101 songs that touched Brazil

Joan-Josep Tharrats, Who Looks, 1961


Commentary on the book by Nelson Motta in collaboration with Antônio Carlos Miguel

“What to include and what to exclude – that is the question” (Karl Popper).

After 13 months living with my family in London, I returned to Brazil in August 2016. Difficult year: impeachment by Dilma Rousseff, Pound Sterling quoted at BRL 4,00 months before reaching BRL 6,60 – as I write this, thanks to the economic policy put into practice by a genocidal government, it reached BRL 7,61 –, strike at state universities in São Paulo, general dismay, “Fora Temer!” having little effectiveness...

So it was a relief to find, a month later, the book 101 songs that touched Brazil, which Nelson Motta wrote with the collaboration of Antônio Carlos Miguel.

In the “Posfácio – Bônus Track” (p. 215-218) it is recognized that “the 101 best or most important Brazilian songs do not exist”, listing well over a hundred of those that were not contemplated in the work, also recognizing that the selection could easily reach 1.001 songs, “such is the creativity and diversity of Brazilian composers in the last century.” Surely, Motta and Miguel faced the dilemma enunciated by the philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994) in his intellectual autobiography, which I used as an epigraph in this article: “what to include and what to exclude – that is the question”.

And this wonderful list, defends Motta, should (and should) be made “by genre, by era, by historical importance or popular success, in addition to melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and poetic excellence.” He also adds that Brazilian music has as one of its great qualities the “unparalleled variety of genres, styles, rhythms and musical mixtures, from Belém to Porto Alegre, at different times and under multiple influences, which represent our ethnic and cultural diversity ”, pondering that “among the countless beautiful, happy, dramatic, romantic, fun, tragic, political, social songs, of the most varied rhythms and styles, which became popular and marked their time, some especially touched Brazil, in our best and worst moments, and became the soundtrack to our personal and collective history.”

Steve Turner, a few years ago, wrote a beautiful book describing the details of the creation of each of the Beatles' songs, constituting a tasty text for anyone interested in the backstage involving the Liverpool quartet. Motta, assisted by Miguel, tells the story bit by bit about the 101 chosen songs. As with any selection, obviously one can disagree with the chosen ones. After all, we are more than 210 million appreciators of the sounds produced by the composers who perform their craft here. But, I reiterate, if there is any doubt about the “barred at the ball”, you can go to the Afterword and, certainly, the wronged person will appear there, mentioned, but not included.

Personally, I liked how the work was organized, abundantly filled with images of performers and composer(s), as well as album covers, CDs, concert photos, posters, caricatures... Each song appears commented and contextualized, whether with regard to the career of the composer, performer and/or the musical current to which he/she is linked. Quick and precious comments.

The path begins in 1899, with “Ó abre alas”, by Chiquinha Gonzaga, and ends in 2003 with Marcelo D2 and Davi Corcos (“Looking for the perfect beat”). Among these “tips” we have 99 songs. I will mention some of them, as it is impossible to detail the whole set.

Noel Rosa appears with “Feitiço da Vila” (1934, with Vadico) and “Palpite unhappy” (1936); there is “By the phone” (Donga and Mauro de Almeida, 1916); Pixinguinha has “Carinhoso” (1937, with João de Barro) and “Rosa” (1937, with Otávio de Souza); Ary Barroso has 3 recordings: “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” (1938), “Aquarela do Brasil” (1939) and “To hurt my heart” (1943). Dorival Caymmi is remembered in five songs: “Rosa Morena” (1942), “Dora” (1945), “Marina” (1947), “João Valentão” (1953) and “Saudade da Bahia” (1957). Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira with “Asa Branca” (1947), Lupicínio Rodrigues with “Nervos de Aço” (1947) and Zé Keti with two songs (“A voz do morro”, 1945; “Mascarada”, with Elton Medeiros, 1965 ). Jorge Ben Jor, in turn, has “Mas que nada” (1963) and “Tropical country” (1969). Luiz Melodia (“Pérola negra”, 1972), Raul Seixas (“Ouro de tolo”, 1973; “Metamorfose ambulante”, 1973) and Cartola (“The sun will rise”, 1964, with Elton Medeiros; “As roses do not speak” , 1976 and “The world is a mill”, 1976) are not forgotten, while Milton Nascimento, with “Travessia” (Fernando Brant, 1967), “Nothing will be like before” (Ronaldo Bastos, 1971) and “Student heart” (Wagner Tiso, 1983) and Gonzaguinha, with “Explode Coração” (1979) and “O que é, o que é” (1982), stand out.

Comments about Chico Buarque focus on “Despite you” (1970), “Construção” (1971), “Eyes in the eyes” (1976), “Beatriz” (Edu Lobo, 1983) and “Future lovers” (1993). ). Roberto and Erasmo Carlos could not be left out: “Detalhes” (1971), “Emoções” (1981) and “Fera wounded” (1983) are analyzed. Paulinho da Viola has two songs – “Foi um rio que passa em minha vida” (1969) and “Coração leviano” (1977) –, Paulo Sérgio Valle and Marcos Valle also two (“I need to learn to be alone”, 1961 and “ Samba de Verão”, 1965), the same for Gilberto Gil (“Domingo no Parque”, 1967 and “Aquele Abraço”, 1969) and three others for Caetano Veloso: “Força Estrange”, “Sampa” and “Terra”, all from 1978.

Vinicius de Moraes, Tom Jobim, Newton Mendonça, Carlos Lyra, Baden Powell and Toquinho are reviewed in “Chega de Saudade” (Tom and Vinicius, 1958), “I know I will love you” (idem, 1958), “Desafinado” (Tom e Mendonça, 1959), “Samba da Benção” (Vinicius and Baden, 1963), “Girl from Ipanema” (Tom and Vinicius, 1963), “Canto de Ossanha” (Vinicius and Baden, 1966), “Primavera” (Vinicius and Lyra, 1964), “Wave” (I'll tell you) (Tom, 1967), “Tarde em Itapuã” (Toquinho and Vinicius, 1971) and “Águas de Março” (Tom, 1972).

But the book doesn't stop there: there are also Lamartine Babo, Silval Silva, Bororó, Assis Valente, Zé da Zilda, Marino Pinto, Braguinha, Cassiano, Guilherme Arantes, Ivone Lara, Rita Lee, Djavan, Zé Ramalho, Cazuza, Frejat, Marina Lima, Lobão, Herbert Vianna, Arnaldo Antunes, Marisa Monte, Carlinhos Brown, Tim Maia, Renato Russo, Lulu Santos, Oh, but I almost forgot about Nélson Cavaquinho, Adoniran Barbosa, Jacob do Bandolim, Renato Teixeira, João Bosco, Aldir Blanc, Geraldo Vandré, Johnny Alf, Belchior, Jorge Mautner…

Anyway, I emphasize once again: one can disagree with the selection made by Motta and Miguel, but it is a high-spirited book. I understand that it is not possible to notice the last four lines of the “Bônus Track” written by Nelsinho: “From modinhas and choros to funk and tecnobrega, Brazilian music accompanies the movements of the country with songs that tell the story of a time and of the feelings of Brazilians with quality, quantity and diversity” (p. 218).

*Afranio Catani He is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at the Faculty of Education of UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus.



Nelson Motta. 101 songs that touched Brazil (with the collaboration of Antônio Carlos Miguel). Rio de Janeiro, Estação Brasil, 2016, 224 pages.



Karl Popper. Intellectual autobiography. Translation: Leonidas Hegenberg and Octanny Silveira da Mota. Sao Paulo, Cultrix, 1986.

Steve Turner. The Beatles: The Story Behind Every Song. Translation: Alyne Azuma. Sao Paulo, Cosacnaify.


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