RIO DE JANEIRO - If fashion runways and movies are indicators of national trends, Brazil is undergoing a resurgence of nostalgia for the 1950s and early 1960s, when bossa nova jazz took the world by storm.
At Fashion Rio’s Summer 2006 event last month — the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, where summer begins in December — models were dressed in tropical-fruit-colored clothes inspired by Carmen Miranda, a singer credited with introducing Brazil’s samba rhythms to the world.
Another musical icon, Joao Gilberto, recently emerged from his reclusive privacy to record a new bossa nova title, “Ja Pensou” (“Imagine That”) for a large mining company’s TV ad campaign airing in August.
Mr. Gilberto is widely considered the man who created the bossa nova beat and gave life to the songs of Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, composers of “The Girl from Ipanema.”
Add to that Brazilian director Walter Lima Jr.’s recently completed film that fictionalizes the historic arrival of bossa nova at Carnegie Hall in 1962, and it appears Brazil’s unique jazz standard has become part of the national zeitgeist once more. Mr. Lima’s $2.5 million film, “Os Desafinados” (“The Off Key”), will reach Brazilian cinemas early next year.
Bossa nova is a combination of slow samba rhythms and American jazz, relying on acoustic guitar, piano and the flute. The music turned Rio de Janeiro into an idyllic symbol throughout the world of mountain and seaside romanticism.
Times have changed
But the Miranda fashions, Mr. Gilberto’s new tune and Mr. Lima’s movie may be as close as Brazil gets to its bossa nova past. Rio is not what it used to be.
When bossa nova was being played until the wee hours of the morning at local piano bars, the sprawling city had 64 “favelas” — shantytowns — rising along the jagged green hills overlooking Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.
Today, there are more than 700 shantytowns, and their inhabitants make up 19 percent of Rio’s population, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 1960. The population has exploded from 1.75 million to roughly 6 million today, and the crime rate has soared from one assault per hour to nine.
Talent moved abroad
Most of Brazil’s bossa nova talent is living and composing in Europe and the United States. That’s where most of the fans are. They listen to a more techno version of bossa nova found in trendy lounges and nightclubs from New York to Paris.
“There’s a new bossa nova out there, and it’s not the same bossa your grandfather used to listen to,” said Scott Adams, a disc jockey from Chicago. “But he’d like it.”
Mr. Adams hosts the 13-year-old radio program, “The Sounds of Brazil,” which can be heard in the Washington area at 11 p.m. Sunday nights on WJZW-105.9 FM.
The new bossa nova songs are not about Copacabana sunsets anymore. Disc jockeys like DJ Grego from Brazil and some from Europe remix the classics with electronic drums and bass and hip-hop samples.
“I want it to be something that my skateboarder son might also enjoy,” said Hippocratis Bournellis, better known as Grego. He also has worked on albums with singers Ricky Martin and Mariah Carey.
The music re-emerges
Last year, DJ Grego released “Tom Jobim Lounge,” an album of Brazilian musicians singing the classics mixed for the dance floor. Even the signature phrase “Yeah, boy,” of old Public Enemy rap-group icon Flavor Flav is mixed into Mr. Jobim’s unrequited love song “Ligia” while a chorus of women sings the lyrics.
Independent music publishers like Dubas Brazil in Sao Paulo have sprouted to handle the demand of new bossa nova fans worldwide.
“We just ask the fans not to put Brazilian music in a box. We know you love the standards, but allow us to be inventive,” said Joao Marcelo Boscoli, president of Trama Records. Mr. Boscoli is the son of Brazilian singers Ronaldo Boscoli and Elis Regina. His sister is adult- contemporary singer Maria Rita, a Latin Grammy winner.
“Believe it or not, there are still many composers out there doing original bossa novas, but the public still prefers the classics,” said Rosalia de Souza, 38, a Rio-born musician living in Italy. She returned to Rio in June to record a new album with classic bossa nova musicians Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal, now in their 60s. Mr. Menescal’s song “Barquinho” (“Little Boat”) is considered a bossa nova standard. He participated in the bossa nova show at Carnegie Hall in 1962.
Miss de Souza is an unknown on Brazil’s airwaves, but she’s in good company. Mr. Gilberto’s daughter, Bebel Gilberto, sold just 56,000 copies of her “Tanto Tempo” album released in 2001, though the uptempo bossa nova compact disc (CD) sold more than 1.5 million copies overseas. Her latest self-titled album sold 600,000 copies worldwide, and just 22,000 here. She lives in New York.
Promotion is lacking
“Bossa nova is one of the best cultural products Brazil has to offer. It has enormous potential to conquer the international jazz scene,” said Giselle Martine, a Brazilian jazz singer living in Switzerland. “But there is no promotion of it. Without promotion, musicians feel they are wasting their time on bossa.”
Mr. Bournellis said that while his CD is played on Sao Paulo radio stations, “Bossa nova remains more valued overseas. It’s growing as an experimental music again.”
Bossa nova started in the 1950s as slow sambas played on piano and guitar, as opposed to the fast Afro-Brazilian sambas popular during carnival. At the time, Brazilian musicians were getting the attention of American crooners like Frank Sinatra.
“The good old days”
Shortly after the Carnegie Hall event, American jazz musician Stan Getz teamed up with Mr. Gilberto on an album that introduced the English version of “The Girl from Ipanema,” sung by Mr. Gilberto’s wife, Astrud.
Mr. Sinatra and Mr. Jobim teamed up to work on a bossa nova project in 1967. Mr. Jobim died in 1994 in New York.
The music slowly disappeared in Brazil around 1968 with a military coup that made singing about sunsets in Copacabana seem otherworldly.
“From that point on, bossa nova entered a coma, which is where it has largely remained,” said Carlos Roquette, a former federal judge who now is a Rio tour guide. “You couldn’t keep singing about little boats while your friends were fleeing to the U.S. or being tortured.”
It’s the melody
The music survived outside Brazil. American jazz musician Vince Guaraldi composed his Charlie Brown Theme as a bossa nova. The soundtrack to the 2003 film, “Something’s Gotta Give,” starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, largely was made up of classic bossa nova, some sung in French, because Brazilian music has strong appeal in France.
Walt Disney Records in Japan released a compilation of Disney classics sung as bossa novas this year.
“Why do foreigners love bossa so much? Maybe it’s because they don’t understand the lyrics and the melody gets to them,” said Maria Creuza, a bossa nova performer from the ‘70s who makes a living singing to foreigners throughout Latin America. “The music has content and feeling. This style will never die.”
Last year, at least three piano bars in Rio hosted weekend shows at which the children of bossa nova legends sang the classics. All three restaurants closed.
Rio isn’t the same
“It’s sad. No one is investing in preserving bossa nova,” said Ana Voigt, one of the producers of the event. “Maybe people are afraid to leave their house.”
Miss de Souza would agree. She left the Rio neighborhood of Nilopolis at 21 to move abroad.
“The life those guys had as they described it to me isn’t part of Rio’s reality anymore,” she said of Mr. Menescal and Mr. Valle. “We live in different times. I wish it was Jobim’s city again.”
“It’s always nice to remember happier times, though I didn’t make this film to go back to the past,” Mr. Lima said. “Bossa nova was a quality moment in Brazilian cultural life, and it can be repeated, though maybe not in music.”