The Samba Effect – Conversation with Brazilian Musician Jovino Santos Neto

Jovino Santos Neto
Jovino Santos Neto


I discovered the healing effects of Brazilian music, samba in particular back in the early 1990s when I began listening to Astrud Gilberto classics. Even though I was not aware of the healing elements of music, I noticed that my spirits lifted every time I listened to a “best of” recording by the Brazilian chanteuse.

Years later I discovered Joyce, Monica Salmaso, Jovino Santos Neto and Virginia Rodrigues among other Brazilian artists. Again, I felt that spiritual lift even in times of great darkness and despair. I did not wish to dissect the music–equal parts polyrhythms hailing from Africa, soaring melodies from Europe, etc… Then shortly after that, Masaru Emoto provided us with a water crystal of a Brazilian samba and earlier still, Don Campbell mentioned in his text, The Mozart Effect that he found the samba most healing.

Although opportunities abound to see Jovino Santos Neto in concert, I have thus far only heard his recordings. I featured the musician along with other Seattle world musicians in an article posted on World Music Central. Still I wondered what Jovino Santos Neto thought of the healing effects of Brazilian music. The conversation that resulted follows this introduction.

WME: While researching the healing potential of music, I have come across references to Brazilian samba in a variety of sources from Masaru Emoto’s water crystals, to a mention in Don Campbell’s The Mozart Effect and other sources. So let’s start with samba, a music that combines African rhythms, with indigenous and other music.

Besides its enticing polyrhythms, why do you think samba is receiving high scores as healing music?

JSN: The way I see it, all physical and non-physical events can be understood in terms of vibrations. There are higher vibrations and lower vibrations. One reason that Brazilian music gets such worldwide appreciation is in its sources. Samba, for instance, works on a rhythmic level with at least three layers of complexity – quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes. If you compare it, for example with a fast jazz bebop tune with two layers only (quarter and eighths) you start to see that to be able to feel the pulse of a highly syncopated style such as samba, you need to open up a place in your hearing apparatus to accommodate that third layer.

Harmonically, it is a similar situation, because even very popular samba tunes feature melodies that reach to flat ninths, flat thirteenths, flat fifths and other non-diatonic tones which point to a sophisticated harmonic basis. In simple terms, Brazilian music, and samba in special, combine the most advanced rhythmic, harmonic and melodic concepts of our planet presented in intuitive and groove-based forms.

WME: In a previous e-mail correspondence when I had asked you about Brazilian music, you had mentioned numerous genres and you have explored various genres yourself. Do any of the Brazilian music styles or genres derive from healing rituals? I am assuming that the answer is yes since this music derives in part from indigenous and African tribal people?

Jovino Santos Neto
Jovino Santos Neto

JSN: I don’t necessarily think that music is derived from healing rituals, because you cannot really conceive of any healing ritual that does not include music. Even when performed in silence, these rituals involve rhythmic breathing. It is actually impossible for anyone to imagine any situation of heightened awareness without some kind of musical framework inside and around it. So the question of what came first, the ritual or the music, disappears. One cannot feel creative music without some sort of healing effect, and vice-versa.

WME: Your wife is an energy healer and your music feels healing to me when I listen to it. Have you and your wife combined healing talents in working with individual clients? I have heard of at least one jazz guitarist that was playing music for massage clients in healing sessions. And I am hearing of more and more musicians playing for hospital patients and hospice clients.

JSN: Again, any attempts to dissociate one from the other leads to incomplete results. To imagine a patient recovering from a surgery without music seems idiotic, but unfortunately, most doctors and hospitals fail to provide that most important element. It is as if they thought that a person could survive without water or air. Music is that essential. Any kind of healing situation without music is, in my opinion, incomplete from the start.

WME: Which instruments do you find the most healing for yourself?

JSN: Music is composed of melody, rhythm and harmony, so for me, I prefer to listen to music that is evolved along those three lines. You might enjoy purely rhythmic music for a while, but if you don’t get any harmonic information, there is a tendency to “tune out” and become distracted. The same applies to the inverse situation. Beautiful chords without a rhythmic lattice tend to sound washed-out and shapeless after a while. Balance is crucial. So I like drums, I like voices and wind instruments, and I really need to hear harmonies to feel the complete experience of music.

WME: I have found many Brazilian vocalists, (a long list), to have a healing effect on me. I find that this music in general lifts me out of a funk especially when dealing with gloomy weather. As I write these questions I am listening to one of your former students, Flora McGill singing on your Canto Do Rio and I find that her vocals are lifting me out of a funk. (The weather is stormy at the moment and I am getting over a cold so let’s see where this goes).

JSN: Flora McGill has a beautiful voice and a highly developed musical intuition, so it was a joy to collaborate with her on Canto do Rio. There are several Brazilian vocalists that have this effect on me. Some names are: Monica Salmaso, Jane Duboc, Roberta Sá and Elizah.

WME: I would love to see more on this topic of healing music of Brazil. Can you recommend any books, recordings, or websites that discuss this topic?


Jovino Santos Neto
Jovino Santos Neto


JSN: There is a recent re-issue of a great book about the music of Brazil. It’s called The Brazilian Sound, by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha. Here is a link to it on

WME: Any last thoughts on this topic? And by all means, plug your own recordings and performances.

JSN: I thank you for realizing the importance of music in general, and Brazilian music in particular in keeping our planet balanced. My musical mentor, Hermeto Pascoal, often says that music is one of the major forces that shape our Universe, along with Gravity and Light. His words are: “Music holds the world together, as long as we live.” I believe in that. You can read about my recordings and performances on my web site, and also on MySpace at

Recordings available: Roda Carioca (Rio Circle), Live at Caramoor, Canto do Rio, Alma do Nordeste (soul of the northeast), Caboclo, and Live in Olympia (Vivo a Olympia).

Patricia Herlevi hosts the Whole Music Experience blog and she is a regular contributor to World Music Central.

Author: PatriciaHerlevi

Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.


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