Amid Unrest in Rio, the Story Behind the Summer Olympics' Uplifting Theme Song

Brazil: Luiz Souza/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock. Soares: Som Livre
Luiz Souza/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

A beach in Rio de Janeiro in December 2015.

When the Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janiero on August 5, they’ll be taking place in a in the midst of an economic recession, a presidential impeachment, rampant inner-city violence, a Zika virus epidemic and reports of serious infrastructure problems with the sites of the games themselves. Yet the country is putting on a brave face, one that is reflected in the games’ theme song, "Alma e Coração (Soul and Heart)," an uptempo, uplifting track performed by samba star Thiaguinho with rapper Projota and produced by electronic duo Tropkillaz.

The games’ theme and soundtrack come from Som Livre (“free sound”), Brazil’s third largest label (behind Sony and Universal), owned by media conglomerate Globo and home to superstars like Jorge & Mateus. Billboard spoke with CEO Marcelo Soares, who is optimistic despite the country’s problems.

"The city -- and the country, for that matter -- are not at one of the highest points in their history," he says. "But on the upside, Rio has never been so beautiful, with the recent urban improvements on the harbor side, and I honestly believe the games will be fine and hopefully we'll have a break from the violence in the city."

How was your label selected for the Olympics?

It was pretty simple: Last year the Olympic committee put together an RFP [recommendation for proposal] to choose a music label for the games, and we were chosen. We compose and produce official tracks and a score, and we’ve already released four different compilation albums based on the Olympics in four distinct Brazilian genres, including samba/bossa nova and MPB [Música popular brasileira, basically Brazilian pop].

Was “Alma e Coração” written specifically as the theme?

No -- we analyzed more than 40 different compositions and selected the five that seemed most promising and made the final selection together with the Olympic Committee, although changed the lyrics a little so it had more of an Olympic feel. I’m really happy with the final results. “Alma e Coração” is a mix of different genres: samba, Brazilian funk, rap and some regional genres. And then there is the score of the games, which will play around the world in every medal ceremony. That will bring us huge results in terms of public performance. 

Why didn’t you bring a big international star into the theme?

We talked to our colleagues and competitors at the multinational labels, but they weren’t very excited about sharing one of their international acts with us. But at the same time, it’s even better because we have 100 percent Brazilian artists and a good opportunity to show some of our talent to the world.

Brazil is in the middle of a terrible economic crisis. How is this affecting your business?

The crisis is big but the music business for some reason has been kind of safe from that. It’s affected physical sales -- in the first four months of 2016 the market dropped almost 40 percent for CD/DVDs, but the digital revenues and other lines of business grew so much that the market is still on the rise. We do expect huge streaming and huge digital sales from this track. To give you an idea, our biggest songs have 7-10 million views per week on YouTube, and I’m expecting this to be the biggest streaming song that we’ve ever had. 

A version of this article was originally published in the July 23 issue of Billboard.


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