Bossa nova

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Bossa nova (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈbɔsɐ ˈnɔvɐ] (About this soundlisten)) is a style of samba developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.[3] It is mainly characterized by "different beat"[nb 3] that altered the harmonies with the introduction of unconventional chords and an innovative syncopation of traditional samba from a single rhythmic division.[5][6] Therefore, the "bossa nova beat", then, is characteristic of a samba style and not of an autonomous genre.[7][8]

According to the Brazilian journalist Ruy Castro, the bossa beat – which would be created by the drummer Milton Banana – was "an extreme simplification of the beat of the samba school", as if all instruments had been removed and only the tamborim had been preserved.[9] In line with this thesis, musicians such as Baden Powell, Roberto Menescal and Ronaldo Bôscoli, also claim that this beat is related to the tamborim of the samba school.[10] One of the major innovations of bossa nova was the way to synthesize the rhythm of samba on the classical guitar.[3][8] According to musicologist Gilberto Mendes, the bossa nova was one of the "three rhythmic phases of samba", in which the "bossa beat" had been extracted by João Gilberto from the traditional samba.[7] According to the author Walter Garcia, the synthesis performed by Gilberto's guitar was a reduction of the "batucada" of samba, a stylization produced from one of the percussion instruments: the thumb stylized a surdo; the index, middle and ring fingers phrased like a tamborim.[8]

The bossa nova wave came to renow samba and to contribute to the modernization of Brazilian music, being a watershed.[11] The style emerged at the time when samba-canção[nb 4] was the dominant rhythm in the Brazilian music scene.[13][14] Its first appearance was on the album Canção do Amor Demais, in which the singer Elizeth Cardoso recorded two specifically compositions by the duo Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, "Outra Vez" and "Chega de Saudade", which were accompanied by João Gilberto's guitar. It was the first time that the Bahian musician presented the beat of his guitar that would become characteristic of the style.[3] By accompanying Cardoso's voice, Gilberto innovated in the way of pacing the rhythm, accentuating the weak times, in order to carry out a synthesis of the beat of samba to guitar.[3][15]

Months later, João Gilberto's first compact was released, containing the tracks "Chega de Saudade" and "Bim Bom".[15] Considered the landmark of the birth of bossa nova,[3][15] it also featured Gilberto's innovative way of singing samba, which was inspired by Dorival Caymmi.[16][17] With the LP Chega de Saudade, released in 1959, Gilberto consolidated the bossa nova as a new style of playing samba.[3][5] His innovative way of playing and singing samba, combined with the harmonies of Antonio Carlos Jobim and the lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes, found immediate resonance among musicians who were looking for new approaches to samba in Rio de Janeiro,[3][18] many of them were influenced by American jazz.[19] Then, it emerged an artistic movement around Gilberto and others professional artists such as Jobim, Moraes and Baden Powell, among others, which attracted young amateur musicians from the South Zone of Rio – such as Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, Ronaldo Boscoli and Nara Leão.[18][20]


Bossa nova rhythm[21]

In Brazil, the word "bossa" is old-fashioned slang for something done with particular charm, natural flair or innate ability. As early as 1932, Noel Rosa used the word in a samba:

"O samba, a prontidão e outras bossas são nossas coisas, são coisas nossas." ("Samba, readiness and other bossas are our things, are things from us.")

The phrase bossa nova means literally "new trend" or "new wave".[22] The exact origin of the term "bossa nova" remained unclear for many decades, according to some authors. Within the artistic beach culture of the late 1950s in Rio de Janeiro, the term "bossa" was used to refer to any new "trend" or "fashionable wave". In his book Bossa Nova, Brazilian author Ruy Castro asserts that "bossa" was already in use in the 1950s by musicians as a word to characterize someone's knack for playing or singing idiosyncratically.[23] Castro claims that the term "bossa nova" might have first been used in public for a concert given in 1957 by the Grupo Universitário Hebraico do Brasil (Hebrew University Group of Brazil). The authorship of the term "bossa nova" is attributed to the then-young journalist Moyses Fuks, who was promoting the event.[24] That group consisted of Sylvia Telles, Carlos Lyra, Nara Leão, Luiz Eça, Roberto Menescal, and others. Mr. Fuks's description, fully supported by most of the bossa nova members, simply read "HOJE. SYLVIA TELLES E UN GRUPO BOSSA NOVA" ("Today. Sylvia Telles and a 'Bossa Nova' group"), since Sylvia Telles was the most famous musician in the group at that time. In 1959, Nara Leão also participated in more than one embryonic display of bossa nova. These include the 1st Festival de Samba Session, conducted by the student union of Pontifícia Universidade Católica. This session was chaired by Carlos Diegues (later a prominent Cinema Novo film director), a law student whom Leão ultimately married.[25]


Classical guitar[edit]

Bossa nova is most commonly performed on the nylon-string classical guitar, played with the fingers rather than with a pick. Its purest form could be considered unaccompanied guitar with vocals, as created, pioneered, and exemplified by João Gilberto. Even in larger, jazz-like arrangements for groups, there is almost always a guitar that plays the underlying rhythm. Gilberto basically took one of the several rhythmic layers from a samba ensemble, specifically the tamborim, and applied it to the picking hand. According to Brazilian musician Paulo Bitencourt, João Gilberto, known for his eccentricity and obsessed by the idea of finding a new way of playing the guitar, sometimes locked himself in the bathroom, where he played one and the same chord for many hours in a row.[26]

Drums and percussion[edit]

As in samba, the surdo plays an ostinato figure on the downbeat of beat one, the "ah" of beat one, the downbeat of beat two and the "ah" of beat two. The clave pattern sounds very similar to the two-three or three-two son clave of Cuban styles such as mambo but is dissimilar in that the "two" side of the clave is pushed by an eighth note. Also important in the percussion section for bossa nova is the cabasa, which plays a steady sixteenth-note pattern. These parts are easily adaptable to the drum set, which makes bossa nova a rather popular Brazilian style for drummers.


Certain other instrumentations and vocals are also part of the structure of bossa nova:

Bossa nova and samba[edit]

Basic bossa nova accompaniment pattern About this soundPlay 

Bossa nova has at its core a rhythm based on samba. Samba combines the rhythmic patterns and feel originating in former African slave communities. Samba's emphasis on the second beat carries through to bossa nova (to the degree that it is often notated in 2/4 time). However, unlike samba, bossa nova has no dance steps to accompany it.[27] When played on the guitar, in a simple one-bar pattern, the thumb plays the bass notes on 1 and 2, while the fingers pluck the chords in unison on the two eighth notes of beat one, followed by the second sixteenth note of beat two. Two-measure patterns usually contain a syncopation into the second measure. Overall, the rhythm has a "swaying" feel rather than the "swinging" feel of jazz. As bossa nova composer Carlos Lyra describes it in his song "Influência do Jazz", the samba rhythm moves "side to side" while jazz moves "front to back". Bossa nova was also influenced by the blues, but because the most famous bossa novas lack the 12-bar structure characteristic of classic blues, as well as the statement, repetition and rhyming resolution of lyrics typical of the genre, bossa nova's affinity with the blues often passes unnoticed.[28]


Aside from the guitar style, João Gilberto's other innovation was the projection of the singing voice. Prior to bossa nova, Brazilian singers employed brassy, almost operatic styles. Now, the characteristic nasal vocal production of bossa nova is a peculiar trait of the caboclo folk tradition of northeastern Brazil.[29][30]

Themes and lyrics[edit]

The lyrical themes found in bossa nova include women, love, longing, homesickness, nature. Bossa Nova was often apolitical. The musical lyrics of the late 1950s depicted the easy life of the middle to upper-class Brazilians, though the majority of the population was in the working class. However, in conjunction with political developments of the early 1960s (especially the 1964 military coup d'état), the popularity of bossa nova was eclipsed by Música popular brasileira, a musical genre that appeared around the mid-1960s, featuring lyrics that were more politically charged, referring explicitly to working class struggle.

Notable bossa nova recordings[edit]

Bossa Nova has its roots in Brazil. While the music eventually influenced american jazz artists in the 1960's, those recordings were not notable in terms of the origins of Bossa Nova (they were jazz recordings). In addition to those listed above, some important Bossa Nova recorings include:

Bossa Nova—Carlos Lyra—on Phillips, 1960

Bossa Nova—Roberto Menescal—on Imperial, 1962

A Bossa dos Cariocas—Os Cariocas—on Phillips, 1962

Tamba Trio—Tamba Trio—on Phillips, 1962

Big Band Bossa Nova—Oscar Castro Neves—on Audio Fidelity, 1962

Vinícius e Odete Lara—Vinícius and Odete Lara—on Elenco, 1963

Bossa, Balanço e Balada—Sylvia Telles—on Elenco, 1963

A Bossa Muito Moderna de Donato—João Donato—on Polydor, 1963

Baden Powell à Vontade—Baden Powell—on Elenco, 1964

Pobre Menina Rica—Carlos Lyra and Dulce Nunes—on CBS, 1964

Zimbo Trio—Zimbo Trio—on RGE, 1964

Entre Nós—Walter Wanderley—on Phillips, 1964

Opinião de Nara—Nara Leão—on Phillips, 1964

Luiz Eça & Cordas—Luiz Eça—on Phillips, 1965

Dom Um—Dom Um Romão—on Phillips, 1965

Manfredo Fest Trio—Manfredo Fest—on RGE, 1965

Dois na Bossa—Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues—on Phillips, 1965

Milton Banana Trio—Milton Banana Trio—on Odeon, 1965

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The center of bossa nova remains, as for samba, the song. His intuition is lyrical and, even in the most sophisticated products, demands that one believes in a kind of spontaneity. Jazz, whose fundamental intuition is of a technical nature, privileges the chord".[1]
  2. ^ "The dissonance in jazz is a metaphor, that is, a note that replaces the original note, reinforcing in some way its meaning; dissonance for João Gilberto is litote, denial of the negation of a consonance. The syncope of jazz confirms the strong beat tempo; João Gilberto's relativizes it, creates a temporary suspension. Jazz's timbre emphasizes the melodic line, João Gilberto's is moderate and replaces it".[2]
  3. ^ This "different beat" led, for example, the samba composer Cartola to express himself in one of his musical encounters with the young bossa nova musician Carlos Lyra: "There is a little bit of difficulty for him in the old as well as for me in the modern".[4]
  4. ^ A slower tempo samba featured by a dominance of the melodic line over the main rhythmic[12]


  1. ^ Mammi 1992, pp. 63-64.
  2. ^ Mammi 1992, p. 67.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g EBC 2018.
  4. ^ Carvalho 1986, p. 39.
  5. ^ a b Ratliff 2019.
  6. ^ Lopes & Simas 2015, p. 46.
  7. ^ a b Lopes & Simas 2015, p. 48.
  8. ^ a b c Garcia 2019.
  9. ^ Castro 2008, p. 9.
  10. ^ Garcia 1999, p. 21.
  11. ^ Silva 2017, p. 34.
  12. ^ Tatit 1996, p. 23.
  13. ^ Severiano 2009, p. 273.
  14. ^ Matos 2015, p. 130.
  15. ^ a b c Castro 2018.
  16. ^ Machado 2011, p. 36.
  17. ^ Caymmi 2001, p. 377.
  18. ^ a b Marcondes 1977, pp. 106-107.
  19. ^ Silva 2017, p. 133-137.
  20. ^ Lopes & Simas 2015, pp. 46-47.
  21. ^ Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0-415-97440-2.
  22. ^ "Definition of Bossa Nova". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 19 June 2017. Origin and Etymology: Portuguese, literally, 'new trend'. First Known Use: 1962
  23. ^ Castro, Ruy (transl. by Lysa Salsbury). Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World. 2000. 1st English language edition. A Capella Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press, Inc. ISBN 1-55652-409-9 First published in Brasil by Companhia das Letras (1990)
  24. ^ "Moyses Fuks"
  25. ^ "Nara Leão"
  26. ^ Bitencourt, Paulo. "What is Bossa Nova?". Retrieved 23 February 2015.
  27. ^ "Step one, pour yourself a drink", Mark Collin, The Guardian, 27 June 2008
  28. ^ "Blues and Samba: Another Side of Bossa Nova History" article by Bryan McCann, from the Luso-Brazilian Review, cited in the Project MUSE (in Portuguese)
  29. ^ "Caboclos refers to the mixed-race population (Indians or Africans 'imported' to the region during the slave era, and Europeans) who generally live along the Amazon's riverbanks." From "Two Cases on Participatory Municipal Planning on natural-resource management in the Brazilian Amazon", by GRET – Groupe de Recherche et d'Échanges Technologiques, France (in English)
  30. ^ Oxford Music Online article (subscription only)


Further reading[edit]

  • Castro, Ruy (transl. by Lysa Salsbury). Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World. 2000. 1st English language edition. A Capella Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press, Inc. ISBN 1-55652-409-9 First published in Brasil by Companhia das Letras. 1990.
  • De Stefano, Gildo, Il popolo del samba, La vicenda e i protagonisti della storia della musica popolare brasiliana, Preface by Chico Buarque de Hollanda, Introduction by Gianni Minà, RAI-ERI, Rome 2005, ISBN 8839713484
  • De Stefano, Gildo, Saudade Bossa Nova: musiche, contaminazioni e ritmi del Brasile, Preface by Chico Buarque, Introduction by Gianni Minà, Logisma Editore, Firenze 2017, ISBN 978-88-97530-88-6
  • McGowan, Chris and Pessanha, Ricardo. The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil. 1998. 2nd edition. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-545-3
  • Perrone, Charles A. Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song: MPB 1965–1985. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.
  • Mei, Giancarlo. Canto Latino: Origine, Evoluzione e Protagonisti della Musica Popolare del Brasile. 2004. Stampa Alternativa-Nuovi Equilibri. Preface by Sergio Bardotti; afterword by Milton Nascimento. (in Italian)

External links[edit]