Brazil has a very deserving reputation for serving up good music. I think everyone has at least of vague conception of what Brazilian music is. What do you think of? The Girl from Ipanema? Big Carnival bands on the streets of Rio, women with huge feathered headdresses and skimpy clothes?
The Girl from Ipanema is Bossa Nova, a combination of samba and jazz. It’s basically a samba-like rhythm with jazz chord changes.
Samba is an important native Brazilian style, distinguished by a lot of percussion, like drums and the pandeiro, similar to a tambourine, and is usually led by guitar and cavaco, a little guitar-like instrument.
Samba is similar to pagode. From seeing both styles live in Brazil, I think pagode is basically samba with a more traditional band setup – including bass and drum kit – and more pop-like song arrangements. Some people said they didn’t like it because of cheesy love-song lyrics.
A mix of all these is MPB - Música Popular Brasileira. One of the greatest of these groups was Novos Bainanos. It’s mostly a mix of samba and rock.
Axe is the music of Carnival – loud boisterous party music. One of the biggest stars is Ivette Salgado. She always leads the big party procession through Rio de Janeiro.
Then there was the tropicalia movement, where Brazilian musicians mixed rock and roll with Brazillian styles. The Beatles were a major influence for these groups. One of the most enduring is Os Mutantes.
As for electronic music, well like anywhere in the world with a party scene, it thrives in Brazil. I can recommend a CD I got a long time ago called The Beginner’s Guide to Brazil. It may have an embarrassing name but it contains three CDs of great music. It’s a starting point for listening to modern Brazilian music that goes beyond the classics.