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The Role Music Plays in Getting to Know a Culture

Whenever traveling abroad, I find a good way to get to know the culture and history of a country is through music. Whenever a significant cultural event takes place somewhere, you can be sure there will be some important music coming out of that time and place from the social commentators in the music world. From the evolution of blues music in the early parts of the 20th century, through the civil rights era of the 60’s, to the modern day, we’ve had musicians all along the way documenting their experiences and leaving us with a sonic history lesson of sorts.

When people think of Brazil in terms of music, bossa nova is usually one of the first things to come to mind. Thanks in large part to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes’ 1962 Grammy award winning “The Girl from Ipanema”, Brazil and bossa nova music are inextricably linked to this day. Following in the footsteps of the popular sound of the era were many other young Brazilian musicians who were equally as talented, but achieved less international acclaim. Singing in Portuguese can make it hard to cross over to an English speaking audience, after all. One such musician is Marcos Valle. He had a small stateside hit in 1965 with the song “Samba De Verao” –also known as “So Nice, Summer Samba” to the English speaking market. Valle took a trip to the U.S. in 1966 and worked with Sergio Mendes, which provided more inspiration for his future musical work and musical experimentations of the early 1970’s.

Although Valle’s albums from this era have been hard to find collectors items for decades, they were recently made available by Seattle’s Light in the Attic Records, who specialize in re-issuing out of print and underappreciated music from a myriad of eras and musical styles. Their Marcos Valle series saw the release of four of his landmark albums starting with 1970’s self titled “Marcos Valle” and ending with his 1973 album “Previsão Do Tempo.” The re-issued album’s extensive liner notes are especially beneficial in this series, as the Portuguese songs are translated into English, and there is often commentary explaining the underlying and sometimes subtle meanings of the songs. Brazil at the time was under strict military rule since a coup d’état in 1964, and there was heavy censorship of musical content. Valle tested these censors regularly, often using clever metaphors and upbeat melodies to disguise the underlying socially conscious and political nature of the lyrics.

The beauty of this collection is that the colorful blend of musical styles like samba, bossa nova, jazz, soul, and dance music make it a rewarding listen regardless of any language barrier. Valle, along with his lyricist brother Paulo Sergio, recruited some of the best session musicians in Brazil at the time and the talent is on full display on these albums. What started out as mellow samba in the ‘60’s had evolved into more orchestral, soulful, at times even funkier sounds by the early 70’s. For a prime example of his work, check out the title track from his 1972 album “Garra”, considered by many to be a career highpoint for Valle, and a landmark album that still stands out as one of the best Brazilian pop albums of all time:

Learn more about travel to Brazil or contact our South America Program Director Kirsten Gardner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Keeping it wild,

John Gleason
If You're Not Out Of Your Comfort Zone You Haven't...
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