What is Bossa Nova?


Smooth, breezy, and a bit sultry; Bossa Nova is one style of music you can’t help but sway in your seat to.

This “new wave” style of Brazilian music first came to be in the late 1950s, and truly burst onto the scene in the early ‘60s.

Pinpointing the exact origins of this particular new genre proves to be a bit of a scattered hunt, with pins and red string connecting the culprits. What is very clear however is the few names who would prove to be integral to its creation and its spread.

The history of Bossa Nova

It all started with a song called “Chega de Saudade.” First performed in 1957, the song wasn’t an instant hit, but it would go on to become the undisputed original bossa nova song. 

Known by its loose English translation “No More Blues” in America, the song was written by a group of well-known Brazilian singers. Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote the song, and invited the Elizete Cardoso to sing the tune. It was released on her album “Canção Do Amor Demais” to very little fanfare or recognition. 

Though it was Cardosa who first performed the song that would be the catalyst for this new wave, it was João Gilberto who would go on to become the “Father of Boss Nova.” He recorded a cover of Cardoso’s “Chega de Saudade” on an album of the same name. It’s this album that opened the door for Bossa Nova to meet the rest of the world.

The Bosses of Bossa Nova


Bossa Nova legend Laurindo Almeida.

Though the song passed through many hands before it was able to birth Bossa Nova, there’s one indisputable fact of the genre’s creation: it was born in Brazil. As such, most of the early singers and songwriters of the genre, including Jobim, Moraes, Cardoso, and Gilberto were all from Brazil. They grew up learning music, especially the traditional sounds of their country, and let those sounds inspire more creativity and expand their careers. 

The tradition of samba music was a great influence to these artists and to Bossa Nova. It’s a genre as much as it is a dance, known predominantly as a means to celebrate the explosive festival of Carnival during Mardi Gras. There is even a National Samba Day celebrated yearly on December 2. 

This deep-rooted love and respect for samba provided the foundation for these singer/songwriter/composers to create Bossa Nova. They kept the traditional percussion of the pandeiro (tambourine) and the plucking string sounds from the cavaco that were widely used in traditional samba, but added some of the modern wind instruments of jazz. 

The spread of Bossa Nova

Bossa Nova became an American sensation just as much as it was in South America, and very surprisingly quick. The late 50s film “Black Orpheus” helped introduce America to this new style of music with the song by Tom Jobim himself titled “The Girl From Ipanema.”

Almost immediately, the breezy music was welcomed, celebrated, and created in droves. One of the most impressive and enduring examples of this music is the album “Stan Getz meets João & Astrud Gilberto: New York 1964,” which won them international recognition and an Album of the Year Grammy.

Today, Bossa Nova is still alive and well. The Brazilian-born artist Eliane Elias is an example of how to take a decades old genre and continue to celebrate it and watch it grow. She’s served the tradition well, having earned herself two Best Latin Jazz Album Grammys in both 2016 and 2017. 

Some non-Brazilian-born singers have also contributed to Bossa Nova, like Diana Krall. She’s done wonderful covers of classics like “The Girl From Ipanema” and released her own Bossa Nova album called “Quiet Nights.”

Other legends of Bossa Nova include Oscar Castro-Neve, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell, and Caetano Veloso.

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Tara DeVincenzo