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Samba, bossa nova, tropicália, oh my! A city full to the brim of rhythm and song, here’s a trusty guide on where to go to discover the best of Rio’s musical identity

Find the samba

Find the samba

The undisputed home of samba, Rio visitors have plenty of options to immerse themselves in the musical culture. Rio’s Carnival, typically held in February just before the Easter holiday, is the best time to experience the most exuberant samba, when huge groups of dancers and musicians parade down the Sambadrome in traditionally lavish Carnival costumes – think bright colours, feathers and lots of bling. Five days of dancing, music and unadulterated celebration, it’s the electrifying time of year that has come to define Rio de Janeiro.

Alongside the Carnival, informal street parties called blocos take place around nearly every corner. Often themed, you may find yourself wandering into a group dancing to The Beatles or costumed locals dressed as Afro-Brazilian gods. Whichever street party you stumble on, make sure you’ve got comfortable dancing shoes. The Carnival is an all-hours celebration.

Not ready for such an extravagant introduction to samba? Don’t fret – you can also watch the samba schools rehearse during the months leading up to the Carnival with full-dress rehearsals too. Consider it a preview of the main event with less of the fuss.

Or make your way to Lapa, the once seedy district near the edge of downtown now booming with samba nightlife options. Famous for its street parties – especially Friday and Saturday nights – Lapa is also one of the best places for live samba music. Sit back and sip a caipirinha before hitting the dance floor at Carioca da Gema or Rio Scenarium. Also try Bip Bip in Copacabana, a small bar that fills with samba musicians in the evenings for an always-lively jam.

Learn to dance como um brasileiro

Once you’ve felt the beat of samba music, the next obvious step is to learn to dance it. There’s no shortage of great places to learn, but Carlinhos de Jesus’ Casa de Danca in Botafogo, Tex Studio de Dança in Leblon and Danca CCC in Centro are top dance schools. All offer drop-in classes for lessons in samba dancing, or broaden your horizons and sign up to learn forró, a rhythmic partner dance borne in north-eastern Brazil and gaining popularity across the country.

Expand your Brazilian music palette

Expand your Brazilian music palette

These days, bossa nova, samba, tropicália (Brazilian psych-rock) and pop music are all bundled into a style known as MPB (música popular brasileira). As its name suggests, MPB is one of the most popular styles of music in Brazil, with huge stars like Marisa Monte, Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Maria Rita and Caetano Veloso all commanding big crowds wherever they perform in Brazil. One of the best places to see the stars of MPB is legendary venue Circo Voador near the iconic Lapa arches (pictured above). Hot tip: see a Jorge Ben Jor show in Rio if you can. MPB royalty, his funky samba grooves draw in huge crowds and packed shows.

Into the wee hours

When the sun’s long gone to bed, the beat of the Rio music scene keeps pulsing in its countless dance clubs. Find the latest electronic sounds as well as everything from 90s rave to afrobeat to dubstep – there’s a genre for every taste. Find your way to Fosfobox for house, trap and tropical bass, 00 Rio de Janeiro for late night, upscale dining alongside a hip, lightshow dance floor, or indulge your cutting-edge electronic music fancy with Heavy Baile, a night club band that moves between venues but offers its own take on bass and funk carioca, Rio’s raw favela-born brand of beats.

Fancy something a little different?

If you’ve danced and listened your way through most of Rio’s cultural music scene and still thirst for more, we’ve got you covered. This city lives and breathes music, whatever your fancy. Audio Rebel in the bohemian neighbourhood of Botafogo is a great place to catch some of the more experimental sounds of the city, ranging from out-there electronica to post-rock and avant-garde samba. From its recording studio beginnings, it’s since become a hub for forward-thinking musicians.

For an unforgettable jazz night, try The Maze at the top of the Tavares Bastos favela. Safe and fun, you will, however, need a mototaxi or taxi to take you all the way to the top. But it’s worth it for that bird’s-eye view of Rio.

If your dancing feet grow weary, check our Rio de Janeiro Destination Guide for more fun-filled things to do off the dance floor

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