Do you know who’s who in the Portuguese-speaking world?
Which singers are setting native speakers on fire?
Which singers are thought of fondly by people of all ages?
Which melodic hits will you hear on an infinite replay loop in shops, cafes, bars and nightclubs?
Welcome to the perfect starter guide to famous Portuguese-language singers from Europe, South America and beyond.
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How Can Famous Portuguese-language Singers Help You Learn Their Language?
Perhaps you’re not so pop culture savvy—you spurn Taylor Swift’s Instagram and couldn’t care less about the Kardashians.
I totally feel where you’re coming from.
Even so, sometimes it’s valuable to connect with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. When learning a new language, it’s always worth your time to check out who’s who in the countries where the language is spoken. Still unconvinced that there’s anything to be gained from this? Check out these fabulous benefits to (virtually) meeting famous Portuguese-speaking singers:
- They’ve got some beautiful tunes. They’re good at what they do. Plain and simple. Many famous singers have achieved their status with talent and pure artistry, and have produced beautiful collections of music. They’ve rightfully earned their public and critical acclaim. When you start to listen to Portuguese-language music by famous singers, you’ll begin to encounter the cream of the musical crop.
- Portuguese is a musical language. No matter what you’re listening to, you’ll soon discover that Portuguese is a language made to be sung. It’s positively beautiful when blended with lush music. Singing along will teach you more authentic Portuguese, so you don’t sound like you only know words from your textbooks.
- They’ll let you expose yourself to styles of music in the Portuguese-speaking world. Do you know about samba? Bossa nova? Fado? Pimba? Carioca? Frevo? Many singers have ridden to fame by wholeheartedly embracing one key musical style, so you can dig deep into their albums to explore the rhythms and beats of that particular style. Others dip in and out of the styles, painting their songs with multiple brushes. Still others go more for pop, hip-hop, rock or rap, but weave the sounds, beats and instruments of traditional Portuguese music into their tunes—either out of love, or to make an artistic statement.
- You’ll relate more to native Portuguese speakers. Don’t underestimate the power of knowing popular culture. In any given country, you’ll find that some celebrities are held up as national treasures. They and their songs have become a part of national and cultural identity. Knowing a little bit about these folks can help you understand TV shows, news, comedy skits and everyday conversations. It can also give you great ice breakers, as you can mention a singer who helped you learn Portuguese and see if new friends also love their work.
- You can get in the zone! Getting familiar with a particular singer’s style, accent and language usage makes learning with songs even easier. Once you find an artist whose music you adore, you can stick with them and explore more of their music in depth.
10 Fab, Famous Portuguese-language Singers from Portugal and Brazil
1. Ana Moura
This young, energetic fado singer—or fadista—from Portugal has successfully blown any dust off the old-school sounds of fado, and brightened it up for the modern era.
Fado originated in Portugal in the 1800s, defined by its ballad style and the presence of a jaunty classical guitar, and continues to be a source of cultural pride. It’s meant to capture that oh-so-Portuguese notion of saudade—a feeling of nostalgia, loss or yearning—with its lyrics and instrumentals.
“Dia de Folga” — The VEVO-hosted video accompanying this fun song is a perfect example of how she takes those twangy, dramatic fado ballads, which are so classically Portuguese, and livens them up with a sly expression, fashionably sequined leggings and comical visuals.
“Desfado” — For a taste of how traditional fado sounds and feels, watch the live rendition of this song, audience clapping along and all. The guitar will carry you away!
2. Sara Tavares
How many ways can you say “lovely” in Portuguese? I’d use all of that vocabulary to describe Sara Tavares.
Try out her light, peaceful, jazzy and beach-ready music, and you’ll be learning common, useful language for describing nature, music and good feelings. Her lyrics are nearly always simplistic, using an economy of words, and sweetly sung, making them easy to understand even for beginners.
While checking out her albums, keep an ear out for varieties of Portuguese Creole and English, as some of her songs mix these languages right in. (Don’t worry, the Internet is pretty good at pointing out which songs have Creole and which don’t, just Google a little info on the songs if you’re unsure.) She’s a Lisbon native of Cape Verdean descent, and she loves to play with both Portuguese and African sounds.
“Balancê” — Do you ever want to just… float away? Lay down and sink into this simple, dreamy song about smiling, dancing and freedom, which makes a subtle reference to a trip the singer once made to Zimbabwe.
“Ponto de Luz” — This slow song is pure mellow and has soulful lyrics that are easy to learn. The stop-motion video created to go along with it is quite a fascinating watch, too.
Now we’re stepping back over to fado.
Enter: The Portuguese queen of drama. Spend a while on her official YouTube channel and revel in her glamour.
Mariza follows closely in the hallowed footsteps of beloved singer Amália Rodrigues, the uncontested Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado). Mariza kicked off her career by singing a tribute to Amália. (If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to Amália’s songs, too—she’s pretty darn famous in Portugal and worldwide!)
“Melhor de Mim” — This is a pretty no-frills ballad with simple instrumentals and a whole lot of voice. The lyrics are easy to learn and sing along with, and will give you a great feel for some useful vocabulary and present tense verb conjugations.
“Oiça lá o Senhor Vinho” — Here you’ve got a more traditional fado song, complete with upbeat music and lyrics oozing with poetry. It’s a fun tune, sung directly to “Mister Wine,” asking questions about his behavior and influence on people. You can pick up some rather advanced Portuguese rather fast by memorizing this song—don’t wait until you’re ready, go ahead and try to sing along now!
If you’re like me, and don’t really have a taste for drippy ballads, you’ll love this guy. He makes ballads palatable with Bowie-style musical ambiance, artsy-fartsy videos, quirky lyrics and peerless fashion sense. And, for those of you who do happen to love ballads, you’ll enjoy his flair for the dramatic.
“Chama-me Que Eu Vou” — Here’s a song you’ll want to put on your driving or strolling-down-a-city-street playlist. A simple yet artistic pop song (with a cool video) about infatuation and devotion.
“Hoje Eu Não Sou” — An upbeat, pop-rock song with clearly-sung lyrics for your learning pleasure. This song is about states of being (and not being) making it a nice tune to practice your ser and estar usage.
5. Sam the Kid
This Portuguese rapper’s music is a good entryway for getting into the Portuguese-language rap and hip-hop scene. As with any rap music, the huge quantity of words slammed into any song and the frequent appearance of slang makes the music challenging for students of the language to learn or understand—and you’re bound to encounter some R-rated language and themes.
His album titles are plays on words, and puzzling them out is good experience for any learner. For example, the album title “Sobre(tudo)” breaks the Portuguese word for raincoat or overcoat, sobretudo, into two words, turning it into “About(everything).”
“Retrospectiva de Um Amor Profundo” — This song is the perfect storm of great rhythm, unique sound and complex lyrics. There are multiple layers to this song, so it’s worth numerous listens.
6. Seu Jorge
Want to trick your brain into thinking you’re on a sun-soaked beach near Rio de Janeiro? Make Seu Jorge’s music the soundtrack to your entire life. It’s perfect for stress relief, daydreaming, relaxed dinner music, romantic encounters of all kinds—and learning Portuguese in the most relaxed way possible.
Seu Jorge first gained recognition for his music in the favelas outside Rio de Janeiro. Now he’s known around the world for his unique brand of pop-samba. He made an outstanding appearance as an important character in the hit Brazilian movie “Cidade de Deus” (City of God).
“Burguesinha” — Easily one of Seu Jorge’s most beloved and recognized songs. Follow the blissfully naive and pleasant daily life of a burguesinha (bourgeois girl). Loads of fun, inescapably catchy and perfect for learning everyday routine vocabulary in Portuguese.
“Changes” — Yes, my friend, this is a Portuguese-language Bowie cover. If this goes directly to your soul, you’ll want to listen to everything from Seu Jorge’s “The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions” (which is my personal favorite album of all time, in any language). Bowie himself is quoted as saying, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
This Brazilian guitarist and singer-songwriter is the father of bossa nova. That’s right, bossa nova would not exist without João Gilberto’s musical stylings—so pay your respects right now.
“Bim-Bom” — If you love the sound of bossa nova, start here. This 1959 legend is the first ever song sung in this style, and it’s a treasured piece of musical history.
8. Gilberto Gil
What’s with all these Gilbertos in the Brazilian music scene? That’s a question I can’t quite answer, though perhaps there’s some correlation between the name “Gilberto” and immense artistic talent.
Gilberto Gil is another guitarist and singer-songwriter from Brazil, though he’s not about bossa nova exclusively—rather, he’s about blending the sounds of bossa nova, reggae, samba, rock, funk and more, while at the same time sharing political and social messages that are dear to his heart. He’s got a strong background in social activism, and even spent a period of four years as Brazil’s Minister of Culture.
“Toda Menina Baiana” — Find out what’s going on with those girls from Bahia, Brazil with this quick little song. God seems to have given them a little something special.
“Aquele Abraço” — This song is packed with Brazilian place names and pop culture references (from the ’70s).
9. Maria Rita
The daughter of famous Brazilian jazz-pop singer Elisa Regina, Maria Rita is well-known in Brazil for her smooth tunes and beautiful, jazzy ballads. Her official Facebook account is very active, always posting wordy updates in Portuguese (great for reading practice!) and new recordings of recently released songs and live sessions.
“A Festa” — This award-winning song from 2003 is a great introduction to Rita’s sounds, and I guarantee it will make you want to dance.
10. Michel Teló
If I believed in “guilty pleasures,” that’s what I might call this blend of warmth, mushy love, sentimentality and upbeat pop tunes—but I embrace all musical pleasures without an ounce of shame. I encourage you to do the same, and leave some Michel Teló tunes on while you drive around in the sunshine. Every single song is a joyous, unadulterated celebration of healthy relationships, love, happiness and cherished moments.
Not only are the lyrics super catchy, but they’re also extremely wordy. This might sound intimidating, but it’s ideal for learning. Michel sings in full sentences, full anecdotes and stories, meaning that you won’t just be memorizing fragments of ideas and cute phrases. You’ll fully learn how to form neat, grammatically-accurate, vocabulary-rich Portuguese sentences by singing along.
That’s right, I’m giving you my special “secret learning sauce,” because I’ve learned a massive amount of Portuguese from this cheery artist.
“Ai Se Eu Te Pego” — There’s a solid chance you’ve already heard this song while out dancing. This was a worldwide sensation, and now it can be one of your favorite songs for learning Portuguese.
“Fugidinha” — Teló steps out for the evening, someone special catches his eye and sparks fly at the club.
Alright, I think I’m leaving you pretty well-stocked on Portuguese-language music.
You’ve had a great introduction to the most recognizable names in Brazil, Portugal and worldwide, so it’s time to start listening and learning.
Now I’ll leave your language learning in the hands of the stars!
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