The Fashionable Brazil

Brazil is a fashionable country when it comes to certain cliches, which became cliches for all the right reasons (Carnival, soccer, beaches, etc). From the late 50’s and onwards, with the success of Bossa nova (here’s the 1st ever Bossa nova song*) and a progressively increasing number of other cultural movements, the concept of Brazil as a fashionable place has been kept alive and kicking and it most likely makes up for much of the allure for the foreign tourist.

I think we can even go back a little further in time to find another stylish thing that found its home in Brazil. It is said that samba became popular after Pelo Telefone (By Telephone) was created in 1917 by a collective of musicians who would get together at the house of Tia Ciata, one of the tias baianas (Afro-Brazilian women from Bahia who lived in Rio de Janeiro in the early half of the 20th century), a Brazilian cook and spiritual leader, otherwise known as a mãe-de-santo. This first famous samba song was soon after recorded by singer Donga and composer Mauro de Almeida, to whom most will still attribute its creation.

Going back even further, one could say that 1808 was the year that Brazil became fashionable when the first and only European king transfered his court to the Americas, or more specifically, to Rio de Janeiro. I think the obvious question when considering the origins of Brazilian allure is to ask at any given time, to whom is it fashionable? Unfortunately, fashion has a long history of being a top-down affair such as the day in 1808 when the women of the Portuguese court finally descended the ships with shaved heads and wearing turbins. The female residents of Rio, not realizing this was due to an infestation of piolhos (head lice) aboard, decided it must be the new fashion from Europe and proceded to imitate the new style.

I’ll leave it to you to add any reasons Brazil might have been considered fashionable pre-1900’s. What it comes down to is answering the ultimate questions such as, “What was Brazil?”, “What is Brazil?” and “What will come of Brazil?” and by looking at what Brazil is known for (the easy answer, the fashionable movements it creates), such questions can begin to be approached. 

* – The song Bim Bom in the link above is sung by Astrud Gilberto but the composer was her then-husband, João Gilberto, who wrote the song while watching laundresses balancing clothes baskets on their heads on the banks of the São Francisco River. In Astrud’s video recording on a French television show, the story is that the French had the impression that Brazilians liked to move their body and when Astrud didn’t, the producer decided to add the dancing idiot in the clip.

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