Bossa Nova, which means “new wave”, is a style of samba music that was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Through the advent of Bossa Nova, Brazil was able to produce one of the most unique and enduring sounds in the history of Latin music.

Bossa Nova is distinct from other Samba subgenres, as it consists of a mixture of soft samba based on traditional Brazilian music and rhythms, American jazz, and a new style of Portuguese lyrics.

Copacabana neighborhood from above
Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Context Travel.

It has been contested as to who started this charismatic musical style. Some believe that Milton Banana, a drummer and long-time collaborator of Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz, should be credited as the creator of the genre. Others dispute this, and claiming that Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto were the true founders. Be that as it may, what is agreed upon is that these three performers made a huge impact on the genre, whether they were performing individually or as a collective.

There were numerous other artists who made an enormous contribution to the success of Bossa Nova, namely Sergio Mendes, Astrud Gilberto, Vinícius de Moraes, Roberto Menescal, and Nara Leão, amongst others.

Astrud Gilberto performing with Stan Getz. Image courtesy of Artrockstore.

While the genre may have originated in Brazil, it has since been spread across the world. Bossa Nova became an international phenomenon when an American A&R man on holiday went to a club and saw Tom Jobim and João Gilberto playing. From then onwards, this style of music has seduced the world with its hypnotic sound and slow, gyrating inducing lyrics.

The music of Bossa Nova has had many performers, but none have stood out more than Sergio Mendes and Joao Gilberto. These two artists two were at the forefront when the genre was conceived, and their influence is still felt over six decades later.

Joao Gilberto is regarded as the father of Bossa Nova. His legacy still lives on, even after his death in 2019. His first internationally acclaimed album Getz/Gilberto was released in collaboration with American jazz musician Stan Getz in 1963. The album included songs such as “The Girl from Ipanema”, which won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1965. Since then, Gilberto has been a trailblazer, a forerunner and a legend who has preserved the sanctity of the genre that he helped to mould.

João Gilberto on tour in Rome in 1963
João Gilberto on tour in Rome in 1963. Image courtesy of The Times.

Sergio Mendes became a worldwide sensation with his debut album that was released in 1966. The album featured his breakout hit, Mas Que Nada, which was originally recorded in 1963 by Jorge Ben.

Since then Mendes has released over 50 albums and has been nominated for an Oscar, winning numerous awards such a Grammy as well as several Latin Grammy Awards. After five decades, he is still performing. In 2020 he released an album entitled In the Key of Joy, which features his old songs reinvented and performed in collaboration with contemporary artists such as India Arie, the Black-Eyed Peas and John Legend.
The album Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66. Image courtesy of A&M Records.

The Girl from Ipanema” is the most popular Bossa Nova song ever recorded. It was originally recorded by Pery Ribeiro in 1962, but it became a worldwide sensation in 1964 when it was recorded by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto with vocals by Astrud Gilberto. The song has been sampled by countless renowned artists, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse to name a few.

According to an article published by Brown University, “The Girl from Ipanema” was a worldwide hit, winning a Grammy Award and being recorded both in English and in Portuguese by various artists. “It made audiences in the United States aware of the richness of Brazilian music was a worldwide hit, before overexposure made it the epitome of trite cocktail-lounge music,” the article goes on to explain.

It is important to share cultural music, folklore stories and artworks with each other. However, it is equally important to safeguard the authenticity and sacredness of our forefathers’ mementos. This distinct and unique Brazilian sound should be protected from being watered down to a point that it loses its genuine samba sound. This active protection of heritage falls in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Sustainable Cities and Communities.

While enjoying each other’s cultural music we should give it the respect that it deserves. Additionally, we must never distort cultural relics' meaning nor overlook the impact, importance and significance they have to people who belong to their culture.

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