The Sounds of Rio

Rio boasts a rich musical heritage, with live music as deeply connected to Rio culture as its beaches and mountains. Foremost is the city’s signature sound of samba, which is heard all across town, particularly in the weeks leading up to Carnaval. Other styles contributing to Rio’s lush soundtrack include rock, pop, jazz, Música Popular Brasileira (MPB), hip-hop and forró (traditional, fast-paced music from the Northeast) – all opportunities to showcase the city’s outstanding pool of musical talent.


The birth of Brazilian music essentially began with the birth of samba, first heard in the early 20th century in a Rio neighborhood near present-day Praça Onze. Here immigrants from northeastern Brazil (mostly from Bahia) formed a tightly knit community in which traditional African customs thrived – music, dance and the Candomblé religion. Local homes provided the setting for impromptu performances and the exchange of ideas among Rio’s first great instrumentalists. Such an atmosphere nurtured the likes of Pixinguinha, one of samba’s founding fathers, as well as Donga, one of the composers of ‘Pelo Telefone,’ the first recorded samba song (in 1917) and an enormous success at the then-fledgling Carnaval.

Samba continued to evolve in the homes and botequims (bars with table service) around Rio. The 1930s are known as the golden age of samba. By this point, samba’s popularity had spread beyond the working-class neighborhoods of central Rio, and the music evolved at the same time into diverse, less percussive styles of samba. Sophisticated lyricists like Dorival Caymmi, Ary Barroso and Noel Rosa popularized samba canção (melody-driven samba). (For insight into Noel Rosa’s poetically charged and tragically brief life, check out the 2006 film Noel: Poeta da Vila.) Songs in this style featured sentimental lyrics and an emphasis on melody (rather than rhythm), foreshadowing the later advent of cool bossa nova. Carmen Miranda, one of the big radio stars of the 1930s, would become one of the first ambassadors of Brazilian music.

The 1930s were also the golden age of samba songwriting for Carnaval. Escolas de samba (samba schools), which first emerged in 1928, soon became a vehicle for samba songwriting, and by the 1930s samba and Carnaval would be forever linked. Today’s theme songs still borrow from that golden epoch.

Great sambistas (samba singers) continued to emerge in Brazil over the next few decades, although other emerging musical styles diluted their popularity. Artists such as Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho and Clementina de Jesus made substantial contributions to both samba and the styles of music that followed from it.

Traditional samba went through a rebirth over a decade ago with the opening of old-style gafieiras (dance halls) in Lapa. Today, Rio is once again awash with great sambistas. Classic sambistas like Alcione and Beth Carvalho still perform, while singers like Teresa Cristina and Grupo Semente are intimately linked to Lapa’s rebirth. Mart’nália, daughter of samba legend Martinho da Vila, is carrying on the tradition of her father. Meanwhile, the talented singer and songwriter Maria Rita, whose voice is remarkably similar to that of her late mother, Elis Regina, continues to create lush, innovative samba-influenced albums.

Tia Ciata: The Mother of Samba

In the early 20th century, one of Rio's most iconic cultural expressions was developing inside the working-class neighborhood of Praça Onze near downtown. In 1915 this was considered 'Africa in miniature' because of the influx of immigrants from Bahia, who had been flocking to the region since the end of slavery in 1888. In Praça Onze, Afro-Brazilian culture – music, dance and religion (Candomblé) – thrived in the homes of old Bahian matriarchs, called tias (aunts). At the center of this thriving community was Tia Ciata, something of a self-made woman, who rented out costumes for the Carnaval balls, worked as a healer (she was even consulted by President Venceslau Brás, who had a leg wound that Ciata allegedly healed) and hosted large parties on Candomblé saints' days – all while looking after her 15 children. In time Ciata's house became the meeting point for the city's journalists, bohemians, Bahian expats and musicians. Today's now-legendary names – Pixinguinha, Donga, Heitor dos Prazeres and others – met regularly to play music and experiment with new styles, never imagining that the result, samba, would become one of the world's great musical forms. Coincidentally, this was also around the time that African Americans in New Orleans were playing the music that would later be called jazz.

After the earliest musical creations, the performers gathering at Tia Ciata's went on to make records, and samba's popularity spread like wildfire across the city. The music came first through the working class and, after initial resistance, into the houses of the wealthy. Samba continued to evolve throughout the next few decades as it was adopted for Carnaval, yet the songs developed in those early years would live on (many are still played), and they laid the foundation on which so much Brazilian music is based today.

Gafieiras: The Dance Halls of Old

If you're interested in Brazilian music and dance, shine your dancing shoes and head for some of Rio's old-school-style dance halls, known as gafieiras. Originally established in the 1920s as dance halls for Rio's urban working class, gafieiras nowadays attract an eclectic combination of musicians, dancers, malandros (con men) and, of course, the radical chic from Zona Sul. Modern and sleek they are not. Gafieira locations – typically the ballrooms of old colonial buildings in Lapa – are magnificently nostalgic. Bow-tied waiters serve ice-cold cerveja (beer) under low, yellow lights and, while the setup initially looks formal, give it a few rounds and it will dissolve into a typically raucous Brazilian evening.

Before gafieiras were established, Rio's different communities were polarized by their places of social interaction: opera and tango for the Europeans; street choro (romantic, intimate samba) for the Africans. Responding to a social need and in tandem with the politics of the time, gafieiras quickly became places where musicians and audiences of black and white backgrounds alike could mix and create new sounds. Through the gafieiras, the street-improvised choro formations became big-band songs and a new Brazilian sound was born. One of the best and oldest dance halls is Democráticos, which attracts a young, yet fashionably bohemian crowd on Wednesdays.

The standard of dancing in Brazil is outstanding, so expect to see couples who would be considered professional in Europe or the US dancing unnoticed across the polished floors. While just about anything goes in Rio, it's an opportunity for cariocas (residents of Rio) to dress up a little, so you'll see quite a few dresses and smart shoes. Don't be intimidated by the other dancers: unlike in Buenos Aires, where the tango is for experts only, Brazilians are pretty relaxed about newcomers dancing. For those traveling solo, gafieiras are fantastic places to meet some intriguing locals and learn a few steps. Dance around the edge of the floor with the rest of the dancers to get a closer look at how the dance works – if you're a woman, it won't be long before someone asks you to dance. Alternatively, you can take a lesson and perhaps meet some fellow beginners to dance with. There are a number of places where you can sign up for a group or private lesson.


Carmen Michael

Bossa Nova

In the 1950s came bossa nova (literally, 'new wave'), sparking a new era of Brazilian music. Bossa nova’s founders – songwriter and composer Antônio Carlos (Tom) Jobim and guitarist João Gilberto, in association with lyricist-poet Vinícius de Moraes – slowed down and altered the basic samba rhythm to create a more intimate, harmonic style. This new wave initiated a new style of playing instruments and of singing.

Bossa nova’s seductive melodies were very much linked to Rio’s Zona Sul, where most bossa musicians lived. Songs such as Jobim’s ‘Corcovado’ and Roberto Meneschal’s ‘Rio’ evoked an almost nostalgic portrait of the city with their quiet lyricism.

By the 1960s bossa nova had become a huge international success. The genre’s initial development was greatly influenced by American jazz and blues, and over time the bossa nova style came to influence those musical styles as well. Bossa nova classics were adopted, adapted and recorded by such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz, among others.

In addition to the founding members, other great Brazilian bossa nova musicians include Marcos Valle, Luiz Bonfá and Baden Powell. Bands from the 1960s like Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66 were also influenced by bossa nova, as were other artists who fled the repressive years of military dictatorship to live and play abroad. More recent interpreters of the seductive bossa sound include the Bahian-born Rosa Passos and the carioca (Rio resident) Paula Morelenbaum. One band that brilliantly blends bossa nova with electro beats is BossaCucaNova. Their latest album, Our Kind of Bossa (2014), features veteran singers like Elza Soares and Maria Rita.


One of Brazil’s great artistic movements, emerging in the late 1960s, was tropicália, a direct response to the repressive military dictatorship that seized power in 1964 (and remained in power until 1984). Bahian singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil led the movement, making waves with songs of protest against the national regime. In addition to penning defiant lyrics, tropicalistas introduced the public to electric instruments, fragmentary melodies and wildly divergent musical styles. In fact, the hero of the tropicalistas was poet Oswald de Andrade, whose 1928 Manifesto Antropofágico (Cannibalistic Manifesto) supported the idea that anything under the sun could be devoured and recreated in one’s music. Hence the movement fused elements of US rock and roll, blues, jazz and British psychedelic styles into bossa nova and samba rhythms. Important figures linked to tropicália include Gal Costa, Jorge Ben Jor, Maria Bethânia, Os Mutantes and Tom Zé. Although tropicália wasn’t initially embraced by the public, who objected to the electric and rock elements (in fact, Veloso was booed off the stage on several occasions), by the 1970s its radical ideas had been absorbed and accepted, and lyrics of protest were ubiquitous in songwriting of the time.

Música Popular Brasileira (MPB)

Música Popular Brasileira is a catchphrase to describe all popular Brazilian music after bossa nova. It includes tropicália, pagode (a relaxed and rhythmic form of samba), and Brazilian pop and rock. All Brazilian music has its roots in samba; even in Brazilian rock, heavy metal, disco or pop, the samba sound is often present.

MPB first emerged in the 1970s along with talented musicians such as Edu Lobo, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina, Djavan and dozens of others, many of whom wrote protest songs not unlike the tropicalistas. Chico Buarque is one of the first big names from this epoch, and is easily one of Brazil’s greatest songwriters. His musical career began in 1968 and spanned a time during which many of his songs were banned by the military dictatorship – in fact, his music became a symbol of protest during that era. Today the enormously successful carioca artist continues to write new albums, though lately he has turned his hand to novel writing.

Jorge Ben Jor is another singer whose career, which began in the 1960s, has continued to the present day. Highly addictive rhythms are omnipresent in Benjor’s songs, as he incorporates African beats and elements of funk, samba and blues in his eclectic repertoire. The celebratory album África Brasil and his debut album, Samba Esquema Novo (with recognizable hits like ‘Mas, Que Nada!’), are among his best.

Carlinhos Brown continues to make substantial contributions to Brazilian music, particularly in the realm of Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Born in Bahia, Brown has influences that range from merengue (fast-paced dance-hall music originating in the Dominican Republic) to Candomblé music to straight-up funk in the style of James Brown (the US artist from whom Carlinhos took his stage name). In addition to creating the popular percussion ensemble Timbalada, he has produced a number of excellent solo albums (notably Alfagamabetizado). Involved in many diverse projects, Brown was nominated for an Oscar in 2012 for best original song (‘Real in Rio’ for the film Rio), which he and Sérgio Mendes composed.

The group Da Cruz, headed by the talented Mariana da Cruz, creates lyrically rich songs with infectious disco-charged beats. The album Disco E Progresso (2014) features songs about a country divided between the haves and have-nots.

Rock, Pop & Hip Hop

MPB tends to bleed into other genres, particularly rock and pop. One artist who moves comfortably between genres is Bebel Gilberto (the daughter of João Gilberto), who blends bossa nova with modern beats on jazz-inflected bilingual albums like All in One (2009). Another heiress of Brazilian traditions is the Rio-born Marisa Monte, popular at home and abroad for her fine singing and songwriting. Mixing samba, forró, pop and rock, Marisa has been part of a number of successful collaborations in the music world. Her brief collaboration with Arnaldo Antunes and Carlinhos Brown resulted in the fine album Tribalistas (2003).

Other notable young singers who hail from a bossa line include Roberta Sá, whose last album, Segunda Pele (2012), features elements of bossa, jazz and even reggae, and Fernanda Porto, whose music is often described as drum ’n’ bossa, a blend of electronica and bossa grooves – check out her 2009 album, Auto-Retrato. The expat singer-songwriter and performance artist Cibelle incorporates a mix of pop, folk and Brazilian sounds in her lush (mainly English-language) recordings, such as those on The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves (2006). Cibelle came to prominence as the main vocalist on Suba’s noteworthy album São Paulo Confessions (1999). With a host of Grammy nominations to her name, Céu has many fans both at home and internationally. She has recorded three albums over the last seven years, creating dream-like melodies with elements of tropicália, samba, reggae and jazz. Her latest, Caravana Sereia Bloom (2012), is a colorful work with songs inspired by a road trip across Brazil. Her first album, the self-titled Céu (2007), is still considered her best.

Brazilian hip-hop emerged from the favelas (slums, informal communities) of Rio sometime in the 1980s, and has been steadily attracting followers ever since. Big names such as Racionais MC's first emerged out of São Paulo, but Rio has its share of more recent success stories. One of the best on the scene is Marcelo D2 (formerly of Planet Hemp), impressing audiences with albums like A Procura da Batida Perfeita (2003) and A Arte do Barulho (2008). Better known to international audiences is Seu Jorge, who starred in the film Cidade de Deus and performed brilliant Portuguese versions of David Bowie songs on Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic. His best solo work is Cru (2005), an inventive hybrid of hip-hop and ballads, with politically charged beats.

Many top hip-hop artists hail from São Paulo. A few names to look out for include Emicida, a youthful rapper admired for his cutting improvisational rhymes. Check out his funk-laden single ‘Triunfo,’ one of his early breakthrough songs, or his collaboration with MC Guimê on the antipoverty hit ‘País do Futebol.’ Yet another Paulista, Rael de Rima is a fast-rapping lyricist with a strong sense of musicality, often performing with guitar and a full back-up band. The MC Criolo tackles themes like urban violence, police brutality and racism, which has made him a hit in the favelas. Following the release of his debut 2011 album, Nó na Orelha, he’s earned a growing number of admirers. The carioca rapper MV Bill is a man with a message. His songs focus on youth facing the ever-present threats of drugs and violence. He’s even written a book (Falcão – Meninos do Tráfico) and created a network of youth centers in Rio that offer kids who might otherwise be on the street classes in dancing, music and art. One emerging new artist from Rio is Fabbio Brazza, who blends rap with samba (an unlikely combo) with surprising success in songs like ‘Samba de Rap’ (on his 2014 album Filho da Pátria).

Rock has its promoters, though it enjoys far less airtime than samba. Rio gets its share of mega-rockers on world tours. It also has a few homegrown talents. The group Legião Urbana from Brasília remains one of the all-time greats among rock-lovers. The band (which folded shortly after the death of lead singer Renato Russo in 1996) enjoyed enormous success in the 1980s and early 1990s, and has sold over 15 million records. Raul Seixas, Skank, O Rappa, Os Paralamas do Sucesso and the Rio-based Barão Vermelho are other essential names.

In other genres, indie-rock favorites Los Hermanos were a top band that created catchy albums before breaking up in 2007. Check out Ventura (2003) or Bloco do Eu Souzinho (2001), one of the seminal pop-rock albums of its time. Vanguart, fitting somewhere in the folk-rock genre, are also a group to watch. Their self-titled debut album (2007) channels samba, blues and classic rock.

Gilberto Gil: Brazil's Favorite Voice

One of Brazil’s best-loved musicians still active on the scene today is Gilberto Gil, a Grammy Award–winning singer and former minister of culture (from 2003 to 2008), who wasn’t averse to singing a few songs following a meeting at, say, the World Economic Forum in Davos. The pop star made an unlikely government bureaucrat, considering his musical beginnings as an engajado (activist). During the 1960s he spent two years exiled in London after offending the dictatorship with his provocative lyrics.

A household name for decades, Gil hails from the Northeastern state of Bahia. Born in 1942, he was raised in a middle-class family near Salvador. His career as a troubadour began in 1965, when he moved south to São Paulo with another Bahian musician, Caetano Veloso. Between them they were responsible for tropicália, an influential though short-lived cultural movement that blended traditional Brazilian music with the electric guitars and psychedelia of the Beatles. Years later Veloso even recorded a Tupiniquim (an indigenous group in the Northeast) tribute to the Liverpudlian rockers, called ‘Sugar Cane Fields Forever.’

Over the decades Gil has notched up hit after hit, morphing from quick-footed sambista to poetic balladeer to dreadlocked reggae icon.

Since the release of Louvaçao in 1967, Gil has recorded dozens of albums, including Kaya N’Gan Daya, a tribute to his idol Bob Marley. He’s shared the stage with many performers over the years, even playing with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (on bongos) in New York.

Though he’s slowed down in recent years, the slender 70-something still performs live. In 2012 he and Stevie Wonder headlined a concert on Copacabana beach, attracting over 500,000 fans.


Tom Phillips

Gil Playlist

  • Gilberto Gil (Frevo Rasgado, 1968) – Gilberto Gil
  • Acoustic (1994) – Gilberto Gil
  • Quanta (1997) – Gilberto Gil
  • Refazenda (1996) – Gilberto Gil
  • Tropicália 2 (1994) – Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso
  • Tropicália, ou Panis et Circencis (1968) – Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Os Mutantes

Rio Playlist

One of the world’s great musical cultures, Brazil has an astounding array of talented musicians. The following is a highly subjective pick of 25 songs by 25 different artists.

  • ‘Canto de Ossanha’ – Baden Powell
  • ‘Soy Loco Por Ti, America’ – Caetano Veloso
  • ‘Alvorado’ – Cartola
  • ‘Samba de Orly’ – Chico Buarque and Toquinho
  • ‘Flor de Lis’ – Djavan
  • ‘Aguas de Março’ – Elis Regina (written by Tom Jobim)
  • ‘Hoje é Dia da Festa’ – Elza Soares
  • ‘Sou Brasileiro’ – Fernando Abreu and Mart'nália
  • ‘Namorinho de Portão’ – Gal Costa
  • ‘Quilombo, O El Dorado Negro’ – Gilberto Gil
  • ‘Desafinado’ – João Gilberto
  • ‘Filho Maravilha’ – Jorge Ben Jor
  • ‘A Procura da Batida Perfeita’ – Marcelo D2
  • ‘Novo Amor’ – Maria Rita
  • ‘Carinhoso’ – Marisa Monte (written by Pixinguinha)
  • ‘Travessia’ – Milton Nascimento
  • ‘Ultimo Desejo’ – Noel Rosa
  • ‘Besta é Tu’ – Novos Baianos
  • ‘Panis et Circenses’ – Os Mutantes
  • ‘Acenda O Farol’ – Tim Maia
  • ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (Girl from Ipanema) – Tom Jobim
  • ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ – Toquinho (written by Ary Barroso)
  • ‘Velha Infância’ – Tribalistas
  • ‘Não Me Deixe Só’ – Vanessa da Mata
  • ‘Felicidade’ – Vinicius de Moraes

Sidebar: 1

Journalist, author and former dancer Alma Guillermoprieto vividly captures life in the favela of Mangueira and preparations for the big Carnaval parade in her book Samba.

Sidebar: 2

Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World, by Ruy Castro, captures the vibrant music and its backdrop of 1950s Rio.

Sidebar: 3

Tropical Truth: A Story of Music and Revolution in Brazil, by Caetano Veloso, describes the great artistic experiment of tropicália in 1960s Brazil. Although digressive at times, Veloso's book captures the era’s music and politics.

Sidebar: 4

The Brazilian Sound, by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha, is a well-illustrated, readable introduction to Brazilian music, with insight into regional styles and musicians (big-name and obscure). The useful discography lists essential albums to add to your collection.

Sidebar: 5

Raul Seixas (1945–89) is often called the father of Brazilian rock. Many of his wild rock anthems are well known, and it’s not uncommon to hear shouts of ‘Toca Raul!’ (Play Raul!) at concerts. Curiously, best-selling author Paulo Coelho cowrote many of his songs.

Sidebar 6: Music Blogs

  • The Saudade Project (
  • Slipcue (
  • Brazilian Music Day (
  • The Brazilian Sound (


Cariocas (Rio residents), like most Brazilians, are football (soccer) mad. No one goes to work on big international game days, with everyone packing into the neighborhood botecos (small, open-air bars) to watch the game. After a big win the whole city celebrates with rowdy nights of partying; should the team lose, the sadness in the air is palpable. Every carioca has a favorite team, and will never pass up the chance to see them play live at Maracanã stadium.

The Game, the Fans

Most of the world generally acknowledges that Brazilians play some of the world’s most creative, artistic and thrilling football. They are also generally known as lousy defenders, but no one seems to mind since they make the attack so exciting. The fans, too, are no less fun to watch. Skillful moves and adroit dribbling past an opponent receive a Spanish bullfight-style ‘olé!’, while fans do their best to rev up the action by pounding huge drums (or the backs of the stadium seats), waving giant flags, and launching fireworks and smoke bombs (or sometimes suspicious fluids onto the seats below). Crowds are rambunctious, but they're no more prone to violence than in England, Spain or Italy, for instance.

The Clubs

Rio is home to four major club teams – Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama and Botafogo – each with a diehard local following. Apart from a couple of short breaks for the Christmas and New Year holiday and Carnaval, professional club competitions go on all year. The major event in Rio’s sporting calendar is the classico, when the four hometown teams play each other. Expect intense and bitter rivalry, matched in excitement only by encounters between Rio and São Paulo clubs.


The most successful of Rio’s big four, Flamengo has an enormous fan base both in Rio and around the world – an estimated 39 million followers, which makes it the most popular football club in Brazil. Flamengo was voted one of the most successful football clubs of the 20th century by FIFA, and it certainly doesn’t lack cash flow, with annual revenue of over R$600 million. Famous players who have donned the iconic red-and-black jerseys include Zico, often hailed as the best player never to win a World Cup; Leonidas, leading scorer at the 1938 World Cup; Bebeto, Mario Zagallo and Romario. More recently, Ronaldinho Gaucho, two-time FIFA player of the year, played for Flamengo (2011–12) before making a surprise move to Atlético Mineiro in 2012. He later returned to Rio after signing with Fluminense in 2015.

Flamengo plays its home games at Maracanã; the cheering section is the setor norte (north sector, behind the goal). A fan is called a Flamenguista.


Founded by sons of the elite in Laranjeiras back in 1902, Fluminense is a highly successful club that has contributed a number of top players to the national team. It was hailed as the champion of the century, for winning the largest number of Campeonato Carioca titles in the 20th century (28 in all), though its successes have diminished in the current century. Famous players include Didi (1949–56), a superstar midfielder who helped Brazil win the World Cup in both 1958 and 1962, and Roberto Rivellino, who led Fluminense to the state championship in 1975 and 1976 (and was instrumental in Brazil’s World Cup victory in 1970). Current stars include Fred (aka Frederico Chaves Guedes), who scored the fastest goal in Brazilian history (finding net 3.17 seconds after the game’s start).

Fluminense plays its home games at Maracanã. The cheering section is the setor sul (south sector), behind the goal. A fan is known as a Tricolor (a reference to the maroon, green and white uniforms).

Vasco da Gama

Founded by Portuguese immigrants near the turn of the 20th century, Vasco remains the favorite club for cariocas of Portuguese descent. One of Vasco’s all-time greats was Romario (who also played for Flamengo and Fluminense), a powerful striker who scored over 900 goals during his career. Another Vasco legend is Carlos Roberto de Oliveira, nicknamed Roberto Dinamite, who holds the most appearances for the club and is its all-time highest scorer. His passion for Vasco runs deep, and he became president of the club in 2008.

Vasco generally plays its home games at the 25,000-seat Estadio São Januário in the Zona Norte. However, bigger matches (such as the city derbies) are played at Maracanã. At such times, the cheering section is the setor sul (south sector), unless the team's playing Fluminense, in which case the cheering section is the setor norte (north sector). The uniforms are black with a white diagonal sash. A fan is called a Vascaíno.


Like other clubs in Rio, Botafogo started out as a rowing club in the late 19th century and quickly embraced football after the game's popularization in the early 1900s. One of Brazil’s oldest teams, Botafogo is the only club in Brazilian history to win titles in three different centuries. During the 1950s and ’60s, some of Brazil’s greatest footballers played for Botafogo, such as Garrincha, who overcame physical disabilities (including legs of uneven length) and became one of the best dribblers of all time. Another legendary player was Nilton Santos, a defender so revered that the club decided to rename their home stadium after him in 2015. Unfortunately, Botafogo’s star power diminished significantly in the years after, and in 2002 it was even relegated to the second division after coming last in the Brazilian League (though it quickly returned to the first division the following year).

Botafogo plays its home games at the Estádio Nilton Santos (also known as Engenhão). The stadium was built for the 2007 Pan-Am games, and (under the name Estádio Olímpico) hosted track and field events in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Like Vasco, during big tournaments Botafogo plays in Maracanã. The cheering section is the setor sul (south sector), unless the team's playing Fluminense, in which case the cheering section is the setor norte (north sector). Botafogo players wear black-and-white striped jerseys; a fan is called a Botafoguense.


Apart from the World Cup, which takes place every four years, there are many other tournaments throughout the year. In addition to the key competitions – Campeonato Brasileiro, Copa Libertadores and Campeonato Carioca – other major championships include the Copa do Brasil, the Copa dos Campeões and the Copa América.

Campeonato Brasileiro

The premier competition inside Brazil is the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazilian Championship). Between about late July and mid-November, 20-odd top clubs play each other once each, then the eight top teams advance to a knockout phase, which culminates in a two-leg final in mid-December to decide the national championship. Since the competition’s inception in 1959, São Paulo’s top four teams have dominated, followed by Flamengo (five titles), Vasco (four) and Fluminense (four). Underachieving Botafogo has won the championship only twice.

Copa Libertadores

The annual Copa Libertadores is South America’s most important football tournament. It’s contested by the best-performing clubs from South America and Mexico, and is watched by millions around the world – the event is broadcast in more than 130 countries. It kicks off in February, with the final tournament staged between June and August. Since it was first held in 1960, Argentine teams have won the most titles (24), followed by Brazil (18). Rio’s Flamengo and Vasco da Gama have each won the tournament once.

Campeonata Carioca

Each of Brazil’s 26 states holds its own championship. Running from January through March, the Campeonato Carioca is the Rio state championship, and one of the oldest held in Brazil – contested since 1906. Although other teams around the state compete, the winner, not surprisingly, is usually one of the big four. Flamengo (34 titles) and Fluminense (31) have dominated, followed by Vasco (24 titles) and Botafogo (21).


One of the world’s most famous players – still widely considered to be the greatest ever to have played the game – is Pelé. Not just a legendary footballer, he was also Brazil’s first black government minister (for sport, from 1995 to 1998) and he has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Pelé has come a long way since he was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in a humble Minas Gerais town on October 23, 1940. Yet despite his stardom, his public image remains impeccable. He’s never smoked, has never been photographed with a drink in hand, and has never been involved with drugs.

In a 22-year career, the teams on which Pelé played gained 53 titles, including three World Cups (the first, in Sweden in 1958, when he was just 17 years old) and back-to-back World Club Championships (with Santos in 1962 and 1963), among many others. Despite lucrative offers to play in Europe, Pelé never did so – in fact, President Janio Quadros had Pelé declared a national treasure in 1971 so that he could not be transferred to a European club.

Pelé retired from the Brazilian team in 1971 and from Santos in 1974. In 1975 the New York Cosmos coaxed him north to the US, where he played until 1977, when the team won the American championship. He finally retired for good at the end of that year, after a game between the Cosmos and Santos in which he played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half with Santos.

In 1366 games (112 for the Brazilian national team), he scored 1282 goals, making him Brazil’s all-time highest goal scorer. When he scored his 1000th goal in 1969 in Maracanã stadium, he dedicated it to the children of Brazil.

Pelé, who maintains an oceanfront home in Rio, continues to be a goodwill ambassador for sport, and still commands enormous respect – as evidenced by the roar of the crowd when he made a surprise appearance at the end of the Summer Olympics in London in 2012. In Brazil, Pelé is known simply as ‘O Rei’ (the king).

Overcoming Racial Barriers

In 1902, when Oscar Cox, an Anglo-Brazilian, and some of his friends created Rio’s first club, Fluminense, it was initially an aristocratic and all-white affair. Black players would not break down the racial barriers until the 1920s, when Vasco da Gama began championing black and multiracial players. By the 1930s Brazil was already gaining fame for its talented players, some of whom were black or biracial and came from poor families, thus inverting the elite-only sport into a sport for the poor and disenfranchised.

New & Returning Talent

Until recently, most of the best players left Brazil for more lucrative contracts with European clubs. Over the last decade, however, some Brazilian stars have returned home to play for more adoring fans (and not insubstantial contracts). The return of more players to Brazil, coupled with the ongoing growth of new talent in the big clubs, could help transform Brazil into one of the world’s footballing giants – at both club and international level.

The World Cup

Bringing the World Cup back to Brazil had long been a dream of the football-crazed nation. In 2007, when Brazil learned that it had won the right to host the 2014 tournament, spontaneous celebrations erupted across town, and tens of thousands took to Copacabana Beach to rejoice in the good news. The South American giant last staged the big sporting event in 1950, when Brazil lost in the dramatic final against Uruguay before some 200,000 fans in Maracanã. This infamous day was later called ‘maracanaço’ and the term is still in common use.

Brazil, the most successful football nation in the history of the game (with five World Cup victories), became the fifth country to host the event twice. Aside from Rio, where the opener and final took place, 11 other cities across the country staged games; this, too, was historic, as it was the only time the World Cup was held in more than 10 cities. Brazil spent a staggering R$26 billion in preparation for the event, including stadium construction and upgrades to airports, roads and other infrastructure. Unfortunately, the tournament did not end well for Brazil, which suffered a humiliating 7–1 defeat at the hands of Germany in the semifinals (Brazil subsequently lost the third-place play-off 0–3 against the Netherlands). Germany went on to win the World Cup 1–0 over Argentina.

Sidebar: 1

Futebol, by Alex Bellos (2002), is a fascinating and humorous look at the culture behind Brazil’s nationwide obsession, with stories of the legendary players and the way that football has shaped Brazilian society.

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The intense interclub rivalry dubbed Fla-Flu (short for Flamengo-Fluminense) began back in 1911, when a group of disgruntled players from Fluminense left the club and went to Flamengo, creating a brand-new team. Games between the clubs attract huge crowds – over 175,000 in 1963, a world record for a club match.

Sidebar: 3

The Estádio das Laranjeiras, built for Fluminense in 1905, was the first football stadium constructed in Brazil. It holds 8000 people and still stands today in Laranjeiras, next to the governor’s palace.

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Afro-Brazilian player and carioca Leonidas da Silva is one of Brazil's early football legends. He played for Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo, leading each team to the state championship and helping to break down racial barriers. In 1938 he scored the only bicycle-kick goal in World Cup history.


The capital of Brazil for many years, Rio de Janeiro has been the architectural setting for the beautiful, the functional and the avant-garde. Today you can see a sweeping range of styles that span the 17th to the 20th centuries in buildings that often vie for attention alongside one another. The 21st century has brought new eye-catching designs to Rio, with the arrival of several ambitious projects by renowned international architects.

Colonial Rio

Vestiges of the colonial era live on in downtown Rio. Some of the most impressive works are the 17th-century churches built by the Jesuits. The best examples from this, the baroque period, are the Convento de Santo Antônio and the Mosteiro de São Bento. The incredibly ornate interiors, which appear to drip with liquid gold, show little of the restraint that would later typify Brazilian architecture.

The artist mission (a group of artists and architects chosen to bring new life to the city) that arrived from France in the early 19th century introduced a whole new design aesthetic to the budding Brazilian empire. Neoclassicism became the official style and was formally taught in the newly founded Imperial Academy. The works built during this period were grandiose and monumental, dominated by classical features such as elongated columns and wide domes. Among the many fine examples of this period are the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, the Theatro Municipal and the Casa França-Brasil – considered the most important building from this period. The Casa has a few curious features: its alignment to the cardinal points, the large cross-shaped space inside and its monumental dome.

The end of the 19th century saw the continuation of this trend of returning to earlier forms and featured works such as the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura (Royal Reading Room). Completed in 1887, the room's design was inspired by the much earlier Manueline period (early 1500s), with a Gothic facade and the highlighting of its metallic structure.

The 20th Century

During the 20th century Rio became the setting for a wide array of architectural styles, including neoclassical, eclectic, art deco and modernist works. During the same period Rio restored some of its colonial-era treasures (others fell to the wrecking ball), becoming one of Latin America’s most beautiful cities.

This did not happen by chance. As capital of Brazil, Rio was viewed as a symbol of the glory of the modern republic, and one of Rio’s most ambitious mayors, Pereira Passos (in office from 1902 to 1906), lavished European-style neoclassical buildings on the urban streetscape.

Mayor Passos envisioned Rio as the Paris of South America, and he ordered his engineers to lay down grand boulevards and create manicured parks, as some of Rio's most elegant buildings rose overhead. One of the most beautiful buildings constructed during this period was the elegant neoclassical Palaçio Monroe (Monroe Palace; 1906), a recreation of a work built for the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. The Palaçio Monroe sat on the Praça Floriano and housed the Câmara dos Deputados (House of Representatives). Unfortunately, like many of Rio’s beautiful buildings, it was destroyed in 1976 in the gross ‘reurbanization’ craze that swept through the city.

The fruits of this early period were displayed at the International Exposition held in Rio in 1922. This was not only the showcase for neocolonial architecture and urban design; it also introduced Brazil's most modern city to the rest of the world. Another big event of the 1920s was the completion of the Copacabana Palace, the first luxury hotel in South America. Its construction would lead to the rapid development of the beach regions.

Rio’s 1930s buildings show the currents of modern European architecture, which greatly impacted upon the city’s design. Rio’s modernism was born along with the rise of President Vargas, who wanted to leave his mark on federal Rio through the construction of public ministries, official chambers and the residences of government officials. The Ministry of Education & Health, the apotheosis of the modernist movement in Brazil, is one of the city’s most significant public buildings, as it’s one of the few works designed by French architect Le Corbusier, in conjunction with several young Brazilian architects. (Another Le Corbusier–influenced design is the Aeroporto Santos Dumont, completed in 1937.)

The 1930s was also the era of the art deco movement, which was characterized by highly worked artistic details and an abundance of ornamentation. Good specimens include the central train station and the statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) on Corcovado.

Oscar Niemeyer

Oscar Niemeyer is one of the giants of 20th-century architecture. Working in the firm of Lúcio Costa, Niemeyer and Costa championed the European avant-garde style in Brazil, making a permanent impact on the next 50 years of Brazilian design. Costa and Niemeyer collaborated on many works, designing some of the most important buildings in Brazil. One of their early successes was their Ministry of Education & Health (built between 1939 and 1943). It was one of Brazil's finest 1930s modernist designs, and a unique collaboration with famed Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.

In Rio, Niemeyer and Costa broke with the neoclassical style and developed the functional style, with its extensive use of steel and glass, and lack of ornamentation. The Museu de Arte Moderna (inaugurated in 1958) and the Catedral Metropolitana (begun in 1964) are good examples of this style. One of the most fascinating modern buildings close to Rio is the Niemeyer-designed Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) in Niterói. Its fluid form and delicate curves are reminiscent of a flower in bloom (though many simply call it spaceship-like). It showcases its natural setting and offers mesmerizing views of Rio. The MAC is a pivotal part of the Caminho Niemeyer (Niemeyer Way), a collection of seven buildings scattered along the waterfront in Niterói.

Niemeyer, whose designs are known for their elegant curves – the female form was one of his inspirations – became famous for his work designing the nation's capital. He was a longtime Rio resident, and remained passionate about architecture and quite active in the field until his death in 2012 at the age of 104.

A lifelong communist, Niemeyer spent much of the 1960s and '70s in exile due to the military dictatorship. His political affiliations also prevented him from working in the US during the Cold War.

Architectural Icons

  • Copacabana Palace The neoclassical gem that came to represent a glitzy new era.
  • Arcos da Lapa The 18th-century aqueduct is a widely recognized landmark that also lies at the epicenter of Rio’s resurgent music scene in Lapa.
  • Maracanã Football Stadium Brazil’s temple to football and its largest stadium, freshly made over for the 2014 World Cup.
  • Museu do Amanhã Santiago Calatrava’s striking building on Praça Mauá is a symbol of Rio’s waterfront renaissance.
  • Theatro Municipal The flower of the belle époque and the costliest opera house constructed outside Europe.

Recent Projects

The huge amount of investment that poured in for the 2016 Olympic Games led to many new developments around the city.

In 2013 Rio officially inaugurated the Cidade das Artes (City of the Arts) in Barra da Tijuca. The controversial project, originally slated to open in 2008, ran significantly over budget (the projected R$86-million cost eventually ran to over R$500 million). The ultramodern 90,000-sq-meter complex houses a high-tech, 1800-seat concert hall, as well as theaters, a chamber-music hall and a terrace with picturesque views over Barra. Designed by the Pritzker prize–winning French architect Christian de Portzamparc, the building is the new base of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra.

The revitalization of Rio's derelict port area has also seen a host of new developments. The Rio Museum of Art on Praça Mauá cleverly joins two existing buildings – one a neoclassical early-20th-century mansion, the other a modernist building (and former train station). The unusual juxtaposition serves as an apt metaphor for the mix of classical and contemporary works inside. It opened in 2014. Nearby, the dramatic Santiago Calatrava–designed Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) juts into the water, with a cantilevered roof and a sculptural facade for which Calatrava is so well known. It opened in late 2015.

The cutting-edge Museu da Imagem e do Som (Museum of Image and Sound) will bring a bold new look to Copacabana's boxy, skyscraper-lined waterfront. The design, by New York architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (the team behind the famous High Line in Manhattan), integrates the building into its dramatic setting – between seafront and hilly backdrop. Public access, outdoor ramps and open-air space (including a rooftop amphitheater) will ensure that the building is accessible to all. It is loosely scheduled to open in late 2020.

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The Petrobras building (Av República do Chile 65, Centro) is often shortlisted by media outlets as one of the world's ugliest buildings. Boxy, gray and uninspiring, the 1970s-era brutalist design looks like a cross between a half-assembled Lego tower and a broken Rubik's Cube.

Sidebar: Architecture in Print

  • The Curves of Time, Oscar Niemeyer
  • When Brazil Was Modern: A Guide to Architecture, 1928–1960, Lauro Cavalcanti
  • Roberto Burle Marx: The Lyrical Landscape, Marta Iris Montero

Old-World Masterpieces

  • Real Gabinete Português de Leitura
  • Mosteiro de São Bento
  • Igreja de NS do Carmo da Antiga Sé
  • Convento de Santo Antônio