Sometimes stereotyped as the world’s most joyful people, Brazilians are known for lively celebrations (Carnaval is but one manifestation), which generally become more animated the further north you go. This joie de vivre can be seen in football matches, on the beaches, in the samba clubs and on the streets. The flip side of this personality trait is saudade, that woeful manifestation of homesickness, longing or deep regret, given much play on old bossa nova records.

In a land of such stark contrasts, the Brazilians themselves exhibit some deep contradictions. A landscape that is universally praised (beaches, mountains and forest) receives incredible destruction (of the Amazon) – and indifference – from its citizens; Brazilian racial harmony is a widely accepted ideal, yet Blacks are egregiously underrepresented in the government and suffer the lion’s share of poverty; Carnaval is a time of wild freedom, while sexual repressiveness lurks the rest of the year.

Perhaps owing to the incredible diversity of the population, it’s pos­sible to find Brazilians who profess to be Catholics while also attending a Candomble ceremony from time to time, who believe in science and market economies while also nurturing beliefs in mystics and fatalism.

Contradictions are most severe in the social-class system, where you can find dirt-poor and filthy-rich living in close proximity, often separ­ated by nothing more than a highway. It’s not surprising then that vio­lence is such a prevalent facet of Brazilian society. Nearly every Carioca ( Rio resident) and Paulistano ( Sao Paulo city resident) has a horror story of getting mugged. The response is often one of resignation, and ‘What can be done?’.

Indeed, there is much resignation in the national character. Some sug­gest this is a holdover from the government dictatorship that ruled over people’s lives for 20 years, creating a docile public. But Brazilians have been a non-confrontational people since the beginning of the Republic. It was the only country in Latin America to gain its independence with­out spilling a drop of blood, and slavery ended in 1888 (the last in the Americas ) without battles or violent showdowns.

In a country noted for its bureaucracy (the legacy of the military dicta­torship of 1964-84), Brazilians have to put up with serious inefficiencies. This has led to some rather creative solutions to one’s problems. There’s the official way of doing things, and then there’s the jeitinho, that char­acteristically Brazilian way around it. A few friends, and a bit of good humor can go a long way.


It’s hard to imagine a population living in such polar extremes. At one end are people living in squalid third-world conditions, struggling to get enough to eat. At the other end is the upper class with a lifestyle that few in the US and Western Europe enjoy.

The favelas (slums or shantytowns) first appeared during the mass urban immigration in the mid-19th century, and today they surround every major city. Infrastructure varies, but typically favelados (slum dwellers) live in shacks tightly crammed together with no access to clean water or health care. The favelas are often ‘governed’ by drug lords and their gangs, who are frequently the communities’ only benefactors. They often try to paint themselves as ‘Robin Hood’ types, complete with pithy slogans about peace and justice. Dangers to residents come when rival gangs move in. Bolas perdidas (stray bullets) pass easily through the thin walls and the body counts grow high during violent confrontations.

In the countryside, conditions for the lower class can be even worse. Unequal land distribution dating back to the colonial era means that thousands of homeless rural families are left to squat on vacant land or work as itinerant laborers. When the harvest time arrives they vie for work spots, which usually pay sub-survival wages for long hours. The families live in shacks or tent camps with few possessions, and every family member pitches in with the work. In addition to the hunger, infant mortality, disease and poverty, they face other dangers: they may be expelled from the land (or in rare cases murdered by gunmen who are hired by landowners in an attempt to rid themselves of the most outspoken squatters on their lands).

Middle- and upper-class Brazilians live in comfortable apartments or houses, with all the trappings of the first world. The wealthiest send their children abroad for university. Maids are common – even among middle-class Brazilians – and some families have chauffeurs, cooks and private bodyguards.

There are a few points where the lives of rich and poor intersect. One is on the beach, which is the social stomping ground of both the favelado and the urbanite. The other is Carnaval. In Salvador and in other cities of the Northeast, everyone generally comes together for the lively street parties. In Rio , the action is a bit more segregated, but in general it’s one time where the most mixing occurs – particularly since it’s the favelados putting on the Carnaval.

No matter what the economic class, the family and one’s community both play an essential role in Brazilian life.


Brazil is the world’s fifth-most populous country (with 184 million resi­dents), but it also one of the smallest population densities, with 20 people per square kilometer (the US has 28 people per square kilometer). Most of Brazil’s population lives along the coast, The South and the Southeast the most densely populated areas, home to 75% of the country’s inhabitants. Until the mid 20th century, Brazil was largely a rural country – today, it’s more than 70% urban. The populations in cities have grown enormously in the last half-century, yet overall, the population is growing less than it did in the past.

In the Northeast is the highest concentration of Afro-Brazilians, with Salvador as its cultural capital. In the Amazon live Caboclos (literally ‘copper-colored’), the mixed descendents of indigenous peoples and the Portuguese. In the South is the most European of the Brazilian population, descendents of Italian and German immigrants. Overall the population is 55% White, 6% Black, 38% mixed and 1% other (including Japanese, Arabs and indigenous groups).

The indigenous population today is around 350,000, composing 200 tribes – a fraction of the estimated two to six million here at the European arrival. Customs and beliefs vary widely from tribe to tribe – as do the strengths of these traditions in the face of expulsion from traditional lands, declining numbers, missionary activity and other influences. Brazil’s largest groups of Indian peoples include the Tikuna on the upper Rio Solimoes (numbering 20,000 or more), the Yanomami in northwestern Amazonia (over 11,000), and the 30,000 or so Guarani in the Central West and South.

After centuries of genocidal attacks, slavery, dispossession and death from imported diseases, Brazil’s Indian population is now finally growing again, but still faces a host of problems. Most Indians Live in the Amazon rain forest and the threats that the rain forest faces – logging, mining, ranching, farming, roads, settlements, dams, hydroelectric schemes – also threaten the Indians whose way of life depends on it.


The Brazilian identity has been shaped not only by the Portuguese, who provided its language and main religion, but also by native Indians, Af­ricans and the many immigrants over the years from Europe , the Middle East and Asia .

Indian culture, though often ignored or denigrated by urban Brazilians, has helped shape modern Brazil and its legends, dance and music. Many indigenous foods and beverages, such as tapioca, manioc, potatoes, mate and guarank (a shrub whose berry is a stimulant; also a popular soft drink) have become staples.

The influence of African culture is also very powerful, especially in the Northeast. The slaves imported by the Portuguese brought with hem their religion, music and cuisine, all of which have become a part of Brazilian identity.

Brazil had several waves of voluntary immigration. After the end of slavery in 1888, millions of Europeans were recruited to work in the coffee fields. The largest contingent was from Italy (some one million arrived between 1890 and 1920), but there were also many Portuguese and Span­iards, and smaller groups of Germans and Russians. Japanese immigration began in 1908, and today Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan .

Immigration is only part of the picture when considering Brazil’s diversity. Brazilians are just as likely to mention regional types, often accompanied by their own colorful stereotypes. Caboclos, who are des­cendents of the Indians, live along the rivers in the Amazon region and keep alive the traditions and stories of their ancestors. Gauchos populate Rio Grande do Sul, speak a Spanish-inflected Portuguese and can’t quite shake the reputation for being rough-edged cowboys. By contrast, Ba­ianos, descendents of the first Africans in Brazil , are stereotyped for being the most extroverted and celebratory of Brazilians. Mineiros (residents of Minas Gerais state) are considered more serious and reserved than Brazil’s coastal dwellers, while Sertanejos (residents of the backlands – called sertdo – of the Northeast) are dubbed tough-skinned individuals with strong folk traditions. Cariocas (residents of Rio city) are superficial heach bums according to Paulistanos (residents of Sao Paulo ), who are often denigrated as being workaholics with no zeal for life – a rivalry that anyone who’s lived in LA or New York can understand.

Today there are literally dozens of terms to describe Brazilians’ vari­ous racial compositions, and it is not uncommon for apparently White Brazilians to have a mix of European, African and indigenous ancestors. Yet, despite appearances of integration and racial harmony, underneath is a brutal reality. Although Blacks and mulattoes account for 45% of the population, they are sorely underrepresented in government and the business sector, and often see little hope in rising out of poverty. The in­digenous are even more openly discriminated against, continuing a cycle that began with the genocidal policies of the first Europeans.



Soccer, or football as it’s also called (futebol to Brazilians), was introduced in the 1890s when a young student from Sao Paulo, Charles Miller, re­turned from studies in England with two footballs and a rule book and began to organize the first league. It quickly became the national passion, and Brazil is the only country to have won five World Cups. The rest of world acknowledges that Brazilians are the best footballers, and Brazil­ians are, to put it mildly, insane about the sport.

No one goes to work on big international game days, a situation that the government – which is prepared to spend whatever it takes to win a World Cup – laments. When Brazil unexpectedly lost to France in the 1998 World Cup final, millions cried on the streets and depression gripped the country for weeks. Since then some of the shady business that goes on behind the soccer scenes has started to come to Light, and parliamentary commissions have investigated corruption in football. The fans may criticize the way football is run, but nothing dims their insane passion for the game itself.

Most of the best players leave Brazil for lucrative contracts with Euro­pean clubs, but that hardly matters when so many gifted kids are waiting to replace them. You’ll see tiny children playing skilled, rough matches in the streets, on the beaches – just about anywhere.


Volleyball is Brazil’s second sport. A natural for the beach, it’s also a popular spectator sport on TV. A local variation you’ll see on Rio’s beaches is fistevolei (volleyball played without hands), only for the most talented (Brazilian) of players.

Motor Racing

Since the early 1970s Brazilian drivers have won more Formula One world championships than any other nationality. Emerson Fittipaldi was world champion twice in the 1970s, Nelson Piquet won his third world championship in 1987, and the late, great Ayrton Senna took it out three times. The Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, Sao Paulo , now takes place in October.


Tennis is increasingly popular, especially in the Southeast and South. Brazil’s tennis hero is the highly popular Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten from Florianopolis . One of the world’s great clay-court players, Guga was the French Open champion in 1997, 2000 and 2001.


Unntil fairly recently, the media and political demagogues worked hand in hand. Shortly after radio arrived in Brazil in the 1930s, President Getulio Vargas initiated weekday transmissions of the Voice of Brazil as a means of distilling government propaganda to the people. The rise of Brazil’s great media mogul, Roberto Marinho, was largely assisted by his decision not to criticize the fascistic regimes of the military government from 1964 to 1985. Other newspapers simply foundered if anything remotely critical of the government was published.

Today the empire created by Marinho extends to TV and Rede Globo is the world’s fourth-largest TV network (behind NBC, CBS and ABC). TV’ is by far the biggest form of media in Brazil , though radio is also popular (with over 2500 radio stations nationwide). The country also publishes 465 daily newspapers and 1600 magazines.

Brazil still has some antiquated press laws dating from the military dictatorship. `Crimes of opinion’ (published articles that besmirch the names of government officials) are criminal offences. Even more alarm­ing is the frequent violence committed against journalists. In the past few %cars, several reporters have been assassinated for speaking out against local authorities. Journalists covering sensitive subjects also face attacks from police.


Officially, Brazil is a Catholic country and claims the largest Catholic population of any country in the world. But Brazil is also noted for the diversity and syncretism of its many sects and religions, which offer great flexibility to their followers.

Brazil’s principal religious roots have been the animism of the indi­genous people, Catholicism, and African cults brought by the Blacks dur­ing the period of slavery. The colonists prohibited slaves from practicing their religions, just as they forbade music and dance for fear that they would reinforce the group identity of the captives. Religious persecution led to religious syncretism: to avoid persecution the slaves gave Catholic names and identities to all their African gods. This was generally done by finding the similarities between the Catholic images and the orixks (deities) of Candomble. Thus the slaves worshipped their own deities behind representations of Catholic saints.

In the 19th century Brazil wrote freedom of religion into its constitu­tion, but the African cults continued to suffer persecution for many years. Candomble was seen by White elites as charlatanism that displayed the ignorance of the poorest classes. But the spectrum of religious life was gradually broadened by the addition of Indian animism to Afro-Catholic syncretism, and by the increasing fascination of Whites with the spiritual­ism of Kardecism.

Today large numbers of converts are being attracted to evangelical Chris­tianity, to the Afro-Brazilian cults, and to spiritualist or mystic sects.


Catholicism retains its status as Brazil’s official religion, but is declining in popularity. Many people now merely turn up to church for the basics: baptism, marriage and burial. Evangelical Christianity, however, is boom­ing. All over Brazil , especially in poorer communities where people are most desperate, you will come across simple, recently built churches full of worshipers. Sometimes there will be two or three rival evangelical churches on the same street, going by names such as the Assembleia de Deus (Assembly of God), Igreja Pentecostal Deus e Amor (God is Love Pentecostal Church) and even the Igreja do Evangelho Quadrangular (Church of the Quadrangular Gospel). In one, worshipers may be moan­ing and speaking in tongues, in another they’ll simply be listening to the stern words of a preacher.


Candomble is the most orthodox of the religions brought from Africa by the Nago, Yoruba and Jeje peoples. Candomble is an African word denoting a dance in honor of the gods, and is a general term for the religion. Afro-Brazilian rituals are directed by a pai de santo or mae de santo (literally saint’s father or mother – the Candomble priests) and practiced in a casa de santo (terreiro; house of worship). This is where the initiation of novices takes place as well as consultations and rituals. The ceremonies are conducted in the Yoruba language.

The religion centers upon the orixas (spirits or deities). Like the gods in Greek mythology, each orixd has a unique personality and history. Although orixks are divided into male and female types, there are some that can switch from one sex to the other, such as Logunede, son of two male gods, Ogun and Oxoss, or Oxumare, who is male for six months of the year and female for the other six months. (Candomble, not surpris­ingly, is much more accepting of homosexuality and bisexuality than other religions.)

Candomble followers believe that every person has a particular deity watching over them – from birth until death. A person’s orixk can be identified when a pai or mae de santo makes successive throws with a handful of buzios (shells), in a divination ritual known as logo dos Buzios (Casting of Shells). The position of the shells is used to interpret one’s luck, one’s future and one’s past relationship with the gods.

To keep themselves strong and healthy, followers of Candomble give food or other offerings to their respective orixk. The offering depends on the orixa’s particular preferences. For example, to please Iemanja, the goddess or queen of the sea, one should give perfumes, white and blue flowers, rice and fried fish. Oxala, the greatest deity, the god and owner of the sun, eats cooked white corn. Oxtim, god of fresh waters and waterfalls, is famous for his vanity. He should be honored with ear­rings, necklaces, mirrors, perfumes, champagne and honey. Whichever godd is receiving the offering, Exu must first be appeased, as he serves like cachaca (sugarcane spirit) and other alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and wars, strong perfumes and meats.

In Bahia and Rio , followers of Afro-Brazilian cults turn out in huge numbers for the festival held during the night of December 31 and on New Year’s Day. Millions of Brazilians go to the beach at this time to pay homage to Iemanja. Flowers, perfumes, fruits and even jewelry are tossed into the sea to please the mother of the waters, or to gain protection and good luck in the new year.

Umhanda & Quimbanda

Umhanda (white magic) is a mixture of Candomble and spiritualism with Angolan/Bantu roots. The ceremony, conducted in Portuguese, incorpor­ates figures from all the Brazilian ethnicities: preto velho (the old Black slave), o caboclo (an Indian – in this context) and other Indian deities,

O guerreiroro (the White warrior), and so on. Umbanda is less structured than Candomble, and rituals vary from region to region. Some sects tend toward practices found in Kardecism (contacting spirits, seances), while others feature more straightforward praying or preaching by the pai or mae de santo.

Quimbanda, a form of black magic, is the evil counterpart to Umbanda. Its rituals involve lots of blood, animal sacrifice and nasty deeds, and it’s technically illegal.


During the 19th century, Allan Kardec, the French spiritual master, introduced spiritualism to Brazilian Whites in a palatable form.

Kardec’s teachings, which incorporated some Eastern religious ideas into a European framework, are now followed by large numbers of Brazilians. Kardecism emphasizes parlor seances, multiple reincarnations and speaking to the dead. Kardec’s writings on his teachings include The Book of Spirits and The Book of Mediums.

Other Cults

A few Indian rites have become popularized among Brazilians without being incorporated into Afro-Brazilian cults. The cults Uniao da Vegetal (in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and the South) and Santo Daime (centered in Acre and Amazonas states) are both based on consumption of the hallucino­genic drink ayahuasca, which has been used for centuries by indigenous people of South America. Ayahuasca aside, these cults are very straight, dictating that moral behavior and dress follow strict codes. The government tolerates the use of ayahuasca in these religious ceremonies, and tightly controls its production and supply.

The cult of Santo Daime was founded in 1930 in Rio Branco, Acre , by Raimundo Irineu Serra, a rubber tapper who had been initiated into the use of ayahuasca by Indians on the Acre- Peru boeder. In visions he received instructions to set up a base near Rio Branco to spread the doctrine of ayahuasca. The name Santo Daime comes from the wording of the cult’s prayers, ‘Dai-me forfa, dai-me luz…’ (‘Give me strength, give me light…’). Santo Daime and liniao da Vegetal together have between 10,000 and 20,000 members. Santo Daime’s two major communities are Ceu do Mapia in Amazonas and Colonia Cinco Mil, near Rio Branco.

The Brasilia area, believed by some to be especially propitious for supernatural contact, has syncretic cults that can be visited near the city in Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn) and Cidade Ecletica ( Eclectic City )


Brazil had one of the earliest feminist movements in Latin America , and women were among the first in the region to gain the right to vote in 1932. Today there is a growing number of feminist Non-Governmental Organiza­tions (NGOs), dedicated to educating women about their legal rights and family planning, while also training police how to handle cases of domestic violence. In Brasilia there’s even a feminist lobby ( Feminist Center for Stud­ies and Advising); they have a Portuguese website .

In spite of advances, many machista (chauvinist) stereotypes persist, and women are still sorely underrepresented in positions of power. Only about 7% of all legislators are women (compared with the 12% to 15% average in the rest of Latin America ). Although women represent 44% of the workforce, they tend to be concentrated in low-paying jobs. For equal work, a woman earns about 70% of a man’s salary.

Instances of domestic abuse are frighteningly common (one report stated that every 15 seconds a woman is beaten in Brazil ). In response, the first women’s police station opened in 1990 specifically to handle violence against women. Today, there are more than 250 women’s police stations, largely staffed by female police officers.

The birth rate has declined significantly in recent years (from an aver­age of 4.3 births per woman in 1980 to 2.0 in 2004). Many attribute this to the AIDS epidemic and to sterilization. Nearly one in two women of child-bearing age has been sterilized in Brazil . In some regions, women are promised free sterilizations by political candidates in exchange for votes. For the poorest, sterilization means (at least) one less mouth to feed, and better work opportunities: some organizations are reluctant to hire women who may take off for maternity leave. ‘I his is such a growing problem that in 1997 the government passed a law allowing sterilization only for women who have at least two children or are over the age of 25.

Although abortions are illegal in Brazil – except in cases of rape and maternal health risks – an estimated 1 million are performed each year (often with substantial health risks).



Brazilians are among the most musical people on the planet, and music is undoubtedly the most highly developed art form here. Perhaps because of its African roots, Brazilian music is a collective community act, a festa, a cele­bration, and is virtually inseparable from dancing. Genres such as pagode, samba, frevo, fort-6 and lambada all have their corresponding dances.

Shaped by the mixing of varied influences from three continents, Brazilian popular music has always been characterized by great diversiri. The samba canfdo (samba song), for example, is a mixture of Spanish bolero with the cadences and rhythms of African music. Bossa nova was influenced by samba and North American music, particularly jazz.

Tropicalismo mixed influences ranging from bossa nova and Italian ballads, to blues and North American rock. Brazil is still creating new and original musical forms today.

Samba & Pagode

Tudo slit sarnba: everything makes for a samba. The heart and soul of Brazilian music is samba; all other styles that originated in Brazil can be traced back to its vibrant sound. This most popular Brazilian rhythm orig­iird among Black Bahians in Rio de Janeiro and was probably first per­i inwd at the Rio Carnaval in 1917, though its roots go back much further. It’s intimately linked with African rhythms, notably the Angolan tam-tam, which provided the basis for samba’s music and distinctive dance steps. Samba caught on quickly after the advent of radio and records, and has since r become a national symbol. It is the music of the masses.

The 1930s are known as the Golden Age of Samba. By then, samba cancao had also evolved, performed by small groups with European melodies laid over the African percussion – as had choro, a romantic, im­provised, samba-related music with the small four-stringed cavaquinho (a relative of the ukulele) or guitar playing off against a recorder or flute.

Samba was pushed out of favor by other styles in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Then pagode – informal, backyard-party samba, the kind of music that can be made by a four-string cavaquinho and a few informal percussion instruments – emerged in Rio . It’s relaxed, rhythmic and melodic and enjoys widespread popularity. Pioneers were singers Beth Carvalho (also the queen of samba cancao), Jorge Aragao and Zeca Pagodinho, and the group Fundo de Quintal, who introduced the banjo and replaced the heavy floor tom-tom with the repinique, a tiny tambourine played with plastic drumsticks. Bezerra da Silva invented the sambandido (gangsta samba) style, long before American gangsta rap. By the 1990s the name pagode was being applied to more commercial, pop and rock-influenced samba. But ‘pure pagode’ pioneers such as Carvalho, Aragao and Pagodinho are still going very strong.

Bossa Nova

When bossa nova was invented in the 1950s, the democratic nature of Brazilian music was challenged. Bossa nova was modern and intellectual and became internationally popular. The middle class stopped listening to the old interpretations of samba and other regional music like the forro of the Northeast.

Bossa nova initiated a new style of playing and singing. The more operatic, florid style of singing was replaced by a quieter, more relaxed sound. One of bossa nova’s most famous recordings is the smooth The Girl from Ipanema, composed by the late Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. Guitarist Joao Gilberto, bossa nova’s supercool

founding father, is still playing, although other leading figures, such as guitarist and composer Baden Powell and singers Nara Leao and Elis Regina, are no longer alive. Joao Gilberto’s daughter, Bebel, has sparked a new wave of popularity for bossa nova rhythms with her crossover louge/world music albums.


At the end of the 1960s the movement known as tropicalismo burst onto the scene. Tropicalismo provoked a kind of general amnesty for all the forgotten musical traditions of the past. The leading figures – Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Rita Lee, Maria Betania and Gal Costa (all of whom are still around) – believed that all musical styles were important and rele­vant. All the styles and traditions in Brazilian music, plus North Ameri­can rock and pop, could be freely mixed. This led to innovations like the introduction of the electric guitar and the sound of electric samba. Tropicalismo had its political dimension, and Veloso and Gil spent time in jail and exile during the military dictatorship. Gil is now one of Brazil’s most famous musical figures, and he’s currently performing duties as Lula’s Minister of Culture – when he’s not recording new albums.

Musica Popular Barsileira (MPB)

Paralleling, overlapping with and at times blending the aforementioned musical movements since the 1970s has been the music known as MPB (Brazilian Popular Music). This nebulous term covers a range of styles from innovative jazz- and bossa nova-influenced stuff to some pretty sickly pop.

Early MPB stars were Chico Buarque, mixing traditional samba with a more modern, universal flavor, and Jorge Ben, playing an original pop samba without losing the Black rhythms of the Rio suburbs he came from.

Milton Nascimento, from Minas Gerais, has long been famous in Brazil for his fine voice, stirring anthems and ballads that reflect the spir­ituality of the Mineiro (someone from Minas). He’s also jazz-influenced, and has kept his innovative touch longer than most early MPB names. Roberto Carlos, the composer of many early MPB classics and once a fiery rock ‘n’ roller, has turned to schmaltzy ballads, sung in Spanish instead of Portuguese, but still somehow manages to occupy more shelf space in Brazilian music shops than anyone else.

More recent stars include Marisa Monte who, in 2002, teamed up with Arnaldo Antunes and Carlinhos Brown to produce the album Tribalistas, which has been a hit all over the world. Zeca Baleiro is another talented artist. His PetShopMundoCao is among his best albums.

Brazilian Rock & Rap

Derived more from English than American rock, this is the least Brazilian of all Brazilian music. Pronounced ‘hock’, big stars are groups such as Kid Abelha, Legiao Urbana (who led a wave of punk-driven bands from Brasilia ), and the reggae-based Skank and Cidade Negra. The versatile and original Ed Motta, from Rio , injects soul, jazz and traditional Bra­zilian music into rock. Heavy metal band Sepultura, from Minas Gerais, achieved fame among headbangers worldwide in the 1990s. Other big pop-rock bands include Paralamas do Sucesso and Lula Santos. There’s even in-your-face Brazilian punk, with artist Charlie Brown Jr poking fun at different styles of Brazilian music.

Racionais MCs, from Sao Paulo , have led Brazilian rap since the late 1980s with their hard-edged lyrics about life in the favelas and jails. Their 1998 album Sobrevivendo no Inferno (Surviving in Hell) sold over a mil­lion copies – a record for independent releases in Brazil . Another rap star is Gabriel 0 Pensador, a White middle-class Carioca who directs a biting wit at … White middle-class Cariocas. Members of the Rio rock/rap band Planet Hemp campaign actively for marijuana legalization and get into a lot of legal trouble as a result.

Regional Music

Samba, tropicalismo and bossa nova are all national musical forms, but wherever you go in Brazil you’ll hear regional specialties.

The Northeast has perhaps the most regional musical and dance styles.The most important is forro, a lively, syncopated music centered on the ordion and the zabumba (an African drum). Though a few artists such as Luiz Gonzaga and Jackson do Pandeiro have achieved national status, forro was long dismissed by urbanites as unsophisticated – evidenced by the title of one good compilation available internationally, Ferro: Music for Maids and Taxi Drivers. Lately, however, forro has surged in popularity nationwide and at the same time returned from electrification to its roots accordion, zabumba, triangle – with a big helping hand from the film Eu, Tu, Eles (Me, You, Them). The movie features lots of pi-de-serra (foot of the hills) down-home forro, including tropicalismo veteran Gilberto Gil singing the hit Esperando na Janela. Sao Paulo forro group Falamansa – with only one Northeasterner in their ranks – sold 800,000 copies of their first album Deixe Entrar in the seven months after it was released in 2000.

Another type of distinctive regional music is the wonderful Bumba Meu Boi festival sound from Sao Luis , Maranhao. There is also frevo, a frenetic, samba-related, Carnaval-based music specific to Recife and neighboring Olinda .

The trio eletrico, also called frevo baiano, began more as a result of a change in technology rather than in music. It started as a joke when, dur­ing Carnaval in Salvador in the 1950s, Dodo, Armandinho and Osmar got on top of a truck and played frevo with electric guitars. The trio eletrico is not necessarily a trio, but it’s still the backbone of Salvador’s Carnaval, when trucks piled high with speakers – with musicians perched on top – drive through the city surrounded by dancing mobs. It was popularized during the tropicalismo era, when Caetano Veloso began writing songs about the trio eletrico. Another important element of Carnaval on the streets of Salvador is the afro bloco (Afro-Brazilian percussion group). Filhos de Gandhi and Grupo Olodum are the most famous of these – Filhos have deep African roots and are strongly influenced by Candomble (Afro-Brazilian religion); Olodum invented samba-reggae.

Mangue beat, from Recife , combines folkloric and regional styles with international influences as diverse as hip-hop, neo-psychedelic and te­jano (instrumental folk music with roots in northern Mexico and South­ern Texas). The early leaders of the genre were Chico Science and Nacao Zumbi – the title of whose 1996 masterpiece, Afrociberdelia, kind of, summed up what their music was about. Chico Science died in a 1997 car crash, but Nacao Zumbi has gone forward without him, and other hands such as Mestre Ambrosio and Mundo Livre S/A continue to carry the mangue torch.

Axe is a label for the profuse samba/pop/rock/reggae/funk/Caribbean fusion music that emerged from Salvador in the 1990s. Taking its cue from Salvador’s older Carnaval forms, axe was popularized by the power­ful, flamboyant Daniela Mercury. Other exponents include the groups Ara Ketu and Chiclete com Banana. At its best it’s great, superenergetic music – hear Daniela sing ‘Toda Menina Baiana’ (Every Bahian Girl) – but some bands overcommercialized it at the end of the 1990s.

The influence of Brazilian Indian music was absorbed and diluted, as was so much that derived from Brazil’s indigenous cultures. The carimbo music of the Amazon region (where the majority of Indians live today) is influenced primarily by the Blacks of the coastal zones.

Other Styles

Lambada, a dance style influenced by carimbo and by Caribbean rhythms like rumba, merengue and salsa, became popular in Brazil in the late

1980s and caught on briefly in Europe and the US . The most successful lambada artist was Beto Barbosa with her group Kaoma.

Also hugely popular is sertanejo, a kind of Brazilian country and western music, that is a favorite with truck drivers and cowboys. It’s characterized by soaring harmonies and lyrics about broken hearts, life on the road etc. Exponents like to pair off in duos, such as Milionario e Jose Rico, Chitaozinho e aororo, and Leandro e Leonardo.


The best-selling Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, whose dozen titles have sold over 40 million books worldwide, is Latin America’s second-most read novelist (after Gabriel Garcia Marquez). Coelho’s more recent ef­forts, such as Veronika Decides to Die, about a writer committed to a mental hospital after a suicide attempt, and The FiJth Mountain, a fic­tionalized tale about the prophet Elijah, are more sophisticated than the new-age spiritual fables with which he sprang to fame in the mid-1990s, such as The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage.

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) is widely regarded as Brazil’s greatest writer. The son of a freed slave, Assis worked as a type­setter and journalist in late-l9th-century Rio . A tremendous stylist with a great sense of humor and irony, Assis had an understanding of human relations that was subtle and deeply cynical. Look for Gregory Rabassa’s good late- 1990s translations of Quincas Borba and The Posthumous Mem­oirs of Bras Cubas. Machado’s other major novel was Dom Casmurrro.

Brazil’s most famous writer is Jorge Amado, who died in August 2001. Born near Ilheus in 1912, and a longtime resident of Salvador , Amado wrote colorful romances about Bahia’s people and places. His early work was strongly influenced by Communism. His later books are lighter in subject, but more picturesque and intimate in style. The two most acclaimed are Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon, which is set in Ilheus, and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, set in Salvador . Tent of Miracles explores race relations in Brazil , and Pen, Sword and Camisole laughs its way through the petty worlds of military and academic politics. The Violent Land is an early Amado classic.

Without a word wasted, Graciliano Ratnos (1892-1953) tells of peas­ant life in the sertdo in his best book, Barren Lives. The stories are powerful portraits. Read anything you can find by Mario de Andrade (1893-1945), a leader of the country’s 1920s artistic renaissance. His comic Maavnaima, which pioneered the use of vernacular language in Brazilian literature and was a precursor of magical realism, could only take place in Brazil .

The writings of the existentialist-influenced, Ukrainian-born Clarice Lispector (1925-77) are more subjective, focusing on human isolation, alienation and moral doubt, and conveying a deep understanding of women’s feelings. The short-story collections Family Ties and Soulstorm are among her best works.

Themes of repression and violence gained prominence starting in the late 1960s with the advent of military dictatorship. The bizarre and brutal Zero, by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao, was banned by the military government until a national protest lifted the prohibition. Tower of Glass , five stories by Ivan Angelo, is all Sao Paulo : an absurdist 1970s look at big-city life where nothing that matters, matters. Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro’s Sergeant Getulio is a story of a military man in Brazil’s Northeast. No book tells better of the sadism, brutality and patriarchy that run through Brazil’s history. Ribeiro’s An Invincible Memory (which, like Sergeant Getulio, was translated into English by the author himself) is a hugely, popular 400-year saga of two Bahian families from opposite ends of the social spectrum.

Marcio Souza is a modern satirist based in Manaus . His biting humor captures the frightening side of the Amazon, and his imaginative parodies od Brazilian history reveal the stupidity of personal and official endeavors to conquer the rain forest. Do your best to obtain Mad Maria (a historical novel about the Madeira-Mamore Railway) and Emperor of the Amazon if you’re going to Amazonia .

Dinah Silveira de Queiroz’s The Women of Brazil is about a Portuguese, girl who goes to 17th-century Brazil to meet her betrothed. Another author of interest is Joyce Cavalcante, who emerged in the 1990s as a writer able to express the experience of women in modern Brazil as well as the enduring social problems of the Northeast. Her Intimate Enemies is a tale of corruption, violence, polygamy – and humor.


The birth of Brazilian cinema began in Rio de Janeiro – from 1942 until 1962 the home of Atlantida Productions, which churned out musicals, comedies and romances. Neorealism was one of the earliest movements affecting Brazil cinema, and O Cangaceiro (The Brigand; 1953) by Lima Barreto was one of the first Brazilian films to receive international recognition. The film chronicles the adventures of a roving band of outlaws, and was inspired by the Northeast’s most infamous outlaw, Lampiao.

Cinema opened the world’s ears to bossa nova, by way of Marcel Camus’ 1959 film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), featuring the stellar Jobim and Bonfa soundtrack. In the 1960s, several directors focused on Brazil’s bleak social problems, and the Cinema Novo movement was born. One of the great films from this movement was the 1962 O Pagador de Promessas (The Payer of Vows), which garnered much international attention, and even won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Glauber Rocha was one of the great pioneers in Cinema Novo. In Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil; 1963), he forged a polemical national style using Afro-Brazilian traditions in conscious resistance to the influences of Hollywood . His work touches on elements of mysticism without steering from political issues.

The military dictatorship stymied much creative expression in the country – and the film industry was naturally affected. As the regime’s power waned, the film industry slowly picked up, with Bye Bye Brasil (1980) by Carlos Diegues, marking the beginning of a new era. It chron­icles the adventures of a theater troupe as they tour the entire country, performing in small villages and towns. Hector Babenco’s Pixote (1981) came soon after, a powerful film that indicted Brazilian society for its indifference to the poor. It tells the story of a street kid in Rio , who gets, wept along from innocent naivete to murderer by the currents of the underworld. Babenco went on to direct international Hollywood hits like Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) and Ironweed (1987).

Bruno Barreto’s 0 Que P Isso Companheiro (released as Four Days in September in the US ; 1998) is based on the 1969 kidnapping of the US ambassador to Brazil by leftist guerrillas. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1998.

Carla Camarut’s Carlota Joaquina – Princesa do Brasil, a hilarious blend of fairv tale, satire and historical drama, is about a Spanish princess married to the Portuguese prince regent (later Dom Joao VI) when the entire Portuguese court fled to Brazil to escape Napoleon.

Walter Salles is one of Brazil’s best-known directors. His first feature film Terra Estrangeiro ( Foreign Land ), shot in 1995, holds an important place in the renaissance of Brazilian cinema. The film won seven inter­national prizes and was shown at over two dozen film festivals. It was named Best Film of the Year in Brazil in 1996, where it screened for over six months. Salles is also a great documentary filmmaker; Socorro Nobre (Life Somewhere Else) and Krajcberg (The Poet of the Remains), among others, won awards at many international festivals.

Central do Brasil (Central Station; 1998) is one of Salles’ most famous films. It won an Oscar in 1998 for best foreign film. The central character is an elderly woman who works in the train station in Rio writing let­ters for illiterates with families far away. After a chance encounter with a young homeless boy, she accompanies him on a search for his father into the real, unglamorized Brazil . At the time of research, Salles was at Sundance screening his recently completed epic Diarios de Motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries), which details the historic journey of Che Gue­vara and Alberto Granada across South America .

Eu, Tu, Eles (Me, You, Them), Andrucha Waddington’s comedy about a Northeasterner with three husbands, was also well received when it was released in 2000. It has beautiful cinematography and a score by Gilberto Gil (currently President Lula’s Minister of Culture), which contributed to the recent wave of popularity for that funky Northeastern music, forro.

Fernando Meirelles is one of Brazil’s most talented young directors. His first feature-length film, Domesticas (Maids; 2001) gives an insight into the millions of domestic servants who work in Brazil. His latest film, Cidade de Deus (City of God), is based on a true story by Paolo Lins. It gives an honest and heart-wrenching portrayal of life in a Rio favela. After its release in 2002, it brought much attention to the plight of the urban poor, and director Fernando Meirelles was nominated for an Oscar (Best Director) in 2004. It also spawned many spin-offs, including Cidade de Homens, a popular TV series about Rio’s favela gangs, also directed by Meirelles.

Most recently, Hector Babenco has returned to the mise-en-scene with Carandiru (2004), a socially charged drama based on one man’s experi­ences inside one of Sao Paulo’s most horrifying prisons.


The first colonial painters were the Jesuit and Benedictine missionaries, who painted their churches and sacred objects in a European baroque style. The 17th-century Dutch invasion in the Northeast brought with it some important Flemish artists, such as Frans Post, who painted the flora and fauna in their tropical surroundings.

Brazilian baroque art peaked in the 18th century, when the wealth pro­vided by the gold rush allowed talented artists to realize their full potential. The acknowledged genius of this period was the sculptor and architect Antonio Francisco Lisboa (1738-1814), better known as Aleijadinho.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Brazilian artists followed international trends such as neoclassicism, romanticism, impressionism, academicism and modernism. Internationally, the best-known Brazilian painter is Candido Portinari (1903-62). Early in his career he made the decision to paint only Brazil and its people. Strongly influenced by the Mexican mural­ists like Diego Rivera, he managed to fuse indigenous and expressionist influences into a powerful, socially conscious and sophisticated style.

To immerse yourself in Brazilian art, head for Sao Paulo , which has the country’s best art museums.