About Brazil - Art and Culture

It is hard to define Brazilian culture as the influences are many and varied. There is scarcely a culture in the world which has not, in some small way, influenced the Brazilians.

The original culture of Brazil, that of the Indians, is strongly evident in the use of foods and drinks. Manioc, potatoes, "mate" and guarana have all become staples of the Brazilian diet. Other Indian objects regularly in use include hammocks, dugout canoes and many woven items.

The vast numbers of slaves shipped over from Africa, also left their mark. African cultural influence is most strongly seen in the Northeast, where food, music and religion all come from those originally brought over in the slave ships.

The various immigrant groups from Europe and Asia have all imposed certain aspects of their traditional lifestyles, creating greater diversity within the overall Brazilian cultural picture.

As a result of this cultural mix, Brazil's people are not only well-known for their warmth, spontaneity and friendliness, but are also seen to have countless regional differences, accents and good-natured rivalries. Old cultures mix with the new and everyone is firmly convinced that their way of life is best! "Cariocas" (those from Rio de Janeiro) and "Paulistas" (from Sao Paulo) are probably the strongest rivals, the former being, in the eyes of the "Paulistas", beach-loving, irresponsible hedonists. In response Cariocas claim that their 'unfortunate' neighbours care only about money and collectively suffer from workaholism and neurosis. Northeasterners are supposedly slow and simple, while those from Minas Gerais are religious and mean. All Brazilians unite to tell jokes against the Portuguese. Other signs of unity include a passion for soccer, the country literally stops for Brazil's World Cup appearances, a love of music and a great degree of sociability.


Music is perhaps the most well-known art form to be exported from Brazil. Indeed Brazilians have the reputation of being the most musical people in the world. Popular music has its roots in many different origins resulting in a wide diversity of musical styles. There are very few global musical influences which have not somewhere been integrated into the various styles of Brazilian music.

Pagode, which is very closely related to samba, is hugely popular and draws all classes of people together. This dance craze has also seen a growth in popularity of other Latin American music styles. One of the best-known groups is Raça Negra.

The strongly African rhythms of the Northeast are also extremely popular now. This fashion began with the lambada, which together with "axé" music has come to be representative of that region. Banda Olodum, who first came to international attention after a recording with Paul Simon, give an impressive show of rhythm and movement and drums.

Reggae Music has always been popular in Brazil and is currently enjoying a strong revival. Names to look out for include Cidade Negra and Ras Bernardo.

The latest music fashion to hit Rio is Brazilian Funk, an agressive style of dance music originating in the favelas of the city, with hard-hitting lyrics describing the reality of city life.

Socially speaking, this music is treading on new ground as the middle class kids are flocking to the 'funk parties' in the slums, reversing the usual trend of everything trendy coming from the richer neighbourhoods of the south zone.

Buying Records and Tapes

In large cities, there are plenty of record shops. It is possible to buy both national and international recordings on CD. Prices are on a par with those in America.


Brazilian mainstream art has generally followed the main international trends. The first colonial artists were Jesuit and Benedictine monks, who painted their churches in the Baroque style they brought with them from Europe. The gold rush in Minas Gerais saw great investment in the construction and decoration of churches. The most spectacular work of this period is that of 'Aleijadinho' (real name Antônio Francisco Lisboa).

The 'naive' school of painting, typical of Latin America, is also strong in Brazilian art.

Indian Art

Originally Indian art was created as part of the daily life and rituals of community life. After traders saw the interest that this art could have for Europeans, Brazilians and tourists, production increased and was used for barter or trade.Indian handicrafts can be found in a wide range of forms. Feathers from the exotic forest birds are used to make necklaces and other adornments, as well as headdresses and capes. Some of the feathers are coloured using vegetable dyes.

Ceramic arts are another speciality and today the Carajás tribe is famous for this. Weaving is also highly developed among the Indians and the basketware they create is not only beautiful but strong.


Brazil is renowned both for some of the finest colonial architecture in the world, and some of the most outstanding examples of modern architecture. Towns like Olinda (in the state of Pernambuco) and Ouro Preto (in Minas Gerais) have been declared world heritage sites by UNESCO. Both towns date from the Portuguese colonial period. In the far south, examples of fine woodcarving and masonry in the distinctive style of the Tupi and Guarani Indians can be seen. The capital, Brasilia, is a remarkable city with buildings and statues built in the 1960s. The government and diplomatic sectors are the most noteworthy.


There are many excellent Brazilian writers, however, as yet, few have been translated out of Portuguese. Some names to look out for are: