SOFT POWER

Soft power

Image source: VCG via Getty Images

AN OPINION PIECE

We all know that countries aren’t really created equal. Yes, the principle of sovereignty, the practice of diplomacy, and the formats of most international institutions uphold the idea that countries are equal partners and that each one has an equal say in the running of the world. But it shouldn’t be too much of a controversy to state that some countries are more powerful than others. Even the UN recognizes this, with its Security Council that neatly aligns with the victorious powers of World War II.

What makes these countries more powerful than others? Their militaries, of course. Big armies and scary technology have been used throughout history to coerce weaker countries into doing what the strong country wants. When backed up by a smoothly functioning political system and bureaucracy, the power imbalance can be steep. Followers of the “realist” school of international relations say that this hard power is all that really matters: international relations is a contest for supremacy, and barring an unexpected event like a stupid political decision, the strong countries win and boss around everyone else.

This is basically true, but it would be inaccurate to just boil international relations down to that. (Otherwise, small, weak countries would have no chance.) Soft power plays a role as well. This concept, pioneered by the Harvard professor and former American defense official Joseph Nye, emphasizes other aspects of international power: culture, values and foreign policies. They may not make you tremble like nuclear weapons or aircraft carriers do, but subtly and over a long time, they are effective too.

“Liberals” and “constructivists,” the other factions in the academic world of international relations, have always emphasized the importance of values. If a country is seen as sharing your values, you’ll be more likely to ally with them or at least rely on them as a partner. If a country is not seen as sharing your values, the fear and suspicion that underlies much of diplomacy is only increased. Similarly, the way countries behave towards each other influences perceptions, even among bystander countries. A country with a track record of bullying, unpredictability and/or unreliability will find its diplomatic efforts stymied compared to one known for promoting peace, human rights and fair play.

I find culture to be the most fascinating aspect of this, since it’s such a slippery subject — hard to quantify, hard to evaluate, it’s usually overlooked or dismissed as a relevant factor in the cold hard world of international relations. But I think it subtly affects IR too. (This is one reason this blog occasionally covers cultural topics in addition to more newsworthy stuff.) For the most part, countries are drawn to those that share their culture, or have a similar one. History is littered with examples of alliances forged through shared cultural understanding: Imperial Germany’s interests may have lain with an alliance with powerful, influential Russia, but it ended up choosing Austria-Hungary mostly because of a shared Germanic culture and disdain for Russia’s Slavic culture. America and Britain may have important shared interests, but their alliance is cemented by a shared culture, language and history. The Commonwealth, Britain’s post-imperial club, mostly runs on these factors.

In the long run, the sense of a “superior” culture worth emulating accords certain countries a special status and deference from those who might be their equals or superiors politically. For most of ancient history, Greece was a mess politically speaking, but its sophisticated culture earned it a cachet from its neighbors and respect from its stronger adversaries, Persia and Rome. China commanded similar awe and emulation (although in that case it was helped by its size, strength, and resources). In general, religion is a particularly strong glue; the Arabs clashed numerous times with their neighbors, but the wide appeal of Islam and the prevalence of Arabic elevates them above their sometimes chaotic political situation.

The most subtle, underappreciated form of soft power might be plain and simple recognition. Let’s face it: not all countries are equally well-known, either. Guinea-Bissau is not as familiar as Mexico. Mozambique probably sounds like a made-up country to most of the world, but almost everyone has heard of China. Fame gives European countries in particular extra clout; Britain, France and Germany are among the most well-known countries in the world, and it’s very common for members of the global elite to at least visit them. Countries of similar size elsewhere, like the Congo, Iran or the Philippines, don’t get as much attention, which surely has an effect on the way they are treated.

When it comes to which country commands the most soft power, the question is hardly in dispute: America rules the roost. It may be proud of its enormous hard power, but soft power is the other tool in its arsenal. America’s political and economic systems are widely used models. It attracts lots of immigrants, increasingly from all over the world. Its universities are top-of-the-line. The globe is in thrall to American pop culture: look at how familiar American superheroes, American rappers, and American sitcoms are from the rich West to poor Africa. Thanks in part to the prevalence of English, even relatively mundane happenings in America attract international attention. It is true that American foreign policy doesn’t always command respect — George Bush’s cowboy attitude and dumb decision to invade Iraq made it rued around the world, and as Joseph Nye himself points out, America’s current president has done a lot to remind everyone of America’s negative qualities like vanity, ignorance and bullying bluntness. But it is famous, and its values and culture are broadly attractive.

The West in general commands a lot of soft power. Thanks to European imperialism, the world as a whole has been shaped in the Western image, and it would be nearly impossible to teach recent world history without discussing the West in some way. Europe is still the world’s biggest tourist draw. Its lingering historical prestige, combined with its present-day combination of cozy antique villages and a comfortable modern lifestyle sustained by generous welfare, go a long way in masking its long-term decline as an international player. Thanks in no small part to their colonialism, Britain and France are more familiar to many countries than their own neighborhoods. Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada have become immigrant magnets despite their light hard power credentials.

The other soft power titan? Japan. With a constitutional restriction on its hard power projection capability, Japan has pretty much banked on soft power to increase its clout. It has worked very well: Japanese technology is used all over the world, Japanese culture is among the most familiar outside of the West, tourism is booming, and Japanese characters from Pokemon to Gundam are the strongest rivals to America’s pantheon of pop culture icons. Although it is now a bit passe, in previous eras Japan was widely admired for modernizing rapidly along Western models while keeping its culture intact. While all this is important, Japan’s soft power is hobbled somewhat by various, mostly minor issues that regularly appear in the news (suicides, creepy fetishes, overwork, etc.), its hostility to immigrants and foreigners in general, and its terrible reputation among its immediate neighbors.

Probably the most discussed topic in soft power conversations these days — as in so many foreign policy discussions — is China. As mentioned earlier, China has historically been a soft power giant, exporting everything from philosophy to urban planning to its neighbors. But lately, its image has suffered somewhat, aside from die-hard Communists in the Maoist era. It is as often associated with rampant greed and bossing around its neighbors as it is with anything positive. For a long time, China didn’t really care, but beginning in the ’90s Nye’s theory started circulating in Chinese intellectual circles. Eager as always to compete with America and cultivate an image as a peaceful power, China has begun to aggressively promote its soft power. Confucius Institutes all over the world teach Chinese language and handicrafts; Chinese cultural performances are heavily marketed; the Chinese New Year is celebrated overseas; even Confucius (Master Kong), once demonized by the Communists, has been rehabilitated and rebranded as an icon of a gentle, wise China.

These campaigns are only a little over a decade old, so their efficacy is probably too soon to judge. Whatever their merits, China already has a great deal of soft power on account of its fame and attributes like dim sum, taiji, and Jackie Chan. But China’s efforts seem doomed to fail, or at least disappoint, for 2 reasons: 1, they’re state-led, while the vibrancy and appeal of, say, Japan’s pop culture is organic; and 2, it is unclear whether an appreciation for a country’s culture will necessarily lead to an endorsement of that country’s values and foreign policy — which is the point of all of this. Plenty of people enjoy The Big Bang Theory and KFC while railing about American imperialism.

Other countries also wield outsized clout thanks to their soft power. South Korea’s movies, pop groups and TV dramas have won it many fans throughout Asia. India’s movies, religious practices, and — to a lesser extent — music have gone a long way in giving it a more benign image than China and ameliorating negative impressions of India abroad. Even countries like Nigerian and Turkey, who are more often thought of as places to emigrate from, have acquired a bit of a “cool” status thanks to their pop cultures and vibrant societies. These countries would do well to encourage their creative industries to cash in on their burgeoning cachets.

So what, say the realists. Why does any of this matter? At the end of the day, it’s hard power — military might, diplomatic skill, and cold, hard cash — that settles things. Why does it matter that Russia (for example) has a dearth of soft power? If it wants to, it can step in and smoosh its neighbors. Would a fondness for French wine make one less willing to resist a French invasion? Would cute Japanese mascot characters make one more likely to surrender in a trade dispute?

Probably not. Hard power continues to be the most important element of international relations. But I think that in the day-to-day conduct of international affairs, when countries aren’t always at each other’s throats, soft power does play an important role. What academics call “normative biases” do affect thinking and decision-making. Even if governments use a more rational calculus of their interests, their citizens are affected by soft power, and governments usually reflect the popular will. American pop culture saturation makes it hard to conceive of the Philippines actually breaking its alliance with the US. Peaceful images like meditating sadhus and damsels warbling love songs make it hard for anyone but Pakistanis to think of India as a truculent power. Cultural and media exposure have created a bond between North America, South Korea, Japan and Europe that does much to reinforce their formal alliances. And frankly, soft power makes it more likely for people to care about other countries. Sometimes, simple awareness makes a lot of difference.

NOTE: There seems to be some disagreement whether economic power counts as “hard” or “soft.” On one hand, money is definitely powerful, and a state of economic dependence can be as crippling as military occupation. On the other hand, “hardness” is often equated with force or the threat of using force, while money is seen as a way to persuade rather than coerce. The best answer seems to be that it depends on how economic power is used, as this article argues.

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GHIBLI’S OTHER MASTER

REMEMBERING ISAO TAKAHATA

Takahata

Image source: Daily Sports Online

On April 5, Isao Takahata died. His is not a name familiar to most people. Even though he made films at the renowned Studio Ghibli, which has done more than any other studio to make anime (Japanese animation) respected and admired worldwide, he sort of flew under the radar. Hayao Miyazaki is more associated with Ghibli, and might even eclipse it in fame. This is fair given the quantity and quality of his filmography, but Takahata always seemed to get less credit than he deserved. Without Miyazaki, he would be considered a giant of the industry.

Takahata’s career stretches all the way back to the early days of the anime industry, or at least the period when it was reconstructing itself from the shakeup of World War II. He got his start at Toei, Japan’s biggest studio and the creator of movies like Legend of the White Serpent and Journey to the West that provided Eastern rivals to Disney’s fairy tale stories. His first film, Horus: Prince of the Sun (1968), was groundbreaking for its time, with excellent animation, violent action sequences, and political subtext to lure in an older crowd. But it flopped financially, and Takahata went on to work in TV for the next decade. That being said, the shows he worked on then — Heidi, Girl of the Alps, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, and Anne of Green Gables — were very influential and beloved by both Japanese and European viewers of all ages.

Grave of the Fireflies

Image source: Naze-no Chibenkaku

But ultimately, what Takahata will be remembered for most is Grave of the Fireflies (1988). This is one of those movies that’s on the short list of most Anime You Need to See Before You Die lists (even if it didn’t actually make it onto my own…). Based on the memoir of a World War II survivor, it recounts the struggles of two kids, a little girl and her teenage brother, to get by in the devastation of the war. It pulls no punches. While it is part of an unfortunate narrative Japan has embraced that portrays itself as a pitiful victim of a war it had started through its own imperialist aggression — indeed, it’s become one of that narrative’s central texts — it’s an incredibly powerful story, and a great way of getting a sense for what it’s like to live in a war zone, when any given day could be your last. Along with Akira, which also came out in 1988, it exploded the notion that animation is inherently childish and blew several unsuspecting viewers’ minds. While it will always be remembered for its tearjerker ending, it has a more sophisticated emotional range than just melancholy: the movie is really about the boy doing whatever he can to take care of his little sister. His love for her is touching, and he does everything from flips on monkey bars to firefly-catching to keep his sister happy and distracted from her grim reality.

Yesterday Yamadas

Image sources: So-net Blog and The Rising Sky

This is probably Takahata’s most enduring legacy: his penchant for making movies that draw out the viewers’ emotions and leave them deeply moved. Grave of the Fireflies is most direct in this regard — it makes you depressed — but his other movies usually aim for a more wistful, reflective tone. Only Yesterday (1991) languished in obscurity for decades because it’s not the kind of movie easy to market internationally: it’s about an adult woman reminiscing about her childhood while on a visit to the Japanese countryside to pick safflowers for a while. That means it’s too slow and emotionally complex for kids, yet too culturally and demographically specific for most adults. But it combines heartfelt reflection on the direction of your life with touching, often funny, anecdotes about childhood in Japan in the ’60s. My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), a series of anecdotes about a mostly ordinary family, is more sitcom-like, but it’s still very sentimental in its portrayal of the Yamadas’ quirks and foibles, and its ending song, “Que Sera, Sera,” is a surprisingly wistful way of closing the movie. (Takahata also directed an obscure movie in 1981, Chie the Brat, which also portrayed domestic life in ’60s Japan comically, but with a darker edge since the family is more low-class.)

Despite Fireflies‘ reputation, I actually think my favorite Takahata work is his last, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013). Takahata never did any animation work himself and had a reputation for workmanlike art in his movies; Kaguya is basically him showing the world what he was capable of before dying. Based on a famous Japanese fairy tale, it looks like an old Japanese scroll come to life, with lines drawn sketchily and coloring evoking watercolors and storybooks. Some of its scenes depict emotional turmoil in a raw, evocative way live-action never could, and watching it is like watching a literal work of art. (This was before Loving Vincent took animated art to the next level.) The story is about a girl mysteriously found inside of a bamboo stalk by an old couple who grows much faster than usual. Despite her happy life in the countryside with her loving parents and kid friends, she is soon sent off to live in the capital and marry into nobility. But she can’t quite feel at home there and can’t shake the feeling that she doesn’t belong on Earth at all. It’s a poignant story, very weird, as most fairy tales are, and while you may be conflicted over how to feel about its resolution, it’s hard not to feel something, given how we’ve followed this girl’s life for so long.

Takahata’s movies were always less marketable than Miyazaki’s. Starving kids in World War II, a grown woman coming to terms with her own childhood, anthropomorphic tanuki (raccoon-like animals) scheming how to save their hill from human development, an idiosyncratic fairy tale with a meandering plot — these aren’t the kind of movies that bring huge crowds, and ever since Horus, Takahata’s films performed underwhelmingly. As a result, he ceded the limelight to Miyazaki, even though he was older and more or less mentored Miyazaki early in their careers. He took long breaks to do things like make live-action documentaries about canals. I’ve never heard someone gush about him or cite him as an inspiration or their favorite anime director. But Takahata’s movies deserve a prominent place in the anime pantheon. They thoughtfully portray life’s challenges, sometimes tragically, sometimes comically, often with great subtlety. They challenge the notion that animation is for action, wacky gags, epic spectacle or speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy). They tend to leave you lost in thought or even sobbing at the end. I couldn’t help thinking after seeing Kaguya that this was someone the world had drastically underrated and overlooked, and it was partly his fault: for all its charms, a movie like Kaguya is awfully old-fashioned for the 2010s. But it’s a towering achievement, as is Takahata’s filmography overall. Watching his films is a way to get a sense of a quieter, more mundane side of Japan, but with flights of fancy you don’t get in most live-action movies. With his death and Miyazaki’s decline, the sense that Ghibli has moved on from its glory days only grows more and more acute; and knowledge of how sensitive and moving his work was made his demise that much more painful.

BOSSA BRASILEIRA

Brazilians are stereotyped as an artistic and creative people, but the diverse cultural mix that makes up the country allows for a lot of interesting experimentation and fusion in its artistic expression that has made Brazil a formidable brand in the art world. Music is probably the foremost example of this. Brazilians are primarily a mix of Portuguese and other Southern Europeans with Africans — all of which appreciate a good beat. And indeed, it’s common for Brazilians to break out drums and/or a guitar at the end of a party and do some group singing. Everyone loves to dance and some do it extremely well. Banging out an impromptu beat on doors or even your own thighs is a classic way of alleviating boredom on the train. The nightlife scene in Rio and São Paulo is legendary. So let’s take a break from nuclear confrontation, repressive dictatorships and other such heavy topics and reflect on the richness of music in Brazil.

Music has formed an important part of Brazilian life from the very beginning. The native people, the Tupis, had a musical culture all of their own, but unfortunately it (like them) has been essentially wiped out. Although music in the Amazon is influenced by native peoples, who still remain there, for most of Brazilian history music was composed and played along European lines. And for the most part that meant church music; although the influence of the Catholic Church has waned in modern Brazil, it dominated life until the 1900s, and musicians in the remote, conservative towns of Brazil’s rugged interior composed some beautiful choral music.

Brazil has also produced some prominent figures in the secular classical music tradition. The most famous of these is definitely Heitor Villa-Lobos, who studied music at a conservatory and hobnobbed with the many, many other intellectuals who haunted Paris in the 1920s, but also infused his music with a distinctive Brazilian flavor culled from folk and even native rhythms he studied on travels around his homeland. This is exemplified in his Bachianas Brasileiras, which, as the name indicates, sound like something Bach would’ve written on a Brazilian holiday.

But let’s not kid ourselves: You probably aren’t reading this article to listen to church choirs and orchestras. What really sets Brazilian music apart is its African influence, courtesy of the huge slave population brought into the country until 1889. At first African music, like African culture in general, was despised and snubbed by Brazil’s high society, but in the favelas (shantytowns) where Brazil’s urban black population is concentrated, a lively genre of music called the samba was born. It used distinctive instruments like the pandeiro (a kind of tambourine) and berimbau (a bowed instrument with a gourd attached that makes a very reedy sound) that are descended from African instruments but are distinctively Brazilian. By the early 1900s, the wild parties had spilled out of the favelas and became popular among many Brazilians, especially in Rio, which has always been Brazil’s musical capital (and used to be its political capital too). Over time Rio’s Carnival celebration (a crazy party thrown by Catholics before Lent, which is supposed to be a sober, pious season) especially became famous for its joyful samba.


These days, Carnival has gotten REALLY over-the-top…

The frenzied beat played during Carnival is what most foreigners associate with samba, but in reality most sambas are more sedate and suited for impromptu street jam sessions than giant crazy block parties. It can even be quite sad sometimes. A subgenre of samba, choro, was popular early in the 1900s and involves sad melodies played with flutes, guitars, horns and a guitar-like instrument called the cavaquinho — although as the sample below from the early samba titan Pixinguinha demonstrates, it can be peppy too.

By the 1930s, samba was finding an audience outside of Brazil. This was mostly thanks to Carmen Miranda, a Portuguese-born carioca who made it big in Hollywood by combining good lucks with singing and acting ability — the winning combo for female stars in America back then. She had less of a following in Brazil, mostly because she presented a stereotyped, watered-down image of the country to foreigners, but she did increase international interest in the country and popularize some of its most famous songs, as well as the samba in general.

Brazilian music’s biggest international success, though, came in the ’50s and ’60s. This is when bossa nova came along. Bossa nova is basically an even slower subgenre of samba with very sparse instrumentation and a simple presentation in general. It was born on Rio’s sunny South Zone (the part with the beaches) and has been dominated by a sort of holy trinity all along: João Gilberto, Antônio “Tom” Jobim, and Vinicius de Moraes. They sang about Rio’s stunning geography, love, homesickness, and other emotions — the concerns of Rio’s privileged class. Its exponents drew upon jazz and recent classical music and came up with a distinctively Brazilian jazz-samba hybrid that helped epitomize the country and its extremely laid-back lifestyle. Bossa nova is so representative of Rio in particular that the city even named its airport after Tom Jobim. It may not be for everyone, but it has to be some of the most relaxing music ever recorded. The most famous bossa nova song — maybe the most famous Brazilian song ever — was “Garota da Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), about a hot girl Tom & Vinicius saw walking down the street in Rio’s upscale Ipanema district; instead, here’s a song from Black Orpheus, a 1959 movie that set the Greek legend of Orpheus in a Rio favela.

Another prominent bossa nova musician was Sérgio Mendes, who specialized in jazzier versions of the subgenre with his band Brasil ’66. They played a hauntingly evocative cover version of “Mas Que Nada” (“Oh, Come On”) which is another one of Brazil’s most iconic tunes (and my personal favorite Brazilian song).

The other titan of bossa nova was Elis Regina, who was mostly known for her voice. She died at the age of 36 from a drug overdose but is still fondly remembered today, and her daughter, Maria Rita, is also a famous singer. (Music in Brazil tends to be dynastic; as another example, both Astrud, João Gilberto’s wife, and Bebel, his daughter, became popular singers in their own right.) Elis’s duet with Tom, “Águas de Março” (“Waters of March”), is probably her most famous song — a soothing, playful stream-of-consciousness back-and-forth about things as varied as the end of the road, a bottle of booze and a bird in the sky.

 

Although bossa nova is still alive and well, it isn’t exactly “nova” (new) anymore. By the late ’60s, it was being transplanted by a new type of music influenced by the experimentation going on in the West. This genre, now broadly referred to as “MPB” (for Brazilian Popular Music), has probably been the most popular in Brazil ever since, although it gets less exposure internationally because not speaking Portuguese hinders your enjoyment somewhat. Its opening salvo was probably an album by the band Os Mutantes (The Mutants) that brought a bunch of prominent musicians together on one record. Called Tropicalia ou Panis et Circencis (“Tropicalia, or Bread and Circuses”), it was definitely of its time — 1968, an era when psychedelic rock and hippie culture were taking young people by storm.

A more representative band might be Novos Baianos, who combined samba rhythms and instrumentation with a rock sensibility. Their breakout hit was called Acabou Chorare (“No More Crying”), which expresses their upbeat mood pretty well.

The 3 biggest names in MPB, however, are Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and Chico Buarque. They led a movement in the late ’60s and early ’70s called “Tropicalia” (after a Caetano song) that expressed the resentments, frustrations and anxieties of Brazil’s youth in terms clearly influenced by British rock, American folk and (eventually) Jamaican reggae. Since Brazil was a military dictatorship at the time, the government did not approve, and strict censorship forced them to be very creative and subtle with their lyrics to mock the regime without getting caught. Before long, though, they were exiled to Europe until the censorship was relaxed (although Chico only left for 1 year).


In this long and bleak song, Chico sings about 3 construction workers dying. It is usually interpreted as an anti-capitalist poem.

All 3 of these singers, by the way, are still going strong and selling out stadiums today, and continue to mix up their music by incorporating different influences over the years. Gilberto Gil even had a stint as minister of culture in the leftist government of Lula da Silva in the ’00s!

The other 2 giants in this genre are Milton Nascimento and Jorge Ben Jor. Milton, unlike almost everyone else I’ve mentioned so far, came from practically the middle of nowhere but climbed his way to national fame through the sweetness of his voice and his musical versatility and inventiveness. Jorge is a carioca (very much so, as the song below demonstrates) and started out singing more traditional pop but veered into more funky stuff later in the ’70s. He is also the original writer of “Mas Que Nada.”

These are pretty much the biggest names in Brazilian music and the stars Brazilians everywhere can recognize. But Brazilian music doesn’t really end there. There are regional music scenes and genres with passionate followings but lower profiles nationally (and especially internationally). For instance, Rio’s biggest rival as musical capital is Salvador, the biggest city in the northeast and the hometown of João Gilberto, Caetano and Gilberto Gil. The northeast is much more heavily inspired by African culture, and Salvador’s Carnival is even rowdier than Rio’s. The local genre, axé, is inspired by the local Candomblé religion and accordingly has a strong Afro-Caribbean feel. Daniela Mercury and Ivete Sangalo’s poppy versions have made axé popular all over Brazil, especially for energetic parties.

Although its homeland is also the northeast, forró is a very different genre. It is sort of like Brazil’s country music, although it sounds much more akin to Mexican music. It is played and listened to by sertanejos, the often very poor farmers of the dry interior of the northeast and central parts of Brazil, and incorporates influences from southern Europe and (allegedly) American airmen stationed there during World War II. Its Grand Old Man is Luiz Gonzaga, famous all over Brazil for his floppy hat and this sad ballad about a drought-stricken village. (It was played not only in the closing ceremonies of the Rio 2016 Olympics, but in the crowd warm-up session before them!)

Meanwhile, the southern parts of the country tend to be more urban, white and well-off. Its music accordingly more closely resembles the stuff you’d hear in the West, only sung in Portuguese (but sometimes not even that). The rock band Legião Urbana (Urban Legion), from Brasilia, Brazil’s futuristic capital, was popular in the ’80s and imitated the New Wave rock of that era. While Legião Urbana have since disbanded, São Paulo’s Titãs (Titans) are still going strong, having kept on top of the various trends in rock since the ’80s.

Other genres popular in the West also have flourishing fanbases in Brazil. Many Brazilians just listen to the same American music the whole world does; but there are all kinds of options for those seeking something homegrown, from metal…

… to rap…

… to Christian rock (hey, Christianity is still a major force in Brazil; just not necessarily of the Catholic variety)…

… to folk-infused pop.

Brazil’s musical richness may be one of its defining contributions to the world. The heady days of the ’60s may be long gone, but musicians from the Black-Eyed Peas to Michael Jackson still take frequent pilgrimages to Brazil to soak up some sounds and get some inspiration there. Grumpy Brazilians say they steal their ideas, but if this musical survey has shown anything, it’s that Brazil is part of an international dialectic of musical ideas. Those who can overlook the language barrier and do a little digging beyond the famous, obvious names will find much to reward them.

Finally, no overview of Brazilian music would be complete without “Aquarela do Brasil” (“Watercolor of Brazil”), a loving tribute to the country written in 1939 and alluded to in numerous jazz pieces since then. Although there have been many great versions, I like the Disney version the best — partly because I love animation, and partly because of the rich nostalgia of Aloísio de Oliveira’s voice.

If you liked any of the songs I included on this post, please consider supporting the artists that bring this music to you.