Sunday, 14 August 2016

Rio 2016 - Going Brazilian!

It's Olympics time again, and this year the circus has moved from smoky London town to the rather more sunlit climes of Rio de Janeiro! And with it has been a wave of interest in all things Brazilian – so in the spirit of seeking tenuous links to guitar related topics, lets tackle something a little unusual and take a look at Brazilian guitar music.

Actually, we should start by checking out probably Brazil's biggest musical export – thrash metal band Sepultura. These guys have been going since 1984 and have been a huge influence on metal bands the world over, despite the founding members (brothers Max and Igor Cavalera) departing in 1996 and 2006, and are due to release their fourteenth album in October of this year. Their iconic 1996 album Roots combined the band's metal and thrash influences with elements of Brazilian folk music such as Bahia samba reggae, and was an immense success both critically and commercially – the Los Angeles Times review saying: “The mixture of the dense metal of Sepultura and the Brazilian music has an intoxiating effect”.

So what is this “Brazilian music”? The term encompasses a huge variety of styles, largely rhythmic and percussive in nature, but probably the best known forms are samba and bossa nova – the classic bossa song “The Girl From Ipanema” being used during the Rio 2016 opening ceremony – so let's start with those.


- for those familiar with semiquaver or 16th note rhythms, count “1 e & a 2 e (&) a”)

What we think of as the classic samba rhythm is predominantly a 2/4 rhythm, with the first beat on the “down” parts of the beat and the second beat on the “up” parts. Normally this rhythm will be played on guitar and other stringed instruments along with various percussion instruments. Like many popular rhythms, this has its roots in Africa and made its way to Brazil via the West African slave trade, but is popularly seen as a musical expression of the urban carnival culture of Rio.

Bossa Nova

 – count “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &”

Bossa Nova literally means “new trend” in Portugese, and was developed in the 1950s from a fusion of jazz and samba rhythms. It is most commonly performed on a nylon string acoustic, accompanying vocals – an approach pioneered by legendary Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto, who would frequently lock himself in his bathroom for hours on end playing one chord over and over in the hope of finding new rhythmic inspiration.

Both these genres are commonly associated with sophisticated, jazzy sounding chord voicings – minor and major 7ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths are common in many Latin jazz standards, much more so than their triad equivalents, and a staple of many tunes is the 6/9 chord (R 3 5 6 9).

A great way to embrace these ideas and incorporate them into your everyday musical vocabulary is to experiment with adding them to regular ideas like the 12 bar blues, ii-V-I or I-V-vi-IV – try them bossa or samba style, extend the chords to 9ths and see what happens!