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The Birth of Bossa Nova

Joao Gilberto was one of the key bossa nova pioneers.
Hulton Archive
Getty Images
Joao Gilberto was one of the key bossa nova pioneers.

The summer of 1958 was the season of bossa nova. Fifty years ago, a movement of melody, harmony, lyrics, and rhythm sent a fresh wave of sound throughout Brazil. In the years to follow, a small group of idealistic musicians — including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Joao Gilberto, and a handful of others — would write some of the most enduring melodies in music history. Here are five songs from the magical era when the gentle sound of Brazil hypnotized the world.

The Birth of Bossa Nova

Joao Gilberto

"Chega de Saudade"

Bossa nova's premier historian, Ruy Castro, calls this song "the 1 minute and 59 seconds that changed everything." It was the first composition to reveal Joao Gilberto's "new beat on guitar," with the sophisticated harmonies of Antonio Carlos Jobim and the elegant lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes. Brazilian music would never be the same.

Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto


Many historians believe that "Desafinado," co-written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Newton Mendoca, was the first bossa nova song. It was originally written as a joke for the corny pop singer Ivon Cury, but then Joao Gilberto sang it earnestly, and it became a bossa nova manifesto.

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim

"Girl from Ipanema"

"Garota de Ipanema," or "The Girl from Ipanema," is the one bossa nova song everyone knows. Whether it's packaged for concert halls or elevators, every conceivable genre of music has adapted this irrepressible melody from Antonio Carlos Jobim, with lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. The song would introduce bossa nova to the world, for better and for worse.

Dizzy Gillespie

"Mas Que Nada"

Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada" certainly qualifies as a timeless piece. Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 jump-started their careers with it. Mendes himself revisited the tune with will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas in 2006. In 1967, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie gave a spirited performance on his album Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac. Hear why Gillespie subtitled the tune "Pow, Pow, Pow."

Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina

"Aguas de Marco"

Brazil's most important composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, showcases his other greatest passion: ecology. Jobim spoke about the dangers of pollution and global warming before they became buzzwords. This minimalist song sounds even more relevant today.

Copyright 2008 WBGO

Gary Walker
Simon Rentner