No samba, please, we’re British!

"As you can see , Prince, here in Rio they let it all hang out. Very un-English, I'm afraid."

“You see, Prince, here in Rio it’s all a tad tribal. Very un-English, I’m afraid.”

It’s hard for a true Brit to like Brazilian music. I mean really get into it, man, to really dig those rhythms. Samba drums are alien to us; they sound dark, primal, swampy – when we hear them, we expect to see a boiling pot of missionary soup. Then there are those tinny-sounding ukeleles being manically strummed (to a Brit, the ukelele sound goes back to George Formby and comic ‘Music Hall’ turns). To cap it all, there’s the language problem. What the hell are they going on about? All that chanting in slang Portuguese makes carnival music sound like a cheesy B-movie soundtrack. Samba is a ‘no no’, best left to the natives.

Prog-rock dinosaurs Yes: no good for weddings (or anything else)

Prog-rock dinosaurs Yes: great for, er, weddings?

Besides, us Brits are blessed with our own prodigious array of musical talent. Forget the Beatles – there’s Genesis, Supertramp, Jethro Tull, Yes and U2 – to name but a few! Any one of these perennial artists have a string of albums to choose from and all of them are bound to liven up the proceedings, be it weddings, barbecues or funerals. To be honest, even when a Brit lives in Brazil, he’s so spoilt for choice that Brazilian music never gets a look in. The worst thing is watching an ex-pat pretending to ‘feel’ that samba thing. He sits there, all white and pink, with a plastic grin on his face, tapping his foot and trying to look cool. Of course, a few caipirinhas help to lubricate the illusion.

The truth is, there’s a little bit more to Brazilian music than samba. There is something called MPB, which translates as ‘Popular Brazilian Music’. Terrible title, I admit. It makes you expect the Latin equivalent of Cliff Richard, Susan Boyle or Adele. But once you get past the label, you discover a host of musical talent so vast, various and colourful that it amounts to nothing less than an embarrassment of riches. Brazilian popular music is world class – simple as that. Even if we restrict the head-count to just a few of the greats – Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Djavan, Milton Nascimento, Rita Lee and the godfathers Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes –  we have enough astounding music to make André Rieu smash his fiddle and weep.

Brilliant Brazilian home-grown talent: Djavan

Brilliant Brazilian home-grown talent: Djavan

Brazilian song-writers, musicians and producers have listened to everything and know all the chops. They play like demons and have an irrepressible knack for mixing African, European and Indian roots to produce an exotic cocktail of sounds with a passionate lyrical undertow. In short, great songs that will make you twist and shout or laugh and cry over your beer and black beans. My favourite MPB song is Gilberto Gil’s Eu Vim da Bahia (“I came from Bahia”). Call me sentimental, but every time I hear it I marvel over its melodic complexity and its ability to tear my heart-strings to shreds. It must have been written by a god and passed into the mind of Gil by osmosis. Pure genius.

Bit of a toss-pot: Bono PR Ltd

Bit of a toss-pot: Bono PR Ltd

So what’s the message? Well, if you live in Brazil and don’t appreciate the glories that are Brazilian music you must be a kind of musical zombie; a Marmite Brit-packer who still thinks Bono is cool. Oh, and by the way, the white and pink guy with the plastic smile was me! Hey, hey!

Categories: Brazil, Music, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “No samba, please, we’re British!

  1. Hey, Martin!
    I’m a student from IFRS (that school in the middle of nowhere, which you’ve recently visited) and I found your blog in general very interesting.
    It’s very nice to read neat comments from a stranger about my country and it’s culture, besides that, I can practice my english reading skills with some amusement ~ (seriously, your posts give me a really fun time)
    As a MPB and Bossa lover, I see the nowadays mainstream brazilian music scenary with some sadness.
    The world knows us by “Ai se eu te pego” and the general samba, pity shame we have really nice artists being simply ignored by the “musical zombies” /:
    Anyways, please keep up writing these fun and interesting posts! haha
    (whoa, finally left a reply here, it’s such a challenge to express everything in english xD)

    • Leo,
      Thanks for your comments. I’m so glad you enjoy the blog.
      As for your English – well, it’s clear as day and way better than my Portuguese!
      Keep reading, keep writing and I’ll see you back at IFRS one day.

  2. Maria Clara

    Hi Martin dear!!!!! YOU ARE BLOODY RIGHT, AS USUAL!!!!! EH!EH!EH! kiss

    • Maria Clara, my dear – did you know that Supertramp have a song called Bloody Well Right!?
      “Right, right, you’re bloody well right, you’ve bloody got a right to say!”
      That’s how it goes…honestly.
      I don’t think I’m usually right, by the way, but thanks for saying so (ho ho).

  3. Dave Brew

    It’s the brazilian rock which (generally) leaves me cold. The instrumentation is fine but the vocalists seem to be holding back all the time, never really letting go. I actually wonder if this isn’t something to do with the chanted way of speaking the catholic priests have and which permeate the youth of so many brazilians.
    Curious that the french have always been far more tied to Bossa Nova and what came after that then the british. I suppose they are more used to listening to music in foreign languages than the brits. and that has always spoilt us for music and films from foreign lands.

  4. I’m Brazilian and like very little of the music around here. I lived in the US for 11 years and everybody used to tell me how great Brazilian music was and I would just smile pretending I agreed.

    • Cassio,
      Music is very subjective, it’s true, but it seems as if you are missing out.
      Are you a music-lover? If so, what kinds of music are so much better then Brazilian music, in your opinion?

  5. Maureen

    I guess that is the real difference between brits and americans, we can’t get enough Samba. .. well of course i speak for myself. I enjoy samba much more the majority of Brazilians i speak to, but as is life . . to each her/his own. I do agree that you would have to be deaf and i would add heartless to not appreciate the beauty, complexity, nuances and sometimes incredible fantastic simplicities and creativity (like playing the matches, salt shakers etc.). SENSASIONAL 🙂 p.s. my favorite instrument is the cuica, it is amazing what amazing sounds a wet rag can make, and i know someone (a fabulous woman) that plays the mouth cuica, AWESOME!!

    • Maureen, my dear,
      What a nice surprise!
      Actually, of course, I love a slice of samba when I’m in the mood.
      You know what kind of mood – “tô que tô”…after a few beers.
      And I don’t mind a touch of pagode. And I have a forró record that has some great moments.
      But you’re right – the cuica is king. Even Stevie Wonder uses it.
      I think the important thing with music is to be sincere and unsnobbish.
      If you know what I mean.

  6. Adriano

    Hey, Martin. I like your comments and it is great to know you like Brazilian music.

    But let me tell you: the samba you are referring to is the one people use to play in carnival, which is the way you described. However, there is an older, cooler and more lyrical form of samba, from which MPB has sprung. I recommend Cartola, a great composer, Geraldo Pereira, João GIlberto (who is considered the creator of Bossa Nova, but he actually thought of himself as a samba singer) and many others.

    Good luck in your explorations of Brazilian music.


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