As Holland take to the field tonight against Uruguay, Brazilian could be forgiven for looking on with just a little anger and disappointment. Holland deserve a great deal of credit for the way they pressured Brazil and made them crumble towards the end of their quarter-final match, but the reality is that in the first half, Brazil could have had that game wrapped up. And, as Dunga’s recent sacking shows, losing in the quarter-finals simply isn’t good enough for a team of their standing. Not when a semi-final beckons against a now-gloating neighbouring country that their fans probably would have seen as an easy scalp. Not when their footballing principals had, in the eyes of their media, been abandoned. Not when a star like Ronaldinho had been left at home. Not when Miroslav Klose is so close to breaking Ronaldo’s all-time record for World Cup goals. And not when everybody appears to have caught yellow foot disease.
Luckily for me, this blog post is an easy one to write – in terms of countries that don’t speak English, Brazil is bettered only by Germany when it comes to how well documented their music is, certainly when popular music is brought into the equation. Most of that writing revolves around tropicalia, a genre that ran concurrent with psychedelia and shared many of its ideas and ideals, but put them in a decidedly, unmistakably Brazilian context. There’s no shortage of major acts in the genre, with Os Mutantes, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Nara Leão (all of whom appear on the classic album Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis) all contributing. Here’s another big name, and another contributor to that album – Tom Zé. Zé is unique amongst these names in the way that he slipped away from public view when tropicalia faded from the mainstream in the 1970s; indeed, it was only when David Bryne discovered a copy of 1975’s Estudando o Samba and signed him to his newly-formed Luaka Bop label that Zé’s music began to attract the kind of worlwide audience found by Os Mutantes et al. Here’s a track from that album.
Going back a little further than that, Brazil has plenty of classical composers worth noting too – and while Antônio José da Silva and Antônio Teixeira formed a Gilbert and Sullivan-style coupling as early as the 1720s, Emerico Lobo de Mesquita left behind a sizeable body of sacred work later in the Baroque period, and the Classicism of José Maurício Nunes Garcia continues to receive acclaim, it was a batch of composers that emerged in the late 1800s and early 1900s that really gave Brazil a name and a reputation. Big names include Francisco Mignone and Francisco Braga, but the biggest of them all – for both Brazil and South America as a whole – is Heitor Villa-Lobos. An absolute giant of nationalism, he took the various folk musics of his country and set them to a compositional style heavily indebted to the central European masters, and was as vital a figure to his nation as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Bedřich Smetana, or Ralph Vaughan Williams were to theirs.
With two artists posted that take so much from Brazil’s rich musical history, it would be wrong not to post some samba. One of the most recognisable symbols of Brazil’s cultural identity, certainly to Europeans, samba sits at the roots of much Brazilian popular music, feeding not just into tropicalia, but also bossa nova and capoeira, and other fusions like samba-funk and samba-reggae. One might wonder why it’s one of the very few international genres that has become not just a musical fixture in America, but a dance craze too. That’s a debate for somebody who cares a lot more about dancing than me, though; for now, here’s some Chico Buarque.