In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Brazil

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Archives and Catalogues
  • Research Methods
  • Carnival
  • Indigenous Peoples
  • Immigrant Communities
  • Globalized Brazilian Music

Music Brazil
Suzel Ana Reily
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0007


Brazil is commonly represented as a land of music. Indeed, the soundscapes of this vast country are rich and enticing, highlighting, among other things, the diversity in the nation’s physical geographies, in the distinct historical trajectories of each region, in its complex ethnic makeup, and in the contrasts in the distribution of wealth and resources across the population. While academic debate surrounding Brazilian music is certainly lively, the spectrum commonly covered within this monumental musical universe hardly does justice to its research potential. The city of Rio de Janeiro and northeastern Brazil have attracted far greater academic attention than other parts of the country, and this has led to the establishment of a distinction between “Brazilian” music, on the one hand, and “regional” genres and styles, on the other. Studies of music among native Brazilians, however, have tended to follow a distinct research trajectory based fundamentally within an anthropological tradition. Much Brazilian music research has been conducted by Brazilians, whose main output is in Portuguese. The inward-looking orientation of Brazilian scholarship is linked to a sincere commitment to the nation: in a context marked by severe social and economic problems, research has come to be conceived as a search for ways of contributing to the solution of the nation’s predicament. This has led to a research style that shows a greater preoccupation with ethnographic detail than with contemporary theoretical debate. In contrast, the work conducted by foreign scholars, primarily North Americans and Europeans, whose training has typically emphasized generalizing theory as the aim of research, has tended to approach Brazilian music as a source for “case studies.” Nonetheless, a number of common themes emerge from the literature, including: issues linked to the constitution of “authentic” Brazilian music and nation-building; the role of music in the demarcation of class and racial boundaries as well as in the mediation of class and race relations; the centrality of music in religious domains; the role of music and dance in carnival and other forms of collective sociability; the impact of globalization on Brazilian musics, among others.

General Overviews

Few works other than encyclopedia articles (see Reference Works) attempt to treat the full spectrum of Brazilian music in a single text. Most authors focus either on Brazilian art music, popular music, or folk and vernacular traditions. Comprehensive historical overviews can be found in Appleby 1983 and Mariz 2005, while in Béhague 1979 Brazil is encompassed within Latin America (see also Art Music). For overviews of popular music, see McGowan and Pessanha 1998 and Schreiner 2001; Tinhorão 2004 provides a social history (see also Popular Music). The folk domain is covered by Andrade 2006 (see also Folk and Regional Traditions). Reily 2001 provides an overview of Brazilian music viewed from the perspective of the trajectory of the guitar in Brazilian music.

  • Andrade, Mário de. 2006. Ensaio sobre a música brasileira. 4th ed. Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Itatiaia.

    First published in 1928, the work calls upon Brazilian composers to engage with the national repertoire in their work, defining the trajectory of music production and research in Brazil for the 20th century. The characterization of Brazilian music proposed is based on material derived from the folk domain.

  • Appleby, David P. 1983. The music of Brazil. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

    To date the only book-length historical overview of Brazilian art music in the English language. It encompasses the colonial period, but the level of detail is greater from the 19th century onward.

  • Béhague, Gerard. 1979. Music in Latin America: An introduction. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Historical view of art music in Latin America, providing readers with a unique perspective on the distinct ways in which European trends influenced Brazil in relation to their impact on the rest of Latin America.

  • Mariz, Vasco. 2005. História da música no Brasil. 6th ed. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira.

    Originally published in 1981, Vasco Mariz has continuously updated each new edition to embrace further developments in Brazilian art music. The text focuses on the lives and works of named composers in a somewhat encyclopedic fashion. Breadth and detail increases from the Imperial era onward.

  • McGowan, Chris, and Ricardo Pessanha. 1998. The Brazilian sound: Samba, bossa nova, and the popular music of Brazil. 2d ed. Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press.

    Anyone wishing to acquire a general overview of the developments in Brazilian popular music during the 20th century will find this book useful and accessible. It introduces an English-speaking readership to the major popular music composers and performers and to the main songs and recordings in their repertoires.

  • Reily, Suzel Ana. 2001. Hybridity and segregation in the guitar cultures of Brazil. In Guitar cultures. Edited by Kevin Dawe, 157–177. Oxford, UK: Berg.

    The guitar is represented as an instrument that mediated class and ethnic tensions in Brazil, such that its trajectory from colonial times to the present provides a unique way of approaching the historical development of Brazilian music and the tensions arising from shifting musical and instrumental hierarchies.

  • Schreiner, Claus. 2001. Música brasileira: A history of popular music and the people of Brazil. 2d ed. Translated by Mark Weinstein. New York: Marion Boyars.

    Originally published in German in 1978, this volume still remains the most thorough survey of Brazilian popular music in the English language. Coverage begins in the colonial period progressing to the 1990s, encompassing mainstream genres as well as regional styles.

  • Tinhorão, José Ramos. 2004. História social da música popular brasileira. 3d ed. São Paulo: Editora 34.

    Written by the most meticulous and knowledgeable scholar of Brazilian popular music to date, the volume covers material published in other books, but here it is located in relation to wider social forces that promoted or hindered the formation of “authentic” Brazilian popular music. Originally published in 1990.

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