What is Bossa Nova?

Posted on Mar 22, 2013

What is Bossa Nova? A question often asked. To find the answer one must be prepared to look deep into the origins of bossa nova

 

With all things there is a sense of identity. What that person, thing or even idea truly is. So we ask what is the identity of Bossa , or better yet  what is Bossa Nova? For some it is simply the genre of music that swept the west during the 1960s, derived from the technique of Gilberto, the harmonies of Jobim and the lyrics of Vinicius. However, Bossa Nova carries varied significance depending on those you ask. Bossa Nova can be thought of as just a genre, more so a movement, an idea or a culture in itself.

As a genre Bossa Nova is the form that introduced Brazilian music to the world. It has left a lasting imprint on Jazz just as Jazz had aided its development. It is also one of the precursors to Tropicalismo, the artistic movement which was so important during the dictatorship in Brazil in the late 60s to early 70s. Utilizing the rhythmic foundations of traditional samba, Bossa Nova for want of a better phrase “softened” the historic samba-cancao. Its varied characteristics such as blending of melody and harmony while de-emphasizing the vocalist as the center of attention brought a style of sophistication and a sense of elitism never before seen in Brazilian music.

“The music emerged in the small clubs and apartments of the beachfront districts of Rio’s south zone. The very character of Bossa Nova—intimate, soft, controlled—corresponds to the enclosed physical space in which it grew.” –Bossa Nova Home and Abroad by C.A. Perrone

It was a genre created by the middle class for the middle class. Lyrics were care-free, depicting the lifestyles of its middle and upper class originators. Even more so one could say that Bossa Nova represented the spirit and growing stature of Brazil in the 1950s in various markets including those outside of music. Under the leadership of the late president Juscelino Kubitschek Brazil made large strides in culture, industry and sport.

“Bossa” is a term used when something is done with natural flair or ability. Bossa Nova itself translates to “New Wave” or in some sectors “New Thing”. Brazil in the 1950s was burgeoning with success, in many ways embodying the very definition of Bossa.

 

Golden Boys

The back to back World Cup successes for Brazil in 1958 and 1962 is one example. They had world class players in every position each carrying with them marvelous technique and ability, including the likes of Garrincha and a certain Pele. Coaches Vicente Feola (1958) and later Aymore Moreira (1962) introduced tactics and formations never before seen on the world stage, namely the 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 formations respectively, which allowed them to dominate their opposition gaining plaudits across the globe.

 

Beauty of Brasilia

The structure and design of Brasilia (Brazil’s capital) and the leaps in architecture that came with it can be cited as another example of the spirit of Bossa Nova. Oscar Niemeyer the architect behind the cities design said:

 “Architecture will always express the technical and social progress of the country in which it is carried out.” … “For me beauty is valued more than anything- the beauty that is manifest in a curved line or an act of creativity.”

The focus on form, curves and aesthetics were major proponents of Niemeyer’s craft and those characteristics were brought out in Brasilia’s buildings.  Brasilia has been described as the “fantasy city” and both aspects (layout and building design) have been influential on future projects across the world throughout the 20th century to the present day. The sophisticated structure but aesthetically pleasing compositions of bossa nova mirror the architecture of Brasilia, which is equally sophisticated  and beautiful.


Today you can find of course artists that carry on the spirit of the beautiful genre , Bebel Gilberto , Hotel Bossa Nova , and Adam Dunning just to name a few. You can however also find, Bossa Nova night clubs, restaurants, graphic design firms and even a robotics company.

From all of this we see that the idea and true meaning of Bossa Nova transcends the music that bears the name. Bossa Nova is that sense of creating something new with flair, panache, style, beauty and hopefully a lasting legacy.

 

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