Bossa Nova – Embodying the Idea of Cool
Brazil in the 1960’s: a paradise of cool and suave. The nonchalant sentiment of an age typified by effortless class took musical form in Bossa Nova. Characterized by its smooth beats, cool sensibility, a slight off-tune rhythm, Bossa Nova created a whole culture which valued nothing at all, but simple existence. Singers like Astrud Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim created a form of expression where off-beat tunes and simple half-hearted guitar strums all came together to create a musical Shangri-La, which would best be described as a lightly-crowded beach in southern Brazil.
Watching any Bossa Nova performance by Astrud Gilberto, one can’t help but notice the lack of expression on the Brazilian music legend’s face. Her calm composure as her voice moves subtly between the notes of the song strikes the audience as a performance of its own. “Cool” is all that comes to mind.
Bossa Nova was born in the cosmopolitan beaches of south Rio. It was developed by a close-knit group of artists, artists in the purist definition of the word. They wrote music using the beats of the world, softly muttering noises as flutes and guitar strings played on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. It was a fusion of the common man’s samba with the sophistication of jazz, being the utter embodiment of an entire era in Brazil.
The creators of Bossa Nova, João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Antônio Carlos Jobim and so on, were not so much creators as discoverers. They happened to just stumble upon the rhythm of the ambient and put it into music. They took no pride or pomp in this music, they just simply played.
Songs like Astrud Gilberto’s Bim-Bom, seem to simply drizzle through the air, like a light rain on Guanabara Bay. Lyrics in Bossa Nova don’t have a clear end or punctuation, they just naturally flow. The words bunch up in clusters that seem uncomfortable and ill-placed, as if someone was singing off a karaoke screen too quickly. As João Gilberto beautifully puts in the Bossa Nova hit Desafinado, “that is Bossa nova, it is very natural”, instilling the idea that music needs to be as awkward as people really are, because there is perfection in imperfection.
Unlike the similar relaxed, careless movements of the epoch throughout the world, like the Hippie culture in North America, Bossa Nova was not an outrageous movement of wild cultural anarchy, it was reserved, effortless. Bossa Nova did not care to dance crazily in a field listening to Simon and Garfunkel, rather it was the blatant disregard of everything. Bossa Nova was pure existence and it was cool.
Bossa Nova wanted nothing, but had everything. Bossa Nova was the son of a rich man, who wanted nothing more than a life free of obligation.
Bossa Nova was its own world, where everything coexisted to create a singular symphony, composed of flat beats, pitchy singing, and mumbled words, that chose to sunbath on the beach rather than perfect their music.
Bossa Nova was, and still is, cool.
Written by: Tommy Bettencourt