A Brazilian Music Guide from Freaky to Fancy

Brazilian Music
Latenight Brazilian Music Tutorial – Learning the Lepo Lepo under the Arches of Lapa

It’s 4:15AM on a Sunday morning and the party is hitting that pivotal moment; do I have what it takes to rally or is it time to throw in the towel?

Fortunately on this particular night, two lovely brunettes and a provocative Brazilian song made that decision for me.

While the dance floor was packed with a bountiful supply of shirtless men and beautiful women throughout the night, it was one particular song that rejuvenated the crowd from the moment the first saxy note dropped.

As the chorus began, I noticed two Brazilian girls break into a choreographed dance that the entire club seemed to know. I shuffled over and asked what was going on and they I told me that I needed to learn.

Not one to pass up a cultural experience, I got my second wind and attentively followed their directions.

By the time we left the club and walked through the Arches of Lapa, I had learned the basics of “Lepo Lepo,” hands down the most popular song in Rio de Janeiro right now.

The chorus basically goes something like this… I don’t have a car, I don’t have a house, so if you’re with me it’s because you like the way I get down. Haha!

Music provides a direct peek into the soul of a place and moment in time, to see, hear and feel a culture in a completely unique way. It has been moments like this late night in Lapa that have helped me begin to understand life as a local in Brazil; a place where music, dancing and celebration is such a major part of the culture.

Besides the terribly awesome Brazilian pop hits like “Lepo Lepo,” Brazil has probably the most diverse selection of music of any country I’ve been to.

Here are seven of the most popular genres of Brazilian music that you should add to your worldly playlist.

Funk Carioca

Born in the favelas of Rio in the 1980s, the American influenced Brazilian hip-hop known as Funk (funk-e) has became a very popular genre in the city and across the world. From the traditional favela funk parties in Rio de Janeiro to the megaclubs in Europe, funk is telling a different side to the Brazilian story and catching some heat on the come up.

Famous Brazilian Funk artists include DJ Marlboro, Bonde do Tigrao, MC Naldo, MC Sapão, MC Marcinho, Anitta, Quadradrinho de 8 (great music video), Buchecha and Mr Catra. The biggest funk/pop hit right now is “Beijinho No Ombro” by Valesca Popozuda. She’s a fascinating blend between Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj!

Despite the elaborate video, the lyrics have a good message about shrugging off the haters and negative people in your life. Basically saying “a kiss on the shoulder” means pay them no mind, like brushing the dirt off your shoulders.

Best line: “I wish long life for all my enemies, So they can see us winning everyday”


Switching gears, frevo is a traditional fast-tempo music style associated with Brazilian Carnival that originated in the Pernambuco region of Brazil. Frevo musicians use brass instruments like trumpets, trombones, tubas and saxophones and it sounds like American Polka or parade music. Great for a street party but not really something you’ll have dinner to.

Most frevo is known by large music groups, but there some very popular individual frevo artists like Elba Ramalho and Zé Ramalho, from the northeast of Brazil.


Synonymous with Brazil, Samba is a music style and dance that grew from African roots and originated at Pedra do Sal in Rio de Janeiro. Traditionally, the samba is played with strings and various percussion instruments such as drums and tambourines, but now samba also includes trombones, trumpets, flutes, and clarinets.

Although it was everywhere during Carnival, I still can’t get the hang of the quick steps and movements of the samba dance. I need to take lessons.

There are many famous Brazilian samba artists including Arlindo Cruz, Fundo de Quintal, Leci Brandão, Beth Carvalho, Jorge Aragão, Zeca Pagodinho, Grupo Revelação and Joao Nogueira.

This is one of my favorite Brazilian samba songs…


What Samba is to Rio de Janeiro, Forró is to the northeast – it’s everywhere. If you ask me, it’s a slower version of salsa, but every time I say that to a Brazilian they are quick to say absolutely not, it’s completely different. Yet, when I dance salsa to forró music, nobody seems to notice.

There are a few different variations of forró from traditional (below) to a slow forró which I really enjoy (watch this video and I dare you to tell me it doesn’t turn you).

Famous Brazilian forró artists include Avioes do Forro,  Falamansa, Calcinha Preta and the godfathor of forró, Luis Gonzaga…


Axe is a fusion of a variety of other music genres such as frevo, forro, reggae and calypso, and like many other Brazilian beats, it originated in the northeast. Listen for yourself and hear all the musical ingredients involved.

Famous Brazilian axé artists include Timbalada, Chiclete com Banana, Daniela Mercury and Ivete Sangalo (below). Another side of axé includes like Oz Bambaz and the vulgar Robyssão (his link is nsfw).

Sertanejo Universitário / Arrocha

A popular variation of the original sertanejo, Sertanejo Universitário is very popular amongst Brazilian coeds. It started catching on at university parties and now it’s everywhere.

Famous Sertanejo Universitário artists include Gusttavo Lima, Jorge & Mateus and Cristiano Araújo.

The biggest song in Brazil, and South America for that matter, a few years ago was a Sertanejo Universitario track called “Ai se eu te pego” by Michel Teló. They pretty much played it in repeat when I lived in Bolivia. It’s also one of the favorites of Brazilian’s star futebol player, Neymar…

Bossa Nova

When I first asked a Brazilian friend about Bossa Nova, she said “nobody listens to Bossa Nova.” Granted, it’s not on many people’s personal playlists, but Bossa Nova is still popular in Brazilian restaurants, bars and celebrations.

Made popular in the 1950s and 60s and famously Brazilian around the world, Bossa Nova is more Brazilian icon than daily staple.

Famous Brazilian Bossa Nova artists include Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Morais and Elis Regina. However, the most popular Brazilian Bossa Nova song is undoubtably “The Girl from Ipanema” by Vinicíus de Morais and Tom Jobim. Anything Sinatra covers is a win in my book.

Other great Brazilian artists to know: Tim Maia (Rock), Jorge Ben Jor (MPB), Seu Jorge Samba Rock), Gilberto Gil (MPB), Chico  Buarque (MPB) and Caetano Veloso (MPB).

MPB – Musica Popular Brasileira

What else? 

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


    1. Haha, I completely understand Adrian, I never know the lyrics but I just try to feel the beat and copy what everyone else is doing around me!

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