The Secret History Of Bossa Nova



Singer Monica Vasconcelos tells the musical and political story of bossa nova, the first modern music of Brazil.

Forget its low key supper club reputation, bossa nova was tied to political revolution and driven by a sharp and very modern aesthetic. It was born in Rio in the late 1950s as a new music to mark the dawn of a new Brazil - an urban, modernising society leaving behind its colonial past, open to the future and looking out at the world.

Fusing gorgeous melodies with an harmonic language inspired by the French impressionist composers (bossa writers like Antonio Carlos Jobim and Marcus Valle studied Debussy and Ravel closely) and a cosmopolitan sensibility, bossa nova became the music of choice for a smart young, urban Brazilian middle class who were flooding into the cities as the Brazilian economy boomed.

The bossa sound went national then international. By the mid 1960s it became hugely influential in America and around the world. But just as bossa hit big globally and The Girl from Ipanema reached the top of the American charts, the scene was shaken to its core at home with the deposal of the left wing civilian government and the arrival of a military regime, backed by the United States. At first censorship was light but by 1968 the junta had drifted into open repression and many musicians were arrested or exiled. Bossa nova - its serenity and preoccupation with sun, the sea and love - suddenly seemed out of touch with these darker times.

Presenter Monica Vasconcelos is a bossa singer herself and travels to Rio to meet musicians that were part of the original bossa scene - Joyce and Marcus Valle, Eumir Deodato, music writer Ruy Castro.

Producer: Simon Hollis

A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.