The capital city of Brazil from 1763 to 1960, Rio de Janeiro’s contrasting landscape of beaches, mountains and wide green areas, such as the Tijuca National Park, mirrors its no less contrasting society of great diversity and inequality. Portuguese colonization began in 1502, but urbanization would be intensified only in the eighteenth century, when the port of Rio de Janeiro became a key location for sending gold from the state of Minas Gerais to Europe. The arrival of the Portuguese royal court in Rio in 1808, fleeing the Napoleonic wars, and subsequent attempts to re-create a metropolitan environment in the colony, furthered the urbanization process.
Slavery was still the main source of the labor force when revenues from coffee produced in inland areas of the state of Rio de Janeiro surpassed those from all other exports in the early nineteenth century. Following independence from Portugal (1822), the abolition of slavery (1888) and the proclamation of the republic (1889), Rio’s urban culture was consolidated. It encompassed a wide range of musical genres, from Afro-Brazilian work songs and religious repertoires, to street carnival music, musical theater and Italianized opera.
In 1996 almost two-thirds of the population were of African descent, mostly as a result of the intermarriage of blacks and whites. As noted in many academic studies, socioeconomic indicators reveal that wealth has remained concentrated among whites, while those of African descent make up the vast majority of the underprivileged of Rio’s society. The latter are often found in the hillside neighborhoods known as favelas (slums).
It may be reasonably accurate to state that, in general, popular culture in Rio derives mostly from the elements of the city’s history outlined above, together with contributions from a wave of labor migration from the northeast in the twentieth century. These elements, mixed with the prevailing influence of the international mass media, make the city an important center for popular music production and diffusion.
The earliest significant examples of urban-generated popular musical genres in Rio are the modinha and the lundu. Both terms are noted as genre designations associated with Brazil in eighteenth-century Portuguese literary sources, such as Nicoláu Tolentino de Almeida’s ‘Satyra, Offerecida ao Ilustríssimo, e Excelentíssimo Senhor Dom Martinho de Almeida’ (1779), and in published sheet music. A key role in the process of transforming both genres into commodities has been attributed to a native of Rio, Domingos Caldas Barbosa (ca. 1740-1800). His success with modinha and lundu performances in the Portuguese court can be verified through editions of his song texts in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Portugal. The consolidation of modinha and lundu as popular genres in Rio is undoubtedly linked with the above-mentioned emergence of the city as a major urban center through the eighteenth century, culminating with its transformation into the colonial administrative center.
In the nineteenth century sociopolitical developments in Brazil as a whole (independence from Portugal, abolition of slavery and proclamation of the republic) encouraged the diversification of popular music demand and production in Rio. This is illustrated by the increase in the number of music printing businesses, such as Klier (1836), Pierre Laforge (1837) and Bevilacqua e Narciso (1857), and in the development of a rich and varied music scene. The latter encompassed a range of genres and venues, from small-scale circus and cabaret performances to musical theater and opera. There were also innumerable opportunities for performing music, often for modest pay, at private parties and festivities all over town. In this context, local musicians’ reworking of European dance genres such as the polka, the quadrille and the waltz emerged alongside locally conceived dance genres such as the maxixe, favored by female composer Chiquinha Gonzaga, and the tango brasileiro, preferred by her contemporary, composer Ernesto Nazareth. The prototypes of the ad hoc instrumental groups called choros, whose repertoire encompassed all the genres just mentioned, are also cited in journalistic and literary sources of this period, such as Machado de Assis’ ‘Um homem célebre’ (1896).
The twentieth century would witness innovations affecting popular music’s technological and economic foundations worldwide. Rio’s role in absorbing and responding to these changes was crucial, since it became the location for Brazil’s first recording company, Casa Edison, in 1902. Casa Edison was soon followed by several major companies such as Odeon (succeeding Casa Edison) and Columbia. Later, in 1923, the city also hosted the first radio station in the country, Rádio Sociedade do Rio de Janeiro, founded by Edgar Roquette-Pinto. This preceded the inauguration, in 1930, of the state-owned Rádio Nacional, a pioneer radio company with nationwide coverage. Rádio Nacional was a leader in making music popular during the 1930s and 1940s, becoming the platform for the first mass-mediated musical stars. Last but not least, locally produced film musicals, featuring prominent recording and radio idols, helped to consolidate careers such as that of future Hollywood star Carmen Miranda. In this process, musical styles and genres finding mass favor were no longer exclusively dependent on live performances. Such genres might include the samba from the city’s Afro-Brazilian dwellings, carnival music, choros (the corresponding instrumental style) and songs in every conceivable style, including locally adapted genres from abroad (for example, the fox trot, the tango and the bolero).
The proliferation of musical hybrids merging local and global musical practices would increase in the 1950s and 1960s, following somewhat closely the economic opening up of Brazil to international capitalism. The bolero-inspired samba-canção, a romantic genre made widely popular through recording stars such as Ângela Maria and Dalva de Oliveira, and bossa nova, made famous worldwide by joão Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and others, are just two representative genres of the period. However, they were hardly as commercially successful as the mid-1960s’ iê-iê-iê, the first wave of Brazilian rock sung in Portuguese. Among its more commercially successful exponents were Rio-based artists such as Roberto Carlos, Wanderléa and Erasmo Carlos.
Musical reaction to the dictatorial rule that followed the 1964 military coup was expressed in film, mainly through cinema novo soundtracks (involving film production based on critically charged aesthetics), and in politically oriented musical plays and programs like Opinião, as well as in music festivals promoted by and shown on national television networks. This trend would reveal an abundance of new talent based in Rio, such as Chico Buarque and Milton Nascimento. The song ‘Prá não dizer que nao falei das flores,’ presented by Geraldo Vandré at the 1968 International Song Festival organized by the powerful Globo network, would become an anthem for those opposing the dictatorship.
Political hardships notwithstanding, the country would witness a much greater diversification in musical expression and expanded sales figures as Brazil became one of the world’s 10 biggest record markets around 1978. Providing important centers of operation for the top five multinational record companies at this time, Rio’s participation in this diversification and market expansion was highly significant. One important development during this period was the impact of disco and both imported and domestic soul music on the emergence of the so-called Black Rio music scene, inspired by pioneer Brazilian soul artists such as Cassiano and Tim Maia. This development took on a more explicit profile with the creation of Banda Black Rio (an all-black instrumental band) and, after that, with a new wave of interpreters such as Sandra Sá.
Black Rio was not, however, the only expression of black ethnicity to become visible in Rio at the time. Similar examples of commercial sensitivity to working-class, predominantly black culture were also to be found in the emergence of both hip-hop, disseminated through paid-admission dance parties (bailes funk) in the poorest residential areas, and samba-derived pagode as exemplified, for example, by the group Fundo de Quintal. However, none of these developments generated as much profit for the music business during this period as the Globo network’s soap opera soundtracks and the consolidation of light pop repertoires, relying heavily on romantic stereotypes as provided, for example, by a reborn Roberto Carlos and new artists such as Sidney Magal.
From the 1980s on, the mainstream of Rio-based popular music seems to have been based on established genres, with occasional assimilation of new local/global fusions and retro developments. This may be seen in the upsurge of Brazilian rock (for example, the so-called ‘B rock groups’ such as Barão Vermelho and Os Paralamas do Sucesso), and in the realignment of pop music and popular television shows, as exemplified by the elevation of a Globo network child show host, Xuxa, to the status of bestselling artist in the 1980s and 1990s.
While rap originating from poor urban neighborhoods was experiencing national exposure, a white middle-class rapper from Rio, Gabriel O Pensador, became the first to top national hit parades in the 1990s. His nationwide success was almost matched by a few reggae and reggae-fusion groups such as Cidade Negra and O Rappa, which came from Rio’s economically disenfranchised areas.
There has been an upsurge of interest in Rio’s popular music within the academic community. This has occurred in a number of Brazilian university departments in areas such as music, anthropology, history, sociology and communications, and in disciplines such as ethnomusicology, music history, social anthropology and cultural history. Research has focused on topics such as the recording industry, local/global interactions, electronic music and the potential of ethnographic studies, to mention just a few. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the role of older nationalist perspectives and the associated quest for idealized forms of ‘authenticity,’ as well as the ensuing reification of musical practices and social relations, are in the process of being reassessed by way of a critical examination of the socio-historical conditions shaping issues deemed important to popular music research and the manner in which such research is undertaken (see Araújo 1987, 1992, 1999; Lima 2001; Napolitano 2001; Reily 1996; and Sandroni 2001). Courses in popular music are offered at the Universidade do Rio de Janeiro, the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and the Pontifícia Universidae Católica.
Almeida, Tolentino de. 1801 (1779). ‘Satyra, Offerecida ao Ilustríssimo, e Excelentíssimo Senhor Dom Martinho de Almeida’ [Satire Offered to the Illustrious Gentleman Dom Martinho de Almeida]. In Nicoláu Tolentino de Almeida, Obras Poeticas [Poetical Works]. 2 vols. Lisbon: Regia Officina Typografica.
Araújo, Samuel. 1992. Acoustic Labor in the Timing of Everyday Life: A Critical Contribution to the History of Samba in Rio de Janeiro . Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Napolitano, Marcos. 2001. ‘ Seguindo a canção’: engajamento político e indústria cultural na MPB, 1959-1969 [‘Following the Song’: Political Commitment and the Culture Industry in Brazilian Popular Music, 1959-1969]. São Paulo: Anna-blume/FAPESP.