The origins of Bossa Nova in Brazil

. Jul 08, 2019
bossa nova rio de janeiro brazil

Brazil is mourning the death of legendary musician João Gilberto, who passed away on Saturday, July 6, at the age of 88. A visionary guitarist and songwriter, Gilberto is often credited as the “father of bossa nova,” one of Brazil’s most distinct musical styles.

Nowadays played on films, in bars, and in elevators around the world, back in the 1950s and 1960s, bossa nova (literally “new trend”) came as a wave of modernity, an innovative style that took over the Southeast of Brazil.

</span></p> <h2>The birth of a new beat</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">And it all started with João Gilberto, then a young guitarist from the poor countryside town of Juazeiro in Bahia. Poet Vinicius de Moraes and composer Antônio Carlos &#8220;Tom&#8221; Jobim had developed a songwriting partnership, seeking to bring samba and popular Brazilian music in line with American jazz, which was all the rage in the bars and clubs of Rio de Janeiro. Their early compositions would be the beginnings of bossa nova, but it was only after meeting Gilberto that the unique sound was born.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 1958, Tom and Vinicius&#8217; songs were recorded on the album </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Canção do Amor Demais</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">, sung by Elizeth Cardoso and accompanied on guitar by the then-unknown João Gilberto. On &#8220;Chega de Saudade,&#8221; often regarded as the first bossa nova track, Gilberto&#8217;s guitar provides the missing element and defines the entire new style.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Borrowing the syncopated jutting characteristic of jazz, Gilberto turns his guitar into something approaching percussion, going beyond providing added rhythm and actually dictating the beat of the song entirely.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Gilberto then went on to record his own version of &#8220;Chega de Saudade,&#8221; on a single which contained the B-side &#8220;Bim Bom,&#8221; written and composed by the man himself. Besides his already distinctive guitar playing, Gilberto&#8217;s vocals on both tracks became something inseparable from bossa nova. They are soft and familiar, approaching the tone of a speaking voice, while also deceptively quiet, drawing in the listener—like a soft-spoken person at a party, forcing people to lean in and hear what they have to say.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Bim Bom&#8221; goes even further, with Gilberto using his vocals as part of the rhythm itself, a technique later picked up by many of his contemporaries.</span></p> <h2>Bossa Nova and Rio de Janeiro</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The timing and location of bossa nova were crucial to its conception and popularity. The urban development projects of the mid 20th century saw the concretization of the wealthy middle class in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro, soon to be dethroned as the country&#8217;s capital city.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the bohemia of Rio&#8217;s universities, clubs, and bars, there was a yearning for a culture that was new and modernist. American jazz and bebop became more and more popular, but these were imported and didn&#8217;t fit in with the growing sense of nationalism in the country&#8217;s big cities.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Bossa nova came as a way to take traditional samba rhythms and make them current and innovative. The samba was stripped back and slowed down, and elements of jazz were thrown into the mix, largely thanks to João Gilberto&#8217;s genius.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Here at The Brazilian Report, we have compiled a selection of some of our favorite bossa nova tracks, which you can follow on <a href="">Spotify</a>.</span></p> <p><iframe src="" width="300" height="380" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <h6><em>Correction: The original version of this article stated that João Gilberto died on June 6, when he actually died on July 6, 2019. The information has been corrected. </em></h6> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">

Read the full story NOW!

The Brazilian Report

We are an in-depth content platform about Brazil, made by Brazilians and destined to foreign audiences.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at