Because Brazil’s culture grew mainly out of three very abundant and diverse components, its musical heritage is rich. The evolution took place in stages and went in different directions. As time went by, the Indians, the Portuguese, and the Africans interacted. Their spirits, melodies, and rhythms mingled until something special was created: samba.
The Kamayurá people say “ihu” to express the idea of sound. To them it means “all that reaches the ear, including the sounds of the spirits and the magical entities of the woods.” (The Music of Brazilian Indians) The Kamayurá are one of the indigenous people of Brazil. Today there are about 200 such groups. It’s believed that five hundred years ago there were many more. Some of the sources that help scholars, students, and people in general to understand and learn about the cultures of the native Brazilians are a Carnaval song, Journey to the Land of Brazil, and Trato Descritivo do Brasil. (The Roots of Brazilian Music: Part I)
The Carnaval song commemorates Good Friday, April 22, 1500 because that was the day, in what is now Porto Seguro, that the first Portuguese arrived in what is now Brazil and encountered its native inhabitants. Two writings, both published in 1578, are written by different authors. The first is a French Calvinist pastor and writer, Jean de Léry, who in his Journey to the Land of Brazil, provides not only illustrations, detailed descriptions of dances and rituals, but also some musical refrains from the Tupi. The second author is Gabriel Soares de Sousa, a Portuguese writer and chronicler, who wrote Trato Descritivo do Brasil. It includes descriptions of some songs, dances, and instruments of various tribes. About the Tamoios, he writes that they were great musicians, dancers, and composers of improvised songs. From him we also learn that the Tupinambás carry in their right hand a maracá, a gourd filled with pebbles(The Roots of Brazilian Music: Part I).
Among the Portuguese who went to Brazil were the Jesuits whose goal was to convert the Indians to Catholicism. As one of their teaching tools, they used music by amending it in two ways: they translated their songs into the Tupi language and replaced the original words of the Tupi songs with their own religious ones. The Jesuits also introduced the native Brazilians to Gregorian chants, as well as such musical instruments as the flute, the clavichord, and various bow instruments. (Music, untitled) They included the Indians in the ceremonies and rites of the Church which usually were accompanied by music.
Other Portuguese went to Brazil for a variety of reasons: exploration, exile, establishment of settlements, trade, and/or exploitation. This group from across the social spectrum took with them traditional and dramatic dances, including the Bumba-meu-boi, lullabies, and nursery rhymes. Besides the above-mentioned instruments taken there by the Jesuits, the Portuguese took the cavaquinho, a small guitar that was later taken to Hawaii and became the ukulele. In 1808 the Portuguese royal family fled their homeland because Napoleon had invaded it. Therefore, the King and his entire court established residence in Rio de Janeiro. (The Roots of Brazilian Music: Part I) They proceeded to re-create much of their previously familiar environment. In so doing they introduced the piano to Brazil.
The third group of major contributors are the Africans who first arrived in Brazil in 1538 as slaves. Even though they were forced to South America under deplorable conditions and found little better after they arrived, they, too, attempted to fill their new world with familiarity. Many continued to practice their own religions, although sometimes the outward manifestations were disguised or incorporated in European religions. ( Krich) They also re-created the music of their homelands, either by singing and/or making and playing musical instruments. The following instruments are among those whose origins are African: surdo, tamborim, agogo, cuíca, and berimbau. Since the Blacks came from many different societies and locations in Africa, their languages, religions, customs, and music were very diverse.
As early as the 1600s Blacks were receiving formal music instruction from the Europeans. Some of the more talented people were organized into private orchestras and choruses and played and sang for the plantation owners and their guests. São Salvador da Bahía de Todos os Santos, Bahía, was Brazil’s capital until 1763. It was a very active center of the slave trade, and many Blacks continue to live in that area today. Another area of significant Black population was in Minas Gerais. During the 1750s a unique musical phenomenon, known as mulatismo musical, developed there. (Béhague)
However, this was not the only style of music to develop. Opera and concert music emerged during the mid 19th century just as the waves of nationalism swept through Europe. In Brazil “A Sertaneja” by Brasílio Hibere, the first composition in the nationalistic style, was a symptom of what was to follow. In 1890 Alexandre Levy wrote “Tango Brasiliero” and “Suite Brésilienne” whose last movement is entitled, “Samba.” These works were performed, but not published. They are the first known nationalistic works written by a professional musician. (Béhague)
During Brazil’s golden period of nationalism three main factors helped to make it possible: (1) a dynamic and varied popular and folk culture with a wide range of expression, (2) talented art/music composers with empathy and exposure to the popular and folk culture, as well as (3) the establishment of institutions which make it possible to promote the work both internationally and nationally.
1922 sees the establishment of modernismo which seeks to incorporate avant-garde European techniques with an enthusiastic promotion of Brazilian folk topics. Heitor Villa-Lobos had been composing such music since 1917, as seen in his works “Uirapurú,” “Saci-Perere,” and “Amazonas.” In his 13 part series, The Chansons Typiques Brésiliennes, Villa-Lobos covers Indian, Afro-Brazilian, as well as mestizo aspects of folk music. (Béhague) Since that time modernismo has taken a new path and continues to develop in that vein.