GOIANIA, Brazil – The “sertanejo,” a musical genre with peasant and rural roots that is present throughout Brazil and which, although it has at least 91 years of recording history, is just now beginning to move beyond the country’s borders, contributes millions of dollars to the economy each year and is gaining more and more clout in the land of the samba and bossa nova.
A television series launched last April on Netflix titled “Amor sertanejo” (Sertanejo love) has highlighted the impact of the influential musical phenomenon on Brazil’s economy and culture via the voices of its performers.
The sertanejo, which is kind of like a Brazilian version of US country music, dates from the Portuguese colonization of the vast South American territory in the 16th century, mainly in the interior of the southeastern states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais and in the central state of Goias, and its name derives from the “Sertao,” Brazil’s wild rural northeastern area.
The first sertanejo song was recorded in 1929 by Cornelio Pires.
“The sertanejo style includes various rhythms, some of them genuinely Brazilian and others mixed in, like ‘guarania,’ which comes from Paraguay, the polka, the string ‘pagode,’ the cururu, the caterete and there are thousands of rhythm variations. It’s an infinite series of music,” composer and guitar virtuoso Almir Pessoa told EFE.
With the guitar as its main instrument and mostly consisting of duets performed by duos, the sertanejo has continued to evolve and currently, despite the fact that its “caipira” (country) style or roots have been maintained, the form known as the “university style” dominates in the recording industry and is worth millions to the Brazilian economy each year.
In Brazil, recording industry sales of the sertanejo are being led by balladeer Robert Carlos, with 140 million albums sold to date, but also on the list of the country’s top 10 recording artists are two sertanejo performers, both of whom use the “caipira” style.
Tonico and Tinoco, with 70 million albums sold, are in the No. 6 sales spot, and Chitaozinho and Xororo, with 37 million albums sold, are in the No. 10 spot on the list, surpassing popular artists like Maria Bethania (26 million albums sold), the Sepultura rock metal band (20 million), Ivete Sangalo (15 million) and Carmen Miranda (10 million), among others.
In terms of albums, following “Xou da Xuxa 3,” within the children’s genre with 3.7 million sold, and “Musicas para lovar o Senhor,” by Catholic priest Marcelo Rossi (3.3 millions), the album with the highest sales total in Brazil’s history is “Leandro e Leonardo,” by the same-named sertanejo duo, with 3.1 million sales.
In recent years, in terms of Internet downloads from paid music platforms and apps, sertanejo artists have achieved absolute hegemony with seven names among the top 10.
Sertanejo music performers never really needed the international public for their success, given that the Brazilian market, with 210 million potential listeners, provided room enough in which to make their mark, both economically and in terms of developing a huge fan base.
Most of the performers don’t really pursue international fans because their agendas for staging local concerts and commercial commitments already take up as much as six days a week.
The success abroad enjoyed by Gusttavo Lima and, mainly, Michel Telo, with his unbeatable “Ai seu te pego,” which rocketed to No. 1 in Spain, Argentina, Peru and Colombia, are exceptions among the sertanejo performers, who are also backed on the social networks by international icons such as soccer great Neymar.
However, some non-Brazilian performers have incorporated into their own work Portuguese versions of various songs, including Spain’s Julio Iglesias, along with Mexico’s Ana Gabriel, Mana, Marco Antonio Solis “El Buki” and Juan Gabriel, Colombia’s Juanes and Venezuela’s Franco de Vita.
Others have tried their luck by singing in Spanish, like Zeze di Camargo and Luciano, Leandro and Leonardo and recently Victor and Leo, all of them duos made up of siblings, and some of them have invited various other singers to work with them.
“The Brazilian artists connected with the international ones, recording songs in collaborative efforts, and really that contributed a lot and brought our sertanejo music to different publics in other parts of the world,” said singer Pessoa, for whom the new “university” style coexists without difficulty alongside the traditional “caipira.”
The peasant style of troubadours with guitar and accordion ended up by merging with the US country music culture and it was in that way that cowboy hats, boots, wide belts, plaid shirts, choreography and annual rodeo parties have all become part and parcel of the sertanejo world.
“Sertanejo music was mixing with other popular genres in nearby countries, like Paraguay and Argentina, and so it was reaching more and more people,” who now with the dearth of concerts brought about by the coronavirus pandemic are flocking to the genre online, according to what researcher Adrielly Campos told EFE.
Campos, who holds a degree in communications from the Federal University of Goias, did her thesis work on sertanejo culture, which coincided with the rise of female artists in a musical genre dominated for many decades by men.
The recent appearance of Marilia Mendonca, Maiara and Maraisa, Simone and Simaria and other artists whose sales have skyrocketed, have also strengthened and prolonged the initial success of artists such as Inezita Barroso, the Galvao sisters and Roberta Miranda, all of whom are still performing and recording.
“Women have been part of this genre since the beginning of sertanejo music and keep conquering a space and overcoming barriers in a machista world,” Campos said.
The role of women in this particular culture was one of the specific elements dealt with in the “Amor sertanejo” TV series.