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World Cup: Why Can’t Brazil Get Its Groove On?

Instead of the sound of contemporary Brazil, it's the same old Samba for World Cup songs.

“The Girl From Ipanema” turns 50 this year, and Verve/Universal is celebrating with a reissue of “Getz/Gilberto,” the Grammy-winning Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto album that includes the English-language version sung by Astrud Gilberto that reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. But as the World Cup puts the spotlight on Brazil, some are asking why the global perception of Brazilian music hasn’t changed much in those five decades.

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The singles from the official World Cup album aren’t swelling national pride in Brazil, though. One Brazilian music executive tells Billboard they’re being received with “subdued indignation,” pointing to samba-tinged dance-pop songs by Pitbull and Ricky Martin that lack a true “Brazilian feel.”

“The music of the World Cup is not very Brazilian,” concurs Marcelo Castello Branco, the former chairman of South and Central America for EMI Music, now head of his own music content and branding company.

Like Astrud Gilberto’s English version of “The Girl From Ipanema,” the main World Cup songs were made for audiences outside of Brazil. Accented by Carnival rhythms, whistles and birdcalls, they feature lyrics in English mixed with Portuguese, with Pitbull adding a bit of Spanish. Another track on the album has New York-based Bebel Gilberto – the daughter of Joao Gilberto – singing a cover of “Tico Tico,” a flirty song made famous by Carmen Miranda in 1945.

“Brazil may be very difficult and tricky to translate, and it’s often tempting to simplify and go with what you already know,” says Castello Branco, suggesting that Brazilian music may have not gotten far beyond “Ipanema” in the eyes of the world. “It’s frustrating, but it’s not anyone’s fault besides Brazilians themselves,” he adds. “We must learn to speak more clearly about who we are and how we want to be seen. Otherwise the past speaks louder.”

Brazil is the eighth-largest music market in the world and, according to a recent IFPI report; 90 percent of the music in its top 10 is Brazilian. Generally, Brazilian acts haven’t been too concerned about their reach outside the country.

“Most people don’t understand that Brazil is such a large country that the very popular artists can perform 240 concerts a year there,” says Sony Music Brazil president Alex Schiavo. “The size of Brazil makes it complicated to maintain success in Brazil. On the other hand, it is hard to become successful abroad if you are not successful in your own country.”

Some Brazilian artists have turned against the World Cup, writing protest songs against the tournament’s presence in Brazil. But more have begun releasing their own alternatives to the official soundtrack. They include pop duo Victor & Leo, reggae band Skank and superstar Ivete Sangalo, who debuted a World Cup-ready anthem, “Tiempo de Alegria,” during this year’s Carnival.

“The ball is on the ground, and anything may happen,” says Castello Branco. “But I do not think we have, so far, any Brazilian repertoire that has a true chance to be a hit – not locally, not internationally. The feeling is that we all lost a huge opportunity to show the world a new Brazil, musically speaking as well.”