgio Mendes and Elis Regina.