In the late 1950s, Brazil experienced changes that drew the world's attention. These included the creation of a capital, Brasília, the rise of Cinema Novo (strongly influenced by European movies), and the first Brazilian victory in World Cup football. In music, Bossa Nova came to represent this moment of singular creativity in the nation. Bossa Nova is Portuguese for "new style." It comes with a handful of quirky stories, including ones about its birthplace.
Around the same time Brasilia became Brazil's official capital city, a small alley in Copacabana filled with cars and people nightly as people flocked to nightclubs where musicians performed in the new style of 'Bossa Nova.' Infuriated by the noise of this music at night, residents of neighboring buildings retaliated by throwing bottles from their apartments. This less than subtle way of signaling discontent gained the attention of journalists, and one – Sérgio Porto – referred to the place as 'Beco das Garrafas' (the alley of bottles) - a nickname which stuck, becoming synonymous with the area and Bossa Nova.
Nightclubs like Ma Griffe, Bacarat, Little Club, and Bottle's, were located in the Beco das Garrafas and are considered the birthplaces of Bossa Nova. At the time, businessmen Giovanni and Alberico Campana, who owned Bottle's and Little Club, gave space to young talent, mostly amateur musicians or musicians just turning professional, in return for them bringing patrons to the clubs. Each club had a capacity of about 60 people.
Entry was free to audience members, but they had to purchase drinks. Musicians were not paid, but their drinks and meals were free, and, more importantly, they could play whatever they wanted instead of following a pre-decided setlist, so they had creative freedom not afforded to them elsewhere.
Milestones in Beco das Garrafas' history were the 'pocket shows' performed by Miéle and Ronaldo Bôscoli at the Little Club. Other famous events in Beco das Garrafas were the Sunday matinees, led by Sérgio Mendes.
Tom Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes, Nara Leão, Elis Regina, and many other iconic names in Brazilian music were regulars. When Ella Fitzgerald visited Rio in 1960, she went to the alley to hear Dolores Duran singing at Bacarat.
The venues at Beco das Garrafas provided an accessible environment for jam sessions. Jazz improvisation joined the dissonant sounds of 'samba-canção' (a subgenre of Brazilian samba), creating international interest in Bossa Nova.
From that tiny alley in Copacabana, Bossa Nova music became known worldwide.
Fast forward a few years to 1962, and Carnegie Hall hosted the first official Bossa Nova show in the U.S. Backstage, an anguished young musician called João Gilberto complains that the crease in his pants was not parallel to the seam, which would, apparently, impede his performance. "I can't sing like this," João cried. Luckily, the Consul of Brazil, who was attending the event, managed to find an iron and ironed his pants for him herself.
The performance at Carnegie Hall officially introduced "the new sound from Brazil" to a U.S. audience and went down as the international starting point of the genre.
Bottle's Bar and Little Club keep the tradition alive. Despite difficulties, including a thirty-year hiatus, they maintain the Bohemian fame of Beco das Garrafas. There has been a renewed interest in the venues since 2014, partly due to Amanda Bravo. A singer, actress, and producer, Amanda is the daughter of guitarist and composer Durval Ferriera – one of the most emblematic Bossa Nova musicians. In partnership with Maurício Einhorn, Ferreira composed "Sambop", in 1958. The song and its bold approach brought Bossa Nova closer to jazz and is considered a watershed for the genre.
I interviewed Amanda on a short break from her activities. She talked about the process of resuming activities after the extended closure due to the pandemic and the importance of keeping the birthplaces of Bossa Nova open.
G.F.= Geisa Fernandes
A.B= Amanda Bravo
G.F: Brazilian singer and composer Caetano Veloso once said: "Everyone knows the pain and delight of being oneself." What is the pain and delight of being an authentic daughter of the Bossa Nova?
A.B: "Well, it was more of a delight, actually. I grew up in the middle of this movement, and Bossa Nova songs were my lullabies. My father was a producer, so our house was always packed with artists. Bossa Nova runs in my blood. As for the painful side, I would say it has to do with the feeling that I have a massive responsibility to guarantee the movement's existence and its maintenance, and I say it as a singer and producer. It is hard, but it is not really a pain, you know? It is more a responsibility that I feel I have to honor, but I've embraced it as my life mission. Truthfully, I still have not reconciled my routines as a singer, businessperson, producer, mom, homemaker, and daughter because of the pandemic. I have not started singing again, for instance.
G.F: How did the pandemic affect the Beco das Garrafas?
AB: Little Club and Bottle's were closed for a year accumulating debts. For now, we have only reopened Bottle's. We used to have at least two concerts every night, but now we have only one show per night, opening four nights per week, with limited audience capacity. The conditions are not yet safe enough for big projects involving many musicians, so, for now, no more than three musicians are on stage at once.
G.F.: I assume this impacted the artists and the entire staff?
AB: This is true. We cannot hire many employees because we do not have the money to pay them. The concert nights pay well, but our profit goes to pay the late electricity bill, the rent arrears and so on because we accumulated so many debts. Anyways, we are keeping the business open in the hope of a comeback. It is open for now; that is all I can say. It is very hard to make any future projections. I think everyone feels the same, right? I would say we are living in suspension.
G.F.: Talking about comebacks, tell us more about the return of Bottle's Bar after the closure caused by the pandemic.
AB: We are opening from Thursday to Sunday, with one concert per night. There was a drop in the audience. Currently, I do not have a nanny and am a solo mom, which means I cannot always work at night and dedicate myself to the club as I used to before I had a child, but I believe it will all come back in the right time. We are not yet utterly safe even if we are fully vaccinated, and I do not want to expose the artists and myself to infection. So now, I concentrate on taking care of my daughter, the house, and my mother. I am learning to be a mother myself, but I enjoy it. I am very grateful to be able to dedicate myself to these tasks.
G.F.: Thank you very much, Amanda!
AB: My pleasure!