That Brazilian Beat

It seems I can never quite get away from Latin music (not that I’d want to anyway). While recently reading Ken Emerson’s book Always Magic in the Air, brushing up on New York pop music from the 50s and 60s (songwriters like Bacharach and David, Lieber and Stoller, Goffin and King, and Mann and Weil) it was pointed out that the rhythm to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”, The Drifters “Under The Boardwalk” and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” all stemmed from the Brazilian baião beat (written in Emerson’s book as the Anglicised baion). Listening to these tracks now, this is blatantly obvious, but I guess I never put the pieces together. Just listen to that opening gambit from “Be My Baby” or the rhythm of “Stand By Me”, whose scraper is clearly influenced by Latin music too:

Emerson puts the influence of Latin music on primarily Jewish songwriters and producers like Leiber & Stoller and Phil Spector as being down to their proximity to Latin communities, such as the Puerto Ricans, in New York, as well as the popularity of baião beat, which had arrived from Brazil. Little is said about exactly how this beat arrived in the US though some quick Google searches reveal that the performance of “El Negro Zumbón” in the 1952/53 Italian movie Anna may have been one of the first instances of it being heard in the States. Here’s that track below:

I think I may have to do some more digging on how this beat, which originated in the north-east of Brazil, was defined and popularised by the rural singer/songwriter Luiz Gonzaga, reaching national fame there in the 40s and 50s, and then found its way north to become a hugely important rhythm in global pop music. Definitely an interesting avenue to explore.

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