The word 'bossa' comes from '50s Rio slang for a special little way of doing something. It was quickly coupled with 'nova' (new) and together the two words thrust a new and innovative Brazilian genre onto the world music scene. The sound of bossa nova emerged out of Rio's wealthy Zona Sul where, tired of the perennial samba format and searching for something new, a group of musicians including João Gilberto began to experiment with the structure. Their influences from the US led to the fusion of North American jazz with their more innate South American rhythms, and a movement ws born.
Gilberto added a subtle touch to his 'special little way' of playing the guitar and singing, a touch that was distinctly Brazilian and reflected the easy living way by the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Widely recognised as the definitive artist of the 'new way', his peers, the famous Tom Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes (pictured below), are hailed as its two most important composers. Fifty years later, the best places to enjoy the music and learn about its history are still found in the Zona Sul, and have maintained the atmosphere of laid-back decadence inherent to the music.
Vinicius Show Bar
Dedicated exclusively to bossa nova and found on the Ipanema road also named after the aforementioned great (and opposite the restaurant that took the name of his most famous work, Garota de Ipanema), the upstairs at Vinicius hosts daily live performances. Inaugurated in 1989 with a special performance by Carlos Lyra, it has since seen the likes of Roberto Menescal, Billy Blanco, Baden Powel and Dorival Caimmi grace the stage. Rua Vinícius de Moraes 39, Ipanema (21 2287 1497).
Toca do Vinícius
The cultural epicentre of bossa nova in Ipanema, Toca do Vinicius has a rich archive of books, music and souvenirs dedicated to the genre, explaining its origins and celebrating its greatest exponents, many of which have cast their hands into the concrete of its very own 'walk of fame'. Also hosts occasional live performances on Sundays. Rua Vinícius de Moraes 129, Ipanema (21 2247 5227/blogdatocadovinicius.blogspot.com.br). Open Mon-Fri 11am-7pm; Sat-Sun 11am-6pm.
Bar do Tom
Named after the other man behind The Girl From Ipanema, Antonio Carlos Jobim used to frequent the stage set up next to the bar in the '60s that is now part of the huge Plataforma venue. Live bossa and MPB on Fridays and Saturdays (10pm). Rua Adalberto Ferreira 32, Leblon (21 2274 4022/plataforma.com/novo/bar.asp).
The Marina Hotel's second floor bar and restaurant has beautiful views over Leblon beach and the Dois Irmãos mountain, making the perfect backdrop to the live bossa nova, samba and jazz shows on Thursdays and Saturdays. Booking is essential. Avenida Delfim Moreira 630, second floor, Leblon (21 2172 1089/hotelmarina.com.br/blog/tag/vizta).
Bossa Nova & Companhia
Where bossa once thrived in Copacabana now stands a comprehensive music and book store dedicated to its memory. Known in the '50s as Beco das Garrafas (Bottle Alley) thanks to the locals venting their anger at the crowds hanging around nightclubs below their apartments, today the road is home to less-intrusive cafés and restaurants. The shop itself is a grand affair, with some 2,500 music-related books, a vast collection of CDs and vinyl records, Brazilian instruments and a world of bossa-related souvenirs. Rua Duvivier 37a, Copacabana (21 2295 8096/bossanovaecompanhia.com.br). Open Mon-Fri 9am-7pm; Sat 9am-5pm.
This beautiful, brightly-coloured old house in Humaitá hosts regular Saturday sessions where guest musicians take a leisurely trip through the genre's classics (noon-5pm). Rua General Dionisio 11, Humaitá (21 2527 2697/drinkcafe.com.br).
Espaço Tom Jobim
The cultural and live music space in the Jardim Botânico has an excellent collection of manuscripts, music scores, notes, videos and photos of the great Tom Jobim. (Rua Jardim Botânico 1008, Jardim Botânico (21 2274 7012).