Brazil Rock – 1955-1984

The revolution, from Nora Ney to Bete Balanço

Silvio Essinger
The history of rock’n’roll in Brazil has taken many different turns since its official start, October 24, 1955, when Nora Ney released Ronda das Horas, a version of Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock. After that unanticipated first recording, Brazilian musicians started to incorporate the new, subversive American trend, generating pioneering rock idols Cely Campello and Sérgio Murilo, and experimenting with carefully crafted bad behavior, like Roberto and Erasmo Carlos. With that initial push, electric guitars started ruling the taste of the younger crowds, and have been naturally blended with traditional Brazilian rhythms since Tropicália (1968).

Bad boy impression
After the revolution induced by Caetano, Gil and Mutantes, rock’n’roll was placed in an outcast position inside Brazilian music. The emergence of BPM, the heavy atmosphere of political repression, the height of flower power, all but fomented Brazilian rockers’ bad boy reputation throughout the 70s. One of Brazil’s greatest rock artists appeared at that time: Raul Seixas, coming from Bahia (NE) to combine Elvis Presley with Luiz Gonzaga, spiritualism and sheer provocation (with or without partner Paulo Coelho) in songs like Gita, Ouro de Tolo, Metamorfose Ambulante and Maluco Beleza. Former Mutantes member Rita Lee expanded her music with rock’n’roll band Tutti Frutti and began her rise to rock stardom with the album Fruto Proibido (1975).

The group Novos Baianos (with Moraes Moreira, Pepeu Gomes and Baby Consuelo) went further ahead with the fusion ideas brought up by the Tropicalists, as did Alceu Valença, godfather of forrock, a legitimate mix of northeastern forró with rock. The band Secos & Molhados, though, adapted David Bowie’s glitter to assorted folk roots, enjoying unseen prestige for a rock band in Brazil in 1973. In addition, the band revealed one of BPM’s greatest singers: chameleon Ney Matogrosso.

On the second half of the decade, the stubborn bands that insisted in playing the style in Brazil would tend towards hard (Made In Brazil, Arnaldo Baptista’s Patrulha do Espaço, Bixo da Seda, A Bolha) or progressive rock (O Terço, Som Nosso de Cada Dia, Sergio Dias’ Mutantes, Casa das Máquinas, Som Imaginário, Veludo Elétrico, Vímana). There was the folk-rock of Sá, Rodrix & Guarabira and the pre-punk band Joelho de Porco, besides the trippy, experimental music conceived by Tom Zé and Walter Franco. That rocking force would be suppressed from 1977 on, when disco music was granted heavy rotation on radio stations. Rita Lee was one among a few to catch the disco train and make a profit out of it.

For a new language
The early 80s weren’t favorable at all for rock in Brazil. FM driven BPM ruled, and censorship and political repression were still a burden upon those who attempted to approach edgy themes. Therefore, what was left was pop-rock: Guilherme Arantes, Marina, Ney Matogrosso, Angela Rô Rô, 14 Bis, Beto Guedes, Eduardo Dusek, Baby Consuelo, Pepeu Gomes, A Cor do Som. Nonetheless, the kids were seeking for a new language, where their common concerns (love, fun, work, family) could be clearly and carelessly discussed.

Brazil Rock uplift starts out in the beginning of the decade, when journalist and DJ Julio Barroso brews his mix of basic rock’n’roll and short, spiked new wave hair, founding the band Gang 90 & Absurdettes. They hit the charts with the reggae Perdidos na Selva (Lost in the Jungle), the story of an unlikely happy ending for a plane crash, told in a B movie plus comics manner. That was the tip of what was yet to come in the next year, when rock would finally turn into a movement in Brazil.

A combination of musicians and actors helped the fast rise of pop-rock band Blitz. Blending beach culture from Rio, smart lyrics and two pretty backing vocalists (Márcia Bulcão and Fernanda Abreu), the group fit perfectly the new venue that opened that summer in Ipanema: Circo Voador, or Flying Circus. Blitz caused such brouhaha in Rio that they accomplished the (then) seemingly impossible mission of getting a record deal for a single.

National Phenomenon
Released in June 1982, the Você Não Soube Me Amar single (whose B-side only featured lead vocalist Evandro Mesquita saying "nada, nada, nada, nada...", or "nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing...") sold over 100 thousand copies. In September, their first LP turned the band into the new national craze. Two more albums, hundreds of shows and a handful of hits later, the band split in 1986.

Shortly after the release of Blitz’s first album, drummer Lobão left the band to pursue a solo career, which would turn him into of the most important rockers in Brazil. A natural wrangler, his albums Cena de Cinema, Ronaldo Foi Pra Guerra, O Rock Errou, Vida Bandida (about his drug-related prison period) and songs like Me Chama (re-recorded by João Gilberto), Corações Psicodélicos, Revanche, Vida Bandida, Chorando no Campo and Essa Noite Não became classics.

Still in 1982, other rockers appeared: Eduardo Dusek; João Penca & Seus Miquinhos Amestrados, Léo Jaime (the three making humorous rock songs); guitarist Lulu Santos and the band Barão Vermelho were some of the hip names. That was also the year when Radio Fluminense FM (Rio) started airing demo tapes and independent albums, and the punk fest O Começo do Fim do Mundo (The Beginning of the End of the World), held in São Paulo, pushed forward furious acts like Inocentes, Ratos de Porão, Cólera and Olho Seco.

In 1983, rock was no longer an alien in the Brazilian music realms. It conquered generous media space, encouraging major labels to sign up the bands. Standard pop music singer Ney Matogrosso recorded a Barão Vermelho song (Pro Dia Nascer Feliz). The compilation Rock Voador (with the bands that played at Circo Voador) exposed the band Kid Abelha and blues guitarist Celso Blues Boy. Paralamas do Sucesso, who had their demo tape on heavy rotation at Radio Fluminense, released a single and a full album (Patrulha Noturna) by the end of the year.

Contemporary and romantic
Nonetheless, a former Vímana member, British musician Richard Court, a.k.a. Ritchie, was the one to enjoy success the most. His smart tchnopop single Menina Veneno sold over 800 thousand copies, unprecedented numbers for rock in Brazil. In little time, the Portuguese singing Brit would make an album (Vôo de Coração) and sell one million copies. Brazil Rock started to enjoy commercial respect, but also generated a lot of disposable products that would become cult acts 15 years later, like Absyntho (Ursinho Blau Blau), Grafite (Mamma Maria) and Bom Bom (Vamos A La Playa).

The boom was not restricted to Rio, though. São Paulo was being simultaneously shaken by punks and vanguard musicians and groups (Arrigo Barnabé, Itamar Assumpção, Rumo, Premeditando o Breque, Língua de Trapo), as well as tropicalist new wavers Titãs, pop rockers Magazine, post-punk Ira! and the irreverent Ultraje a Rigor.

Titãs’ first album was made in 1984 and named after the band. Kid Abelha’s debut album (Seu Espião) was also released that year, and sold 150,000 copies. Still in ’84, Paralamas do Sucesso’s second album, O Passo do Lui, crashed down media resistance, featuring quite a few hit tracks (Óculos, Meu Erro, Ska, Me Liga, Mensagem de Amor). The bands and artists were more and more present at TV shows. At the same time, moviemakers detected and scrutinized the Brazil Rock phenomenon in film, such as Lael Rodrigues’ Bete Balanço (the story of a wanna-be music starlet), with the theme song by Barão Vermelho.



Ouro de Tolo – Raul Seixas
Ovelha Negra – Rita Lee
O Vira – Secos & Molhados
Perdidos na Selva – Gang 90 & As Absurdetes
Você Não Soube Me Amar – Blitz
Corações Psicodélicos – Lobão
Rock da Cachorra – Eduardo Dusek
Tempos Modernos – Lulu Santos
Pro Dia Nascer Feliz – Barão Vermelho
Menina Veneno – Ritchie
Sônia – Léo Jaime
Sonífera Ilha – Titãs
Óculos – Paralamas do Sucesso
Pintura Íntima – Kid Abelha e Seus Abóboras Selvagens