Our latest journey into hidden gem musical styles from around the world takes us to beautiful Brazil with the sounds of “pagode.” Vibrant, infectious, and full of joy, pagode is bound to entrance anyone who listens to it. Here’s an introduction.
What is pagode?
Pagode is a type of samba originating in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Distinguished by rhythmic improvisation, its acoustic sound is created primarily through the tan-tan (a small hand drum), the repique de māo (a percussion instrument), and a cavaquinho or banjo. The latter is preferred for its louder sounds in crowds.
If you listen closely to this track from prolific Brazilian composer JulioOliveiraMusic, you can hear some of those instruments at play, along with a charming rhythmic spontaneity as new ones join in. It’s something that defines a lot of their captivating mixture of rhythms.
Pagode can be purely instrumental, as in the music above, but typically has lyrics sung by two or more people. A song’s words are arranged in five or seven-syllable roundels (nine lines, with a refrain after the third and last line), and performances are often arranged to connect songs through a common medley.
Where did it originate?
“Pagode” means “fun” or “merrymaking” in Portuguese, which reflects its origins. It began in Rio de Janeiro as a form of a communal party – soccer, food, drinks – among Afro-Brazilian, lower-class citizens in the city’s suburban blocks and backyards. Its festive beginnings are why some consider pagode not so much a musical genre but a place or emotion.
For example, consider this track from another Brazilian artist, composinventor. You can practically imagine yourself at a party at twilight, a good meal settling in your belly, as you take a moment to dance after a long week of work. The composer’s storefront is full of upbeat pagode and samba music that creates this mood.
Speaking of samba, pagode’s spontaneous quality was also partly a response to samba schools, which at the time were upper-class institutions that protectively insisted on a more formal and rigid approach to samba. That socio-economic dynamic is also why pagode lyrics usually reflect everyday people’s life, love, and partying. Sometimes they comically or ironically comment on the country’s political, social, or economic state.
How did this music genre become popular?
Throughout the 1970s, pagode began to spread from Rio de Janeiro across Brazil, notably to Sao Paolo and its city center, while still maintaining its home city’s connection and qualities. Pagode broke through on a larger scale when a Rio de Janeiro band named Fundo de Quintal was discovered and began recording and releasing albums to great success across the country.
Keep an ear out in the following two videos for how vibrant and full of life their music is, like a fast-beating instrumental heart. Notice as well the intimate, physically close, ways in which they play and are listened to that is very much in keeping with pagode’s communal and festive origins.
During the 1980s and 1990s, pagode gained enough cultural momentum that a more commercialized version – referred to as “pagode romântico” – entered popular culture, becoming more pop-rock-like, using electronic keyboards, electric bass, or drum kits.
A useful example of that is this piece from another Brazilian artist, MusicCorner, where you can hear the rhythmic foundation of pagode, simply pop-ified into something more modern. (However, they also have a fantastic samba track with pounding drums that make you want to get up and dance). Similar is this track from composinventor, which uses electronic instruments while still maintaining some of the more folksy rhythms of traditional pagode.
Where can you hear pagode now?
By the early 2000s, pagode began to grow out of fashion in Brazil – both its traditional and popified forms. Nonetheless, in a way, it has come full circle. It has returned to being popular in working-class neighborhoods, allowing those who need some fun after a long shift to drink, dance, and be merry.
Three tips for using pagode in your creative projects
1. Because pagode can be driven heavily by drums and percussion instruments, it often has a rapid and dominant sound. Make sure its kinetic pace suits your creative project and doesn’t overshadow it. For example, this style of music would be ideal for a fast-paced, athletic commercial, but probably not for a YouTube ad promoting a community college.
2. It’s not uncommon for pagode to have long stretches where the music repetitively explores the same melody before moving on. Be sure to give a pagode track a complete listen to decide which section is most useful to your project or where you might want to do some editing.
3. To get the most out of pagode, remember its origins. It’s “merrymaking” music inspired by the joys of letting yourself have fun at a party. Any creative project – a scene in a film or television series, a video game, or an advertisement – that wants to evoke good feelings in an audience would benefit significantly from a bit of pagode.
If you’re interested in pagode for your next project, a Pond5 music subscription gives you access to original pagode tracks, including music from the artists we’ve highlighted here and more of the world’s top pagode musicians.
Visit the Pond5 Playlist to explore more niche and unexpected music. Each month a different genre is featured, and a new free track is available for your next project!