Carnaval and the Bossa Nova: Sounds of Brazil

Dancers twirl in a Carnaval parade in Rio de Jainero, Brazil.

Dancers twirl in a Carnaval parade in Rio de Jainero, Brazil. Embassy of Brazil hide caption

itoggle caption Embassy of Brazil
'The Ambassador of Brazilian Music,' Luiz de Moura Castro.

"The Ambassador of Brazilian Music," Luiz de Moura Castro. hide caption

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Guitarist Sergio Assad and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in rehearsal at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles.

Guitarist Sergio Assad and cellist Yo-Yo Ma in rehearsal at Zipper Hall in Los Angeles. Douglas Russell, KUSC hide caption

itoggle caption Douglas Russell, KUSC

The sounds of Brazil kick off the second week of Performance Today's popular ongoing series From the Village to the Concert Hall, an exploration of the connections between folk and classical traditions in music.

Pianist Luiz de Moura Castro plays selections from Carnaval by Heitor Villa-Lobos, while flutist Tadeu Coelho offers a studio performance of Brazilian "choros." And renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma turns his eye southward, assembling an all-star troupe of Latin musicians, including Cuban-born clarinetist Paquito d'Rivera and guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad for their project Obrigado Brasil.

More About the Music of Brazil:

Carnaval Samba and Songs

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro has its own sound, with massive percussion groups, or samba schools, parading through the Sambadromo Stadium. Each school creates a new set of songs and dances every year.

At carnaval time in Rio, you’ll also find smaller bands in bars or dancetarias and even on the streets.


Rio is also the home of choro, an example of Brazil as a musical melting-pot. Choro is an urban Brazilian take on European dances, with a rhythmic underpinning built on both local and African influences. The style appeared in Rio around 1870 and helped lead to both samba and bossa nova.

Bossa Nova

A combination of samba-cancao with elements of choro and jazz, bossa nova began to appear in the 1950s in Rio.

Bahia and the Northeast

Northeastern Brazil has several sounds that are all its own. A style called baiao appeared in the 1940s and grew out of earlier folk music. Luiz Gonzaga established the traditional baiao ensemble of accordion, triangle and zabumba, or bass drum.

Carnaval is also celebrated in the northeastern city of Salvador, where the group Timbalada performs each year. The band also works on improving education and health for street children in Salvador.


Capoeira is a hybrid of dance and martial arts developed by African slaves in Brazil, who disguised their fighting technique as dance. The main capoeira instrument is the berimbau, a single-string wooden bow with a metal string, struck with a stick.



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