In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Brazilian Popular Music, Performance, and Culture

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies and Guides
  • Monographs: Broad Coverage
  • Edited Volumes
  • Foundational Genres
  • Samba (Including Samba Schools)
  • Bossa Nova
  • Instrumental: Choro, MIB, Jazz
  • MPB, Including Tropicália
  • Post-MPB
  • Contemporary Black

Latin American Studies Brazilian Popular Music, Performance, and Culture
Charles A. Perrone
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0286


The study of music involves three types: art music (classical, concert, erudita in Portuguese), folkloric music (rural, anonymous, traditional, learned face-to-face), and popular music (largely urban, composed, subject to fashion, and transmitted by mechanical/electronic means, from sheet music to modern vehicles). Brazil has one of the most diverse and admired systems of popular music worldwide, and a music industry to match. Song genres, dance music, and instrumental forms emerged principally from the encounter of European and African heritages; there is also some Indigenous contribution to the popular sphere. The country’s five regions—North, Northeast, Southeast, Center-West, South—have popular styles that evolved from folk traditions, but the main hubs of activity are the longtime capital Rio de Janeiro and metropolitan São Paulo. Performance here signifies live singing/playing (shows or informal settings), studio recordings, and transmission by electronic means (phonograph, radio, film, television, VHS-DVD, LP-CD-audio file, Internet). Culture is employed in a broad sense, encompassing the meaningful practices of everyday life, learned behavior, expressive activities, and the arts. Publications on popular music appear across disciplines: ethno/musicology, history, anthropology, sociology, language-literature, cultural studies, communications, geography, political science. Since pedagogy can be a subject of research, textbooks and curriculum guides are included. In the early nineteenth century, the Afro-Brazilian lundu was foundational; it was a form of dance music and song alike. The modinha was a ubiquitous sentimental song practice that lasted well into the twentieth century. One of several European imports, the polka was a prime input into the national genre maxixe, a forerunner of samba, the best-known Brazilian form. Around 1870, musicians in Rio created choro, a mode of instrumental music that has endured. Besides the samba, the marcha was a defining genre during carnaval, which became an institution in Rio in the 1930s. Samba-canção (song) was the popular vocal version of what came to be regarded as the “national music.” In the 1940s, music of the Northeast became fashionable. In 1958, the internationally known style bossa nova began its ascension. The next generation was socially conscious, leading to the formation of a domain called “MPB,” original creation with a native focus. National rock was prominent in the 1980s. Afro-diasporic sounds appeared in the 1970s, alongside compelling neo-Afro-Bahian manifestations. Since 1990, popular music reflects greater diversification, with a series of pop fads as well as continual artistry. Throughout, a dialectic of national/international obtains in practice and criticism.

Reference Works

Within the Oxford Bibliographies site there are two large entries that refer extensively to the popular music of Brazil: Suzel Ana Reily’s “Brazil” under the subject rubric of Music, and Kristin Mann’s “The Musical Tradition in Latin America” under the subject rubric of Latin American Studies. There are many citations in these two articles that do not appear here, such as Vianna’s The Mystery of Samba, in the latter, and Shaw’s The Social History of the Brazilian Samba, in the former. Users of the present source will benefit from the connections among the three entries. Internal searches for words such as samba are recommended too. Reference works include segments in a venerable dictionary (Béhague 2001), wide-scope encyclopedias (Horn, et al. 2014; Marcondes 1998; Olsen and Sheehy 1998; Torres 2012), curated handbooks (Olsen and Sheehy 2008), helpful textbooks (Brill 2017, Magaldi 2012), and two online entries (Goldschmitt and Vicente 2020, Sandroni 2020) with tighter temporal focus. In some cases (most notably the oldest genres), reference works are the best sources for reliable information. The quality of these publications is generally high and appreciable; each has its own particular merits, such as listening guides (Magaldi 2012) or sidebars (Torres 2012). Readers may wish to verify if contributors are Brazilian or foreign scholars.

  • Béhague, Gerard. “Brazil.” In Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root, 2001.

    An expert overview of the substantial variety in art, folk, and popular music (both song and dance-related) of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including foundational genres, samba, and contemporary developments. There are dozens of cross references to genres and artists. This online version is the successor to the long-standing go-to reference work in musicology, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and Laura Macy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

  • Brill, Mark. “Brazil.” In Music of Latin America and the Caribbean. By Mark Brill, 227–265. New York: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315167213

    The author of this chapter is the overall editor of this textbook for non-music majors. He covers folk, traditional, popular, and art music in their Indo-Luso-Afro-Brazilian diversity. There is a capsule account of the country and a welcome nod to the quintessential Lusitanian saudade (memory/longing imbued with emotion).

  • Goldschmitt, K. E., and Eduardo Vicente. “Popular Music since 1945 and the Growth of the Brazilian Culture Industries since 1945.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    Excellent entry by the author of a sharp monograph concerning bossa nova on the world stage and by a Brazilian historian. Fine example of cooperation across disciplinary lines.

  • Horn, David, et al., eds. Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 9, Genres: Caribbean and Latin America. New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

    An authoritative source covering a wide range of musical forms, styles, and movements. Samba, bossa nova, MPB and four dozen more entries concern Brazilian phenomena. Mostly written by academics in Brazil (translators are credited), so bibliography is decidedly more national (i.e., in Portuguese) than international (English or occasionally other languages).

  • Magaldi, Cristina. “Brazil.” In Musics of Latin America. Edited by Robin Moore and Walter A. Clark, 224–274. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012.

    This nicely illustrated chapter covers art, folk/traditional, and select urban popular music. Aimed at an undergraduate readership, the entry has a handy capsule history of the nation, though the bibliography has only two items. The listening guides are a fine addition.

  • Marcondes, Marcos Antônio, ed. Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Popular, erudita e folclórica. 2d rev. and exp. ed. São Paulo: Art Editora, 1998.

    There are explanations of genres and trends, plus career biographies of composers, musicians, singers, and critics. Thousands of listings of compositions and recordings. This update of Brazil’s most significant reference work in music—originally two volumes (1977)—is now a single tome. Articles have been added and some information has been updated. Nonetheless, more recent research was omitted, and there are no musical examples or illustrations. Despite shortcomings, the utility of this work is unquestionable.

  • Olsen, Dale A., and Daniel E. Sheehy, eds. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 2, South America, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. New York and London: Garland, 1998.

    This original print edition of this formidable enterprise includes a concentrated entry, “Popular Music of Brazil” (pp. 107–111), and a full entry on music of the Northeast (pp. 323–339).

  • Olsen, Dale A., and Daniel E. Sheehy, eds. The Garland Handbook of Latin American Music. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    Selected and updated entries from the corresponding volume of the Garland Encyclopedia, including the sage segments on Afro-Brazilian traditions and music of the Center-South, including plenty of popular music.

  • Sandroni, Carlos. “Popular Music before 1945.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    Excellent entry by the author of the most cited monograph on the evolution of the samba genre (see Sandroni 2021, cited under Samba (Including Samba Schools)). There is a nice blend of musicological information, with sociopolitical perspectives.

  • Torres, George, ed. Encyclopedia of Latin American Popular Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2012.

    Concise segments (generally by academics) cover the broad spectrum of song and dance music in Latin America, with ample coverage of Brazil (30+ entries). Includes organology, definitions of genres/ensembles, histories of movements, and sidebars (condensed biographies of prominent music-makers). Special entries concern concepts in popular music studies. Helpful organization as well.

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