Remembering Rio’s Legendary Canecão

In its heyday, Rio’s legendary Canecão was home to countless musical memories. Could it return to its former glory?

Rio de Janeiro's legendary Canecao nightclub.
(image courtesy of O Globo)

Rio de Janeiro is always brightening its profile for the world stage. But Rio’s greatest stage has been shuttered and forgotten.

Remembering Rio’s legendary Canecão concert venue brings the history of MPB to life; restoring countless musical memories.

Rio de Janeiro is a busy city these days. There’s activity everywhere: New construction, updates, and improvements. What was old is becoming new again as the city brightens its profile for the world stage.

However, one stage that won’t be making the trip forward is the legendary Canecão concert hall. Because despite politicians making promises they’ve forgotten to keep, 2021 celebrates the 54th anniversary of its grand opening.

It does so in ignominious silence and neglect.

Remembering Rio’s Legendary Canecão: A Venue for the Ages

Originally intended to be a large brewery and dining emporium (its name means ‘Big Mug’ in Portuguese), Canecão’s musical debut came on June 22, 1967. The first singer to step onto the stage was Bibi Ferreira.

Since that opening night, the venue played host to a ‘Who’s Who’ of Brazilian performers and international tours including Gal Costa, Djavan, and Roberto Carlos.

Canecão was the scene of countless music premieres. Marisa Monte debuted the release of her Rose and Charcoal album from under its spotlights. “Everyone who’s anyone,” as Frommers Brazil noted.

The playbills piled up quickly. Within just a few short years Canecão had secured its place in Brazilian musical history. It was the most important concert hall in the country’s most important musical city.

In terms of prestige, Canecão was Brazil’s Hollywood Bowl. It was Madison Square Gardens, and Radio City Music Hall.

Canecão’s name became synonymous with MPB and Brazilian pop. Careers were launched, bolstered, or suffered at the hands of a single O Globo’s review. Performers seeking the highest honors (and greatest sales) knew that Canecão needed to be on their resumes.

The sign on the door said it all: “In this house, the history of Brazilian pop music is written.”

Intimate and inviting

And even though it held up to 2,500 seats, the stage was close enough to the audience to create an intimacy that performers loved.

Bebel Gilberto’s mother Miucha remembered. “This show we did was unique in that it looked like you were in the room with friends. The same way Vinicius de Moraes chatted with the audience made it a magical place.”

Located in Botafogo – across the street from the popular shopping mall Rio Sul -Canecão shuttered its doors for good in 2010. Its closure came after a protracted court case. And while there is hopeful talk of restoring the venue to its former musical glory no plans have been undertaken.

Canecão’s fate

O Globo recently lamented the lack of progress to restore the legendary venue. ”The Minister of Culture is not to blame,” wrote Ancelmo Gois. “The responsibility belongs to the government-funded Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which has kept the place abandoned for seven years.

But when he took office in July 2017, Brazil’s Minister of Culture, Carioca Sérgio Sá Leitão raised the hopes of a musical nation. Sá Leitão said he was sad to see “the degradation of this house that has hosted shows by great artists.” He promised that one of his priorities was to reopen Canecão.”

Gois went on to say that the Federal University has once again set aside its plans for Canecao. No reason given. That’s disappointing news for Rio and for Brazilian music fans worldwide. Fans who have to set aside their plans for a pilgrimage to this musical Mecca.

So today, it’s a safe bet that generations of Carioca concert-goers still have ticket stubs to remind them of the magical memories of a night at Canecão. Good thing.

Because today, that’s all that’s left. Perhaps the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro would benefit from a course in cultural preservation, and public service to the Arts.

Remembering Rio’s Legendary Canecão

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