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date: 13 December 2019

Bossa novalocked

  • Gerard Béhague


In Brazilian popular music, a movement that originated about 1958–9 and effected radical stylistic changes in the classical urban Samba. The word ‘bossa’, from Rio de Janeiro slang, means loosely ‘special ability’, ‘shrewdness’, ‘astuteness’ and the like. The term ‘bossa-nova’ first appeared in Antônio Carlos Jobim’s song Desafinado (1959) whose melody with complex intervals (diminished 4ths, minor 6ths) and a rather tortuous shape was intended to suggest the idea of a singer with a certain vocal insecurity. Its melodic and harmonic complexity was justified by the song text as ‘bossa nova’. The originators of the new style included Jobim himself as a composer and João Gilberto primarily as a singer and guitarist. Their first important recording was Chega de Saudade (March 1959). Although the samba figured prominently in their repertory it was not their exclusive genre.

One of the features of the new style, affecting popular music in general, and the samba in particular, was a deliberate avoidance of the predominance of any single musical parameter. Before bossa nova the melody was generally strongly emphasized, to satisfy the basic requirement of an easily singable tune; bossa nova, however, integrates melody, harmony and rhythm. The performer has a vital role in this integration, but heavy emphasis on the singer’s personality is altogether avoided. Strongly contrasting effects, loudness of voice, fermatas or scream-like high pitches are generally excluded from a proper bossa nova singing style; the singing should flow in a subdued tone almost like the normal spoken language. The characteristic nasal vocal production of bossa nova is a peculiar trait of the ...

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