search for something...

search for something you might like...

Chico Buarque: A Genius and Giant in Brazilian Culture Sofia Ribeiro Willcox traces the career of Chico Buarque

Chico Buarque: A Genius and Giant in Brazilian Culture

Sofia Ribeiro Willcox traces the career of Chico Buarque

by Sofia Ribeiro Willcox, Cultural Exchanger and Explorer
first published: June, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

when a cultural renaissance emerged, with art playing a pivotal role in resistance, Chico Buarque bloomed.

Chico Buarque, an iconic figure in Brazilian culture, celebrates his 80th birthday this year, marking an illustrious career in entertainment, spanning 58 years. Renowned as a singer-songwriter, guitarist, composer, playwright, writer, and poet, Buarque's influence transcends genres and generations. Personally, I grew up immersed in his music through his children's play "Os Saltimbancos" and the song "A Banda," thanks to my parents. There is no equivalent; he is a singular gem. Here you will find 8 moments that highlight his genius:

Military Dictatorship Rebel and Hero
The Years of Lead (1964-1985) marked a 21-year military dictatorship in Brazil characterized by authoritarianism, human rights abuses, political persecution, exile and censorship. Amid this tumultuous period, a cultural renaissance emerged, with art playing a pivotal role in resistance, and Chico Buarque bloomed. His lyrics became a powerful vehicle for resistance, challenging censorship and advocating for political reform through irony, satire, metaphors, and ambiguity. Notable examples of his rebellion and heroism include:

"Meu Caro Amigo": Written as a rhythmic letter to Augusto Boal, who was exiled in Portugal, expressing longing and news from their homeland.

"Samba de Orly": Represents Chico's farewell to Brazil during his self-exile in Rome, alongside other Brazilian artists.

"Construção": Renowned for its composition entirely in twelve-syllable verses ending in proparoxytones, showcasing Chico's lyrical complexity.

"Cálice": Uses wordplay with the title sounding like "cale-se" (shut up), reflecting censorship, and incorporates the chalice as a symbol of sacrifice and struggle for freedom of expression. Beyond Brazil, Chico Buarque's impact extended to Portugal with "Tanto Mar," a response to Salazarism.

Female Persona
Chico Buarque's exploration of female perspectives in his music has drawn both praise and criticism. Some argue that his portrayal of women can reinforce stereotypes or offer limited views of their experiences. Encouraged by Nara Leão, Chico began exploring themes related to women in his songs. His first song narrated by a female persona, "Com açúcar, com afeto," marked a significant departure in Brazilian popular music, dissecting women's feelings in unprecedented ways. 

Today, over half of Chico's extensive repertoire features women as poetic characters, depicted through contrasting perspectives that sometimes revisit societal stereotypes. Early in his career, Chico often depicted women in passive domestic roles, reflecting societal expectations. However, his portrayals evolved over time, depicting women as more autonomous and occasionally asserting themselves, as seen in songs like "Olhos nos olhos." 

Controversy arose with Chico's 23rd work, particularly with the song "Tua Cantiga," sparking debates about sexism in its lyrics. Throughout his career, Chico has given life to numerous female characters, some prominently named in song titles such as Geni, Ana, Rita, and others. These women represent diverse narratives, reflecting Chico Buarque's ongoing exploration of femininity and societal roles through his music.

Every Brazilian has at least one emotional connection to a verse by Chico Buarque. The Rio de Janeiro composer created a significant body of work for children, including "Os Saltimbancos" for theater and the soundtrack for the film adaptation with Os Trapalhões. Additionally, he authored the book "Chapeuzinho Amarelo."

Pioneer Concept Album
Chico Buarque has been a pioneer in creating concept albums, where all songs are linked by a common theme or narrative. Albums such as "Construção" and "Ópera do Malandro" are prime examples of his innovative approach to album-making, combining storytelling, social commentary, and musical experimentation. This approach has influenced countless artists and set a high standard in the music industry.

Chico Buarque is fluent in multiple languages and has written and performed songs in Spanish, Italian, French, and English. This multilingual ability has broadened his audience and allowed his work to resonate on a global scale, transcending cultural and linguistic barriers. He has played a significant role in promoting Brazilian culture globally through international tours, collaborations with foreign artists, and participation in global festivals.

Chico Buarque has been a strong advocate for the preservation and promotion of the Portuguese language and Brazilian culture. Through his music, books, and public statements, he has emphasized the importance of cultural heritage and linguistic identity. His dedication to these causes has contributed to a broader appreciation and respect for Brazilian traditions and has helped elevate the cultural narrative on both national and international stages. Buarque is also known for his philanthropy and advocacy for social justice, supporting causes such as education, poverty alleviation, and human rights. His commitment to these issues reflects his deep sense of social responsibility and further solidifies his legacy as not just an artist but a conscientious global citizen.

Wide Impact
Chico Buarque's songs also address themes like social inequality, racial injustice, and human rights, making his work not only artistically significant but also culturally and politically impactful. This can be seen in songs like "Pivete" and "O Meu Guri." His work has been extensively studied and analyzed in academic settings worldwide, with his music, plays, and literature often included in curricula focusing on Latin American studies, musicology, and literary analysis. His influence extends into the educational realm, where his work serves as a rich resource for understanding Brazilian culture, politics, and artistic expression.

Multiple Artistic Mediums
Beyond his songwriting, Chico Buarque is also a celebrated author. His novels, such as "Budapeste" and "Leite Derramado," have been critically acclaimed and translated into several languages. He has made significant contributions to theater, not just as a playwright but also by incorporating his musical talents as in "Roda-Viva" where he creatively manipulates the tempo in "Roda Viva," accelerating it to symbolize the relentless passage of time and societal upheaval, enhancing the song's thematic depth. His plays often tackle complex social and political themes, much like his music."Chico in the old days

essential info
Main image from wikipedia

Sofia Ribeiro Willcox
Cultural Exchanger and Explorer

Sofia has a BA with Hons in Creative and Professional Writing and Film and Television Studies from the University of Wolverhampton (2020-2023). Born in Brazil, Sofia is an enthusiast of pop culture (cinephile and melophile), social sciences (snowflake generation), and poetry (lusophone).

about Sofia Ribeiro Willcox »»



All About and Contributors


Outsideleft exists on a precarious no budget budget. We are interested in hearing from deep and deeper pocket types willing to underwrite our cultural vulture activity. We're not so interested in plastering your product all over our stories, but something more subtle and dignified for all parties concerned. Contact us and let's talk. [HELP OUTSIDELEFT]


If Outsideleft had arms they would always be wide open and welcoming to new writers and new ideas. If you've got something to say, something a small dank corner of the world needs to know about, a poem to publish, a book review, a short story, if you love music or the arts or anything else, write something about it and send it along. Of course we don't have anything as conformist as a budget here. But we'd love to see what you can do. Write for Outsideleft, do. [SUBMISSIONS FORM HERE]


Ooh Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha May 29th

outsideleft content is not for everyone