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Rio de Janeiro’s shrine to Brazil’s fabled Bossa Nova

Rio de Janeiro’s shrine to Brazil’s fabled Bossa Nova
Mark Holston By

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Known as Beco das Garrafas, or “Bottles Alley,” the site earned its name because residents of the surrounding apartment buildings would hurl bottles into the alley in protest when the music became too loud or continued into the wee hours of the morning.
While CD stores have virtually disappeared in most countries, Brazil remains a notable exception. In most large cities, specialty shops featuring contemporary and historic recordings by the country's legendary music-makers are still prospering. Visitors from abroad will delight in finding so much entrancing Brazilian sound at their fingertips.

Enter the multi-level Bossa Nova & Companhia store in Rio de Janeiro and one is transported to a magical time and place. Enveloped by sultry bossa nova grooves and surrounded by furnishings and artifacts of the early 1960s, patrons of this one-of-a-kind store are made to feel like they are guests in some rich, swinging bachelor's opulent pad. Period furniture and vintage stereo systems accent the mood. "The store is like a sanctuary for lovers of Brazilian music," says its manager, Leila Martins.

The store is a veritable living shrine to Bossa Nova and its history. Located in the heart of Rio's storied Copacabana neighborhood, just two blocks from the iconic Copacabana Hotel, Bossa Nova & Companhia is situated at the entrance of a small alley. Over 50 years ago it hosted a number of clubs and was the epicenter of Rio's burgeoning Bossa Nova and jazz scenes. Known as Beco das Garrafas, or "Bottles Alley," the site earned its name because residents of the surrounding apartment buildings would hurl bottles into the alley in protest when the music became too loud or continued into the wee hours of the morning. Brazilian jazz aficionados consider it to be the equivalent of New York City's 52nd Street during the 1950s. Among the musicians who frequented performed there were Sergio Mendes, Antonio Carlos Jobim, trombonist Raul DeSouza, saxophonist Paulo Moura, drummer Dom Um Romão, and dozens of other notable jazz and bossa instrumentalists.

Music made in Rio is a particular focus of the store. "We are dedicated to the music traditions associated with Rio," Martins explains. "That means Bossa Nova, Choro and Samba." The store has been open for just over seven years, but Martins has logged two decades of experience in the Brazilian music business. Her father, Carlos Alberto Afonso, is a noted music historian who runs a companion store, Toca de Vinicius, located in the nearby district of Ipanema and named in honor of the Brazilian composer, poet and lyricist Vinicius De Moraess. It is known as "The Bossa Nova Reference Center."

Both outlets offer much more than just CDs and vintage, collectable LPs. In addition to Carnaval percussion instruments, books dealing with all aspects of music, from biographies to texts dealing with music theory and methods, account for most of the inventory. Musicians who want to obtain the best lead sheets and Brazilian fake books will find an amazing range of publications here. The noted author, columnist and music critic Ruy Castro, author of the book Bossa Nova—The Story of the Brazilian Music That Seduced the World (A Cappella Books), contends that Bossa Nova & Companhia likely contains the largest offering of books on Brazilian popular music to be found anywhere in the country.

Claudio Oliveira, a music producer and co-founder of Guanabara Records, a boutique label that specializes in bossa nova and Brazilian jazz, considers both stores to akin to a national treasure. "Toca do Vinícius is a venerable institution, run with passion by Carlos," he claims. "Only passion can explain the fact that it is still open for business today at a time when nobody else but a small bunch of people like still care about good popular music and buy CDs and LPs."

He is equally fond of Bossa & Company, as it is informally known. "It is at a great historical location for Carioca (natives of Rio de Janeiro) music and is a wonderful place to buy not only CDs but anything related to good Brazilian music. Bossa & Company has all the ingredients to become another Toca in the near future— to capture that kind of mystic. I love them both and hope they last forever."

Bossa Nova & Companhia is located at Rua Duvivier, 37, in the Rio de Janeiro district of Copacabana, while Toca de Vinicius is located at Rua Vinicius de Moraes, 129 C, in the famous neighborhood of Ipanema.

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