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Musical Reasons to Watch Tonight’s Opening Ceremonies (Even If You Hate Sports)


Even if the spectacle of the world’s greatest athletes competing in front of McDonald’s  and Coca-Cola logos leaves you cold, tonight’s opening ceremonies for the Rio Olympics promise to be worth watching for at least one reason, and if you’re a frequent Afropop-er you know why: It’s going to be packed with top-shelf Brazilian music.

If you need to get hyped up, be sure to check out our special selection of “Hip Deep in Rio” series, which will teach you a lot about Brazil and its music. You can also explore our special Web feature, “Samba at the Dawn of Modern Brazil.”

Tonight at 8 p.m. local, Rio time, and being broadcast at 8 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S., perennial Afropop favorites Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are going to be playing in front of an expected global audience of three billion. Their music seems perfect for the Olympics—unmistakably Brazilian, but with an eye to the outside world that makes it welcoming to new ears. Also, as they demonstrated on a recent tour and live album, the long-time friends’  easy interplay is just really charming. As cultural ambassadors go, these two are hard to top.

They’ll be joined by the 23-year-old pop star Anitta. While her performances feature more dancing than acoustic guitars, writing pop songs that feature the cuíca—you know that samba drum that makes a high-pitched squeaking/rubbing sound?—fits her right into a lineage with Gil and Veloso, albeit with a lot more youth appeal.

Speaking of dancing, it’s rumored that the choreographer, Deborah Colker, has somewhere around 6,000 volunteers. Compared to a carnival in Rio, this is pretty small batatas, but given how elaborate and awesome opening ceremonies can be—from the tight coordination of the Beijing Olympics to the playful celebration of the National Health Services in London—who knows what’s going to happen?

Music fans most familiar with samba and bossa nova will recognize plenty of what’s going on Friday night. Paolo Jobim, son of Antonio Carlos Jobim, will be playing his father’s most famous tune, “Girl from Ipanema” and the legendary sambista Paulhino da Viola is capping off the ceremony by leading this musical country in the singing of its national anthem.

Each year before the Olympics begin, there are usually plenty of stories of how the games are a huge burden on the host country, and the government of the state of Rio declared a state of financial disaster in June. Journalists arriving early have reported that the facilities may not be ready; a bicycle path named for Tim Maia collapsed; the water is polluted; the specter of Zika virus looms. Feeling ambivalent about the Olympics makes total sense.

Still, this is Rio de Janiero, which annually hosts one of the world’s greatest parties, home to some of the world’s most jubilant music. The opening ceremonies, even if the words “pommel horse” mean nothing to you, are going to be worth checking out.

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