Jorge Ben Jor
To talk about Jorge Ben's influence on Brazilian music is to court hyperbole: the man has released albums on which each song could be a hit. He started out singing in church choirs and rock bands in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s and early '60s, and in 1963 he guaranteed himself a place in history with his first hit, the inestimable "Mas Que Nada." On the strength of that song and a few others, Ben became a bona fide musical export: his songs were covered by everyone from Sergio Mendes to Herb Alpert and Jose Feliciano. By 1966 he was playing sambas with an electric guitar, and a few years later, the tropicalia movement began following in his footsteps. Though never considered strictly a tropicalia artist, Ben became a primary figure of Musica Popular Brasileira for the next decade, even drawing heat from the Brazilian dictatorship despite the lack of political content in his songs. His hallmark has always been his omnivorous musicality: his Ethiopian heritage sparked an interest in African and Arabic music, while American funk and soul figured heavily in his sound. Ben's later work has suffered from a surfeit of synthesizers, but it's easy to forgive him.