Rio de Janeiro is a place that elicits a lot from our imaginations – from stunning beaches, to rolling mountains drenched in tropical forests and barefoot children running down alley ways skillfully passing around a soccer ball. But perhaps the most alluring image is one of a vibrant culture and city full of beautiful residents who all posses the gift of rhythm and a passion for music. A stereotype that continues to be reiterated on every trip I make to Cidade Maravilhosa – the marvelous city.
To find out how us outsiders can get some insights into Rio’s music scene, I interviewed one local expert about some of his favorite venues.
Meet Carlos Goncalves.
A Rio native and professional percussionist with 35 years of experience under his belt, having played in several bands of varying genres throughout the city. Carlos also taught Brazilian Percussion at the Bremen University in Germany for 5 years back in the late 90’s. Today he works as a free lance tour guide in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro, offering various tours including customized music tours. Carlos speaks English, Portuguese, German and Italian.
LMT: How did your love of music begin?
CG: I’ve had a passion for music for as long as I can remember thanks to my father who was one of the biggest Jazz experts in Brazil. As a kid, I remember watching Brazilian Music Festivals on TV and being so excited to make my own music by participating in blocos. In Brazil we have what we call “Carnival blocos” which are the most spontaneous part of the festival. These are block parties where people pour into the street, bringing various percussion instruments, and start playing and dancing together. Foreigners always think of the big parade at Sambodromo when they think of Carnival, but for us locals it’s all about the blocos. All Cariocas have rhythm and we learn it in the streets.
*Carioca – term used for local residents of Rio de Janiero*
LMT: What different types of music can you find in Rio de Janeiro? And do you have a favorite?
CG: As Brazil’s cultural capitol, Rio has every type of music you can imagine – both Brazilian and International music.
But as far as Brazilian music is concerned, 3 of the most popular genres today were actually born in Rio and can be found all over the city.
Samba is by far the most famous Brazilian music and even though it is considered a symbol of the whole country, it began here in Rio. Samba is lively, uses a lot of percussion and was greatly influenced by traditional West African music brought over by the slaves. Samba made it to the world stage thanks to our popular Carnival celebrations
a mix of samba and jazz that became popular during the 1950’s and 60’s. Bossa Nova grabbed world attention thanks to artists like Joao Giberto, Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Everyone around the world recognizes songs like Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema) and Agua de Beber
this type of music started in the favelas (slums) in Rio and is a mix of dance music and rap. Today it’s really popular among young adults and the working class.
As a musician, I don’t have a favorite. I’ve learned to appreciate them all.
LMT: For travelers visiting Rio, where can they go for an authentic music experience?
CG: Rio has so many options for authentic live music. Where to go depends on what you’re looking for…
For travelers to get the most authentic samba experience they must go to a “Roda de Samba (samba wheel).” This is when a group of people, usually 4-5 men, gather in the street, bringing their own instruments to sit in a circle and play while people gather around to sing and dance. This is the true roots of Samba and the best street party you’ll ever go to! I recommend the Roda de Samba at Pedra do Sal. Every Monday night the locals gather here for their famous samba street party. There’s no charge and the surrounding bars and restaurants stay open late.
**Pedra do Sal – a neighborhood in the center of an area known as “Little Africa” which originated from the tiny settlement of freed and escaped slaves that first lived here. It is said that in the near by in Prada Maua, is where the first samba notes were ever played.**
I also recommend Toca do Gamba in Niteroi. This is a traditional Samba house that serves great food and drinks with Fridays and Saturdays being the best nights to go. They also serve Feijoada (a traditional black bean stew) on the 1st Sunday of every month. Tv. Carlos Gomes, 23 -Santana, Niteroi – RJ, 24110-040
And if anyone is visiting from August to February, they should really check out a Samba School rehearsal. These schools are essentially dance groups that gather regularly to play and dance Samba music, with each school representing their own song, dance and float in the big Carnival Parade. The rehearsals usually take place from about 10pm to 4am every Saturday night leading up to Carnival. There are tons of samba schools throughout the city.
CG: Visitors also need to visit Beco das Garrafas in Copacabana, the birthplace of Bossa Nova. This famous alley way has two bars, Little Club and Bottles Bar, that are small intimate venues great for sitting back and taking in this relaxing rhythm. R. Duvivier, 37 – J, K, L – Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22020-020
Another place is Blue Note, same as the famous Blue Note Jazz club in NYC. However, the one here in Rio focused mainly on Brazilian Jazz and Bossa Nova and often attracts big names like Marcos Valle and Robertinho Silva. Av. Borges de Medeiros, 1424 – Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22430-042.
Forro (pronounced FO-HO. A popular genre of music from Northeast Brazil)
CG: A hidden gem that not too many visitors know about is Feira Nordestina Sao Cristovao. This is the city’s largest fair and offers popular food, drinks and souvenirs from the Northeast region of the country. Live music can always be found here, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, and they usually play Forro – it’s a type of country music that usually involves a two partner dance. Sometimes they even have Capoeira performances – a Brazilian martial art that mixes acrobatics, dance and music. Campo de Sao Cristovao, Sao Cristovoa, Rio de Janeiro
Bars and Restaurants
CG: Tons of restaurants and bars through out the city also offer live music. One place to look out for it the historic downtown neighborhood of Lapa, famous for it’s traditional botecos (open air bars), live music and dance clubs. Two if the most popular spots are Rio Scenarium and Cairoca do Gema.
*Rio Scenarium – a multilevel bar with typically with live music on each floor R. do Lavradio, 20 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 20230-070, Brazil
*Bar Cairoca da Gema – tradicional pizzeria in old mansion that frequently has live Samba Av. Men de Sa, 79 – Centro, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 20230 – 150, Brazil
*Bonus* – Although this isn’t a music venue, I suggest visitors enjoy a meal at Restaurants e Bar Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema Restaurant and Bar). This is the where Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote their hit song. Be sure to order a caipirinha and picanha (top sirloin) R. Vinicius de Moraes, 49 Ipanema – Rio de Janeiro