Mitch Huber, Heather Brown, Rebecca Roche, Jacob Murillo
Bossa Nova and Hope in Brazil
In 1965, “The Girl from Ipanema”, performed by Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, and João Gilberto, won the Grammy award for record of the year. The song, as well as the album it was featured on, received international acclaim and peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “The Girl from Ipanema” represented much of the world’s first encounter with the Brazilian musical genre of bossa nova. Developed nearly a decade earlier, bossa nova’s popularity in brazil had come and gone by the time the international audiences became privy to its mellow tones and romantic lyrics. However, during the time bossa nova represented contemporary musical taste in Brazil, the genre came to represent a time of hope within Brazil through its association with then-current politics, the development of Brazil into a more modern society, and the positivity surrounding the future of Brazil. Additionally, the influences of bossa nova were widespread, spanning several decades and various art forms. From its humble beginnings, bossa nova truly became a global musical genre.
Bossa nova, roughly translated to “new trend”, saw serious development in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but its roots extend several years prior. In 1956, João Gilberto, then only 25 years of age, created what is considered to be the first bossa nova composition, “Bim-Bom”. Spanning a mere one minute and fifteen seconds, it is immediately apparent the song was influenced by samba, a genre created several decades earlier. However, a closer listen reveals new musical characteristics. The pronounced percussion and almost nasally vocals, both key elements of bossa nova, overshadow other musical components of “Bim-Bom”. While “Bim-Bom” never received critical acclaim, Gilberto’s new genre, boss nova, gripped another demographic entirely. On the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, located in Brazil’s Southeast region, middle-class students, artists and musicians continued the development of bossa nova, expanding on its harmonic richness and syncopated rhythms. Of this group that championed the rise of bossa nova emerged the second figurehead of the genre, Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim. Born in the Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Jobim began his musical career in nightclubs and as a session musician. Jobim’s piano playing was characterized by melodic simplicity and unique rhythmic styles, elements that would come to underpin the bossa nova genre. Ultimately, Jobim found fame first through touring with poet Vinícius de Moraes to provide a portion of the score for Orfeo do Carnaval, then later when West Coast jazz musicians Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd performed his original composition, Desafinado. It was João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim that helped bring bossa nova to center stage in Brazil, where it would embody the spirit of hope in Brazil during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
One reason bossa nova came to represent a period of home within Brazil is because of the genres association with the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek. Commonly referred to simply as “JK”, Kubitschek served as the Governor of the state of Minas Gerais and on the National Congress of Brazil before becoming Brazil’s 21st president. It is evident why the Kubitschek administration inspired hope within the Brazilian people. Even famed Brazilian philosopher Thomas Skidmore described it as “the years of confidence” within Brazil. Upon taking the helm as Brazil’s President, Kubitschek promised “fifty years’ progress in five”, an ambitious target supported by several initiatives. One such initiative was the Plano de Metas, or plan of goals. This plan focused on the development of five key areas Brazil’s economy; energy, food, industry, education, and transportation. It was the hope that these key areas could be improved through opening Brazil to foreign capital and improving Brazil’s tax policy. Despite creating unwanted inflation, Kubitschek’s plan was a success. Gross Domestic Product in Brazil expanded from 6.9% in 1955 to 9.7% in 1960 and growth in the industrial sector reached 80%. A function of this economic prosperity was a growth in confidence and hope amongst the Brazilian people. Exemplifying this idea of hope in Brazil was the genre of bossa nova, with its carefree lyrics concerning largely the ideas of love, beauty, and the sea.
A second reason why bossa nova is often associated with a time of hope in Brazil is because the rise of the genre coincided with the modernization of Brazil. The modernization of Brazil culminated with the creation of Brasilia, Brazil’s new capital. Similar to the initiatives aimed at economic growth, the creation and development of Brasilia was led by then President Juscelino Kubitschek. While the plan to create Brasilia was initially created in 1821, Juscelino aimed to modernize Brazil in accordance with his pledge of “50 years’ progress in five”. Brasilia was commissioned to be built in 1955 with construction be led by Oscar Niemeyer, then a young architect lauded for his innovative and creative techniques. Situated in the state of Goiás, Brasilia captivated Brazilian citizens and international spectators alike. It epitomized what Brazil strived to become, a modern society. Again, this rapid development and modernization of Brazil coincided with the creation of and growth in popularity of bossa nova. As Brazilians became more hopeful about their country, they began to associate the contemporary music of the time, bossa nova, with the beneficial changes occurring.
While bossa nova came to represent hope in Brazil from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, it ultimately fell out of favor with the Brazilian general public and came to be resented by many for what it represented. One catalyst for the fallout between the Brazilian public and bossa nova was the globalization of the art form. As the popularity of bossa nova grew in Brazil, international audiences began to take notice. Soon American jazz artists from Charlie Parker to Oscar Peterson were performing their own renditions of bossa nova standards. As the art form spread, it was progressively looked at as an inauthentic genre amongst Brazilians. An additional catalyst was the ultimate exchange in power from Juscelino Kubitschek to the Brazilian military government. With this exchange, the romantic and pleasant sounds of bossa nova contrasted starkly with the realities of Brazil which were characterized by unrest and instability. The fear that now dominated the public led to the ushering in of new sounds such as tropicalia and the end of bossa nova as the sounds of hope and positivity in Brazil.
Despite only achieving mainstream popularity in Brazil for less than a decade, bossa nova made a lasting impact on Brazil as the representative of hope during the time period. The soft tones of João Gilberto’s guitar and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s piano blended flawlessly with the hope created by the initiatives of Juscelino Kubitschek and the development of the new capital of Brasilia. Although globalization and the rise of the military dictatorship brought the period of hope in Brazil to an abrupt end, bossa nova’s involvement in this period of hope in Brazil’s history cannot be denied.
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