Great Brazilian Music

Rock and Pop

The first seeds of a rock music scene in Brazil started to grow gradually during the 1960's, especially in São Paulo, where some rock pioneers were active. The Jovem Guarda artists (although they were much more about pop than rock) and the young psychedelic rebels of Os Mutantes occasionally also flirted with rock music. After leaving Os Mutantes in 1972, the singer Rita Lee embarked on a solo career and quickly became one of Brazil’s first and most essential rock stars. Together with the backing band Tutti Frutti, she recorded a couple of Brazil's first top class rock albums. Towards the end of the 1970’s Rita Lee, however, largely abandoned the rock format, moving towards dance friendly pop music.

It was in her 1980’s pop star incarnation that Rita Lee achieved her biggest commercial success. The first artist or band with a clear rock attitude who achieved mainstream fame and success in Brazil was Secos & Molhados. With their painted faces, extravagant costumes, revolutionary music and the charismatic and extremely talented singer Ney Matogrosso, Secos & Molhados immediately took Brazil by storm. The openly homosexual Ney Matogrosso, with his unique soprano voice and hihgly flamboyant and provocative style, was the obvious front figure and heart of the band. Secos & Molhados first eponymous album quickly sold 800 000 copies and contained several hit songs, as for example the infectious and energetic O Vira, which mixed rock and traditional Portuguese dance music.

After the "pioneers" Rita Lee and Secos & Molhados a series of very creative and exciting Brazilian rock bands appeared on the scene during the mid 1970’s, such as Perfume Azul do Sol, Casa das Máquinas, Pão com Manteiga and Impacto Cinco, who all had their own unique sounds and styles, which had never been heard before neither within or outside of Brazil. Nevertheless the Brazilian rock scene during the 1970's very much lived in the shadow of the booming MPB music. One of the rare rock artists who manage to grab mainstream attention during that decade was Raul Seixas, who more than anyone else came to personify Brazilian rock during 1970’s.

As a child and growing up in Salvador, Bahia, Raul Seixas was big fan of the first generation of American rockers, like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino. Among other things, he co-founded the Elvis Presley fan club in Salvador, during the 1960's. In addition, he was also a big fan of Luiz Gonzaga's forró music. These influences remained clearly tangible throughout Raul Seixas' career, although he came to create one of the most unique, easily recognizable and personal sounds in Brazilian music history.

Salvador was by no means ever the rock'n'roll capital of Brazil, a fact that at an early stage prompted Raul Seixas to move to the far more cosmopolitan Rio de Janeiro, where he worked for a while as a songwriter and producer for local rock bands. In 1973 Seixas recorded his first real album; the highly original Krig-ha-bandolo! (the name of the album was taken from Tarzan's jungle yell, as portrayed in the Brazilian versions of the comic books), containing a range of great rock songs, like Metamorfose Ambulante and Al Capone, which immediately went into Brazilian music history.

Sometimes bearing some resemblance with Bob Dylan in his densely worded lyrics, sometimes recalling David Bowie's bombastic and almost messianic appearance during the Ziggy Stardust years, but most of all with his very own and very personal style, Raul Seixas quickly became the obvious icon of Brazilian rock. With his audacity, charisma, humor, intelligence, sense of irony and general anarchic attitude to life, Raul Seixas lived up to many of the attributes expected from a real rock star. His popularity was based not only on his enticing and very Brazilian rock sound, but also on his strong and thoughtful lyrics. Raul Seixas wild rock’n’roll life style, including his heavy drug and alcohol abuse, started to take its toll on his health towards the end of the 1980’s, and in August 1989,  Raul died from a case of acute pancreatitis. As is often the case with popular artists who fall victims to a premature death, Raul Seixas' departing cemented his status as a true legend within Brazilian rock, with hordes of fans of all ages and in all social classes.

If rock music lived in the shadow of the MPB scene in Brazil during the 1970’s, then the conditions were practically reversed during the 1980’s, when gifted rock and pop bands seemed to pop up like mushrooms from the ground all over Brazil. One of the most fascinating Brazilian rock bands to emerge during the 1980’s was undoubtedly Titãs, from São Paulo. Stylistically, the band playfully mixed rock, reggae, avant-garde art pop and punk. One of Titãs’ more unusual features was the fact that the band consisted of eight members, three of whom took turns in the role as front man; the unconventional and unpredictable Arnaldo Antunes, the elegant pop singer Nando Reis and the talented rocker Marcelo Fromer.
The most beloved rock band in Brazil during the 1980’s was Legião Urbana, with the charismatic singer and songwriter Renato Russo as front figure. Legião Urbana was formed in Brasília in 1982, in the midst of the city’s vibrant punk scene, with the Smiths, the Cure and Joy Division, as their main sources of inspiration. The eponymous debute LP of the band was unanimously hailed by the critics and was also a huge commercial success. Renato Russo surged, along with the henceforth equally adored singer Cazuza, as the great poet and songwriter of the 1980’s rock generation. His very personal, finely tuned and powerful bass voice, does not fit the traditional stereotype of what a rock singer should sound like.

The younger generation of the Brazilian middle class recognized themselves in the feeling of emptiness, vain search of an identity and outrage over Brazil's vast class differences and inequalities, as expressed in Renato Russo lyrics. Legião Urbana bittersweet melancholy, social pathos and occasional outbursts of anger and aggression earned the band a legion of the perhaps most loyal and fanatic fans of the decade. Legião Urbana released a total of 13 albums, before Renato Russo died from AIDS complications in 1996. Incidentally, the other giant of Brazilian rock during the 1980’s, Cazuza, also passed away prematurely as victim of AIDS. During his short career, spanning from the mid 1980’s to his death in 1990, Cazuza recorded some of the greatest and most timeless classics of Brazilian rock and pop. Still today, Cazuza’s songs are constantly rerecorded and reinterpreted by other Brazilian artists.

Perhaps the most “hip” and definitely the most provocative of all Brazilian rock bands during the 1980’s, was Camisa de Vênus, a new wave and punk rock band from the city of Salvador, Bahia. The band constantly found themselves in the center of contreversies, as for example when they refused to change their name ("camisa de vênus" is slang for "condom") and the name of their first nationwide tour, called "Ejaculação Precoce" ("Premature ejaculation"). Camisa de Vênus were famous for their wild and aggressive live performances, their irreverent punk rock tunes and their controversial lyrics. And it was exactly their lyrics, written by the band's charismatic front man and singer Marcelo Nova, which were simply too raw and misanthropic to become accepted by a wide mainstream audience. On the other hand, the fans of Camisa de Vênus loved the lyrics, which were literally dripping with cynicism, pitch-black humor and dark irony.  

Another exciting rock band that appeared during the 1980’s, was the Brasília-based Paralamas do Sucesso, which was also one of the first bands that successfully mixed modern rock and pop with traditional Brazilian rhythms. New Wave inspired rock band Ira, from São Paulo, the elegant and radio friendly pop band Kid Abelha from Rio de Janeiro, the versatile Picassos Falsos, from Rio de Janeiro, the dark low-fi rockers Vzyadoq Moe from São Paulo and the ingenious punk and art rockers Fellini, also from São Paulo, were other very exciting bands during the 1980’s.

Internationally, the most well known Brazilian rock band to emerge during the 1980’s is definitely the metal rock band Sepultura, which was formed in 1983 by brothers Max and Igor Cavalera in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Unlike almost all other Brazilian artists and bands, Sepultura chose to present their work in English rather than Portuguese and the band has now sold over 15 million records worldwide.

Ever since the 1990’s, the Brazilian rock and pop scenes have been much less original and creative than they were during the "golden years" of the 1980’s. New talents have been much rarer, but a very important exception to this rule is the band Los Hermanos, from Rio de Janeiro. Led by singer Marcelo Camelo, they burst on to the scene in the late 1990’s and released a string of very creative top notch albums with a unique sound, full of variations and nuances, until they disbanded in 2006, at the peak of their success.

Examples of Brazilian rock and pop

Todo Carnaval Tem Seu Fim, Los Hermanos, 2001
Pareço Moderno, Cérebro Eletrônico, 2008
De onde vem a calma, Los Hermanos, 2003
Ovelha Negra, Rita Lee, 1975
Você é a música, Fellini, 1989
Vou Morar no Ar, Casa das Máquinas, 1975
Brasil, Cazuza, 1988
Bichos Escrotos, Titãs, 1987
Nem sempre se pode ser Deus, Titãs, 1993
Ainda é cedo, Legião Urbana, 1985
Eu Não Matei Joana D'Arc, Camisa de Vênus, 1984
O Ápice, Vzyadoq Moe, 1989
Algo Mais, Os Mutantes, 1969
As Minas do Rei Salomão, Raul Seixas, 1973
Gîtâ, Raul Seixas, 1975
Como eu quero, Kid Abelha, 2002
Flores Astrais, Secos e Molhados, 1974
O Segundo Sol, Nando Reis, 2001
Malandragem, Cássia Eller, 2001

Os Mutantes in the 1960's

Secos e Molhados on stage

Raul Seixas during the 1970's

Rita Lee in the late 1970's


Legião Urbana

Titãs with the original line-up in the 1980's

Paula Toller, singer of pop band Kid Abelha.

Los Hermanos