By Patricia Maresch, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – They say that Rio is the birthplace of Samba. Which makes it’s younger sister Bossa Nova, or jazz samba, perhaps the second most honored music genre in town, and maybe the most internationally recognized Brazilian sound.
The greatest Bossa Nova hit of all time “The Girl From Ipanema” (1964) immediately triggers memories of white beaches, sunshine and beautiful girls. Composer Tom Jobim in partnership with poet Vinicius de Moraes probably never intended to define Brazilian music for American and European audiences with this song, but they did for years to come.
Perhaps it was the combination of Jobim’s rhythm and Moraes’ extraordinary lyrics in this song that elevated the genre to international acclaim. Or the slow intimate beat that involves the listener with a relaxing cadence akin to the sound of waves gently breaking ashore.
Another famous Bossa Nova song came about when one night Jobim teamed up with his neighbor, Newton Mendonça to write a tune as a joke, and homage to all off key singers they had to endure accompanying on the piano. “Desafinado” (Off-Key) was born, causing some stir within the musical community at the time.
João Gilberto, one of Bossa Nova’s icons who externalized the song, later said: “In Brazil, even the canaries sing off-key.” Canary or no canary, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald loved the sounds of Jobim and both recorded an album with him.
Baden Powell was considered one of the greatest Brazilian guitarists and also lent his abilities to Bossa Nova. His seductive vocals in combination with his extraordinary guitar playing skills mesmerized audiences worldwide. Ironically, by the time Bossa Nova was achieving its greatest popularity abroad, the movement had already begun to fade at home in Rio.
In recent years, Bossa Nova has not kept up with much of the contemporary music scene, but the classics have continued to influence modern bands like Smoke City who recently recorded Águas de Março (Rains of March) by Jobim. Of course, even if “The Girl From Ipanema” unfortunately turns up as elevator-music, Brazil still honors their Bossa Nova legends.
In Rio de Janeiro a group of Bossa Nova musicians keeps it alive and vibrant as some of the best local artists come together every Wednesday nights in Urca’s ultra-chick Club Zozô to keep the soul of Bossa Nova flowing, stripped of all that is kitsch.
From 8PM, the group Bigorna Quinteto leads the way to cool Brazilian Bossa Nova, revering not only legends such as Jobim and Baden Powell, but also playing a refreshed, contemporary material.