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Brazil Culture


The Brazilian population today comes from four ethnic groups: the indigenous Indians, the colonizing Portuguese, the African Negroes, and a number of immigrant European and Oriental groups that have come to Brazil since the 1850s. The most important of these cultures is that of the Portuguese, from whom the Brazilians acquired their language, their religion, and most of their traditional customs.

The Indian contribution to Brazilian culture is perhaps most apparent in the Amazon Basin. Evident in northern coastal regions are religious cults of African origin. African influence is also reflected in Brazilian popular music, especially in the rhythmic samba. Brazil is a country that adapts readily to rapid changes and new opportunities.

Brazilian Flavor

The attempt to impart “Brazilianness” to the arts succeeds in the hands of creative geniuses, some of them being:

  1. the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (a powerful force in breaking with tradition to create distinctively Brazilian compositions by weaving into his music folk themes and rhythms),
  2. the painter Candido Portinari (influential in developing a uniquely Brazilian style, blending the abstract techniques of Europe with the real people and landscapes),
  3. the novelist Joao Guimaraes Rosa (always using regional and traditional themes though treated in very experimental and personal linguistic style),
  4. the architect Oscar Niemeyer (the creator, in collaboration with Lucio Costa, of the capital’s original layout),
  5. and the cinema director Glauber Rocha, who has handled Brazilian themes with a distinctly Brazilian attitude.

Brazilian cultural life has been influenced by a series of intellectual movements since independence.


Some have aimed at a cultural renewal or modernization; others at a return to national traditions. A complex and vigorous group of poets novelists, short-story writers, literary critics, and essayists are imparting to Brazilian literature an authenticity not so much of theme as of attitude.

Here is a result of the pre-national and national development of Brazilian culture with its characteristic combination of cosmopolitanism and tropicalism. It embodies a tendency continuous from colonial days toward a genuine ethnic democracy – not incompatible with an equally persistent tendency toward aristocracy of family, manners, and spirit. Brazil’s greatest novelist and short-story writer, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908), was socially a plebeian but an aristocrat in spirit and literary form, though not a pedant.

A typical romantic movement of the 19th century was Indianism, which emphasized Amerindian themes in art, music, and literature. It produced a sociologically important type of novel (as exemplified in the work of Jose Martiniano de Alencar), poetry (Antonio Goncalves Dias), and music (Carlos Gomes, whose opera ‘O Guarani’ is based on Alencar’s novel about a noble Guarani Indian).

20th Century

The regionalist-traditionalist movement is generally associated with the so-called regional novel of the 1930s, as exemplified by the work of Jose Lins do Rego, Graciliano Ramos, Rachel de Queiroz, and Jorge Amado.

The movement also stimulated historical, anthropological, and sociological studies of a new type, involving a fresh approach on the part of the Brazilian intelligentsia to Brazilian popular art, folklore, and traditions. Later, the movement influenced many other writers, among them the poet Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, the dramatist Ariano Suassuna and the novelist Joao Guimaraes Rosa.

The modernism movement, started in 1922, was inspired by new tendencies in European arts and letters.

A branch of it was cosmopolitanism and another one was inclined to be nationalistic. Modernism counted among its leading proponents the writers Pereira Graca Aranha (novelist), Manuel Bandeira (poet with conections with the regionalist movement), Mario de Andrade (novelist, poet, musicologist), Oswald de Andrade (poet and novelist) and Carlos Drummond de Andrade (poet); the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos; the painters Tarsila do Amaral and Emiliano di Cavalcanti; and the sculptor Victor Brecheret.

Popular dance and music: Ballet and even church music in Brazil have been inspired by folk dances and songs, most of Amerindian and African origin. Brazil is one of the main sources of internationally popular rhythms, dances, and music styles, of which samba and bossa nova are notable examples.

Last Decades

Another tendency in popular music is the protest song, with political and social implications. Architecture: The landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx has made urban Brazilians especially aware of the splendors of their natural environment by replacing the traditional formal European style with profusions of native species in close association with their natural settings. Some of Marx’s landscapes have been used to set off the imaginative structures of Brazil’s world-renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer. Brazil also cherishes numerous splendid structures from its colonial and imperial past from the tiled houses and ornate churches of Salvador to the palaces and public buildings of Rio de Janeiro. Among the most revered of these are the 18th-century churches in Minas Gerais that were adorned by facades, biblical scenes, and statues carved in soapstone by Antonio Francisco Lisboa, better known as Aleijadinho.