Top Ten Brazilian Songs for the World Cup

June 20, 2014

You may be able to sense how much the host nation is loving all the soccer which the World Cup has brought it this month. But unless you look and listen behind the televised matches illuminating many living rooms and sports bars here, you won’t get a sense of what a vast country Brazil is, and how the music which it also dearly loves reflects the history and variety of its people. Here’s a playlist to help you out a bit, a musical feijoada served up from YouTube clips, which includes flavors of futebol, classical music, and many other things.


1. “Asa Branca,” Luiz Gonzaga

The launch of this year’s World Cup was signaled by the release in the stadium, before the first kickoff, of three white doves, symbolizing world peace. The title of this 1947 song in the baião form, legendary in Brazil, takes its Portuguese name from the white-winged bird, and the lyric is about the droughts which plagued the country’s northeast. It’s played on accordion and sung by its composer, Luiz Gonzaga, and has been covered by scores of later popular singers.

Asa Braca

2. “A Taça do Mundo é Nossa” Maugeri Neto, et al.

In 1958, Brazil, for the first time, earned the title to this song, which means “The World Cup is Ours.” The tune was rerecorded in 1962, but it’s still too early to know whether they’ll be able to reprise it again this year. Look for low-definition images of that early victory, and listen for the brassy arrangement of a friendly form of barroom samba called pagode. 

A Taça do Mundo é Nossa

3.“Na Cadência do Samba/Que bonito é,” Waldir Calmon

This was the theme from Canal 100 (Channel 100), which assembled newsreels about soccer for delighted audiences in movie theaters. The frevo style dates back to the 19th Century, and to both military bands and the martial art of capoeira, though it’s jazzed up in this rendition. More images of Pele and his teammates. 

Na Cadência do Samba

4.Folk Suite No. 3, Heitor Villa-Lobos

The most celebrated Brazilian classical composer, Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) incorporated the modes and moods of his nation’s folk music. The performer here is young Montenegran Miloš Karadaglíc.

Folk Suite No. 3

5. “Carioca,” Ernesto Nazareth

Listen to this pretty Brazilian tune, performed by French pianist Jean-Marie Deleste. We’ve only recently come to appreciate Ernesto Nazareth’s role as Brazil’s incarnation of Liszt, Chopin, and Scott Joplin, turning out scores of finely crafted piano pieces based on his country’s dance and song forms, as well as on European tradition. French modernist Darius Milhaud met Nazareth in Brazil, as a young man, and borrowed freely from him, to good effect.


6. “Mama Africa,” Chico César

Since the 1950s, creative musicians “have brought liberty to Brazil,” Chico César told me during an interview at his home in São Paulo, Brazil’s (and South America’s) biggest city. He went on to explain, “They mixed elements of Brazilian and classical music, and had a very important influence on what I and my generation does.” Later that evening — actually, in the wee hours of the following morning — Chico took me and my fellow visiting journalists to a club showcasing forró, the propulsive musical form imported to São Paulo and other cities from Brazil’s economically deprived northeast. You’ll hear it in this music video produced by the Putumayo record label, which starts out with spoken testimony from Chico’s parents and proceeds to showcase Chico, his extended family, and what looks like an entire neighborhood. Don’t miss the underlying homage to Brazil’s African roots, and a glimpse of Chico’s slinky soccer moves.

Mama Africa

7. “Canteiro de Obra,” Wilson Moreira

Preceding the global obsession with this year’s World Cup were sadder stories about the poverty which persists in much of Brazil, mostly bypassed by the wealth invested in high-profile athletic activity. Here’s a song about the plight of an underpaid, overworked man at a construction site, so beautifully written and performed that it will bring tears to your eyes, even if you don’t know much about Portuguese or international economics.

Canteiro de Obra

8. “Águas de Março,” Antonio Carlos Jobim

“Brazilian music used to be very negative,” Antonio Carlos Jobim told me in a phone interview. “Suddenly, bossa nova started to say, ‘Let’s go to the beach, I want to see that beautiful girl. Let’s ‘accentuate the positive’ as Johnny Mercer once said.” Jobim lived in Rio as a young man, where he studied to be a classical pianist. But with inspiration from beautiful girls, beaches, and jazz, he became, in the 1960s, the songwriter of the world’s best-known bossas, like this one. The “Waters of March” of the title flow through stream of consciousness associations, vocalized here live and in living color by Elis Regina, a beloved popular singer, and by “Tom” Jobim himself.

Águas de Março

9. “Tradiçao,” Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil

Under the influence of bossa at home and jazz and rock ‘n’ roll from abroad, the next generation of Brazilians generated a song form which, for want of a better term, became known as música popular brasileira (popular Brazilian music, abbreviated as MPB). Two of the longest-lasting of the MPB artists are Veloso and Gil, natives of the large, northern Brazilian state of Bahia. Here they perform one of Veloso’s whimsical gems, containing a reference to a Bahian soccer goalkeeper. Gil was later dubbed Minister of Culture under former Brazilian president Lula da Silva.


10. “Pout Pourri de Pagodes,” Bruna Viola

We finish our list with a rarer form, sometimes called sertanejo, essentially Brazilian country music. The strumming and fretboard guitar stylings of Taís Picinini (stage name: Bruna Viola) are distinct and fascinating.

Pout Pourri de Pagodes

Jeff Kaliss has written about opera and other classical forms for the Marin Independent-Journal and The Oakland Tribune. He is based in San Francisco, and also covers jazz, world music, country, rock, film, theater, and other entertainment. The second edition of his authorized biography of Sly & the Family Stone was published by Backbeat Books.