Bossa Nova: Where To Go In Rio For Live Music

When you first think of Brazilian music, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

For most, it is Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vincius de Moreas’s global hit: The Girl from Ipanema. The English lyrics, written by Norman Gimbel, perfectly capture the romanticized vision of Brazilian culture and people.

“Tall and tan and young and lovely, The girl from Ipanema goes walking,

When she walks, she’s like a samba, That swings so cool and sways so gently,”

This song has shaped so many positive and negative stereotypes of Brazil. Therefore, to help deconstruct some of them, it might be useful to know a bit more about bossa nova than just the classic anglicized hit. I would like to focus specifically on the genre’s birthplace, Rio de Janeiro, because it is full of so many wonderful bossa nova hidden gems. To start, I want to introduce to you all the father of Bossa Nova, Tom Jobim, and take a closer look at how the genre has spread across the world. To help guide you, listen to our exclusively curated bossa nova playlist.

Antonio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom Jobim, is Brazil’s grandfather of bossa nova. In Rio de Janiero, you can visit his famous statue on Ipanema beach where he is gracefully holding a guitar over his shoulder alongside the shore. His compositions were influenced by American jazz as well as the Afro-Brazilian genre: samba. The guitar is by far the most important instrument in bossa nova and its strumming pattern is especially unique and elegant. After Jobim’s famous compositions, Chega de Saudade and Outra Vez, João Gilberto entered the scene. His soft style of singing accompanying the guitar rhythm defined the bossa nova style for the coming decade. Soon after, bossa nova became a collective in the upper middle-class neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. The scene was primarily found in Leblon, Ipanema, and Copacabana while other prominent musicians arose, such as: Nara Leão, Astrud Gilberto, Elis Regina, Roberto Menesca and more. In 1964, American saxophonist, Stan Getz, collaborated with João and Tom to make one of the most iconic global collaboration albums of all time. The beauty of bossa nova was then popular all over the United States.

Tom Jobim

The most famous bossa nova song, The Girl from Ipanema (Garota de Ipanema,) actually has a face behind the name. The story goes: the two composers, Vincius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim were sipping beer at a bar in Ipanema when eighteen-year-old Heloisa Eneida Menezes Pais Pinto walked by. Moraes called the way she carried herself “sheer poetry” and soon after, the two started to work on one of the most iconic songs in Brazilian history. This simple yet romantic melody sung by Astrud Gilberto put Brazilian music on the map. Today,  you actually can visit the original bar where the duo first composed this song. It used to be called Veloso bar/cafe and now it is the Garota de Ipanema (shocker!)

Bar Carioca da Gema (OFICIAL)
FACEBOOK Bar Carioca da Gema (OFICIAL)

Other than bar Veloso and the statue of Tom Jobim, there are loads of other sites in Rio de Janeiro where you can listen to or learn about the history of bossa nova. Firstly, the Rio Airport is named after Tom Jobim which should tell you a lot about how much value Brazilians place on their music. For live music, the Carioca de Gema in Lapa and Beco das Garrafas in Copacabana ooze bossa nova and have quality live shows nearly every night. If you are lucky, some nights you can also catch some live samba music. Meanwhile, the Bossa Nova & Companhia store in Copacabana is the place to get all of your CDs, records, and bossa nova merch. As you can see, music – especially bossa nova – is core to Rio De Janeiro’s spirit and finding live quality music at night is a lot easier than it may seem. If you are unable to travel, but want to experience the spirit of bossa nova, the Netflix drama, Girls from Ipanema (or Coisas Mais Linda in Portuguese,) will transport you directly to Rio during the early 1960s. This show will get anyone excited about bossa nova music and Brazilian culture. While it is fiction and drama-heavy, it definitely does its research on the aesthetic and social politics of the genre.

I hope that you are now inspired to learn more about the many musical genres of Brazil and will do your own research the next time you are visiting Rio. There are so many new artists and venues that continue the beauty of bossa nova, so I hope that you can now infuse bossa nova’s contagious energy into your daily life.

Girls from Ipanema Netflix
Girls from Ipanema Netflix

Vivian Bauer


Vivian is passionate about everything related to music, art, and language. When traveling, she loves to walk for miles, try all kinds of food, and visit every museum. She has lived in Singapore, Belgium, and Brazil while hoping to one day travel to Mongolia and East Timor.

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