Bossa, more formally known as bossa nova, is a Brazilian style of music that is closely related to samba. The two kinds of music share so many characteristics that they can be difficult to distinguish at first. However, they have many differences that allow even a casual listener to tell the difference between them.
Both samba and bossa nova were created in Brazil. Samba came first and inspired bossa nova. Since bossa nova is an offshoot of samba, the two styles share similarities. Both were developed in Brazil and rely on an upbeat fusion of African and Latin music. Samba arose out of the favelas, or very poor areas, while bossa nova came from the upper classes in Rio de Janeiro. Samba originated in the early 1920s and influenced several musical styles around the world. Bossa nova did not arise until the late 1950s. It was influenced by, and in turn influenced, American jazz.
The major difference between bossa nova and samba is in the arrangement or composition. Although they use the same instruments, which include the guitar, piano and drums, samba relies heavily on drums, while musicians can play most bossa nova music without drums. Bossa nova is considered a more complex musical style and focuses on melody and harmony, while samba is all about the melody and the beat. Bossa nova songs are also typically slower and less frenetic than samba.
Samba songs are designed for dancing, and different styles of samba music are composed for different styles of dancing. Bossa nova, on the other hand, is not considered dance music, and the focus is on the music and lyrics rather than on the beat used for dancing.
While samba enjoyed a long period of popularity, bossa nova shot to fame quickly and fell out of favor just as fast. Both styles are experiencing a resurgence, but samba has retained a larger following. Brazil became known for samba and the party-style beats produced through the musical style. Individuals who are not music enthusiasts have likely heard of samba, while few without musical education or training recognize bossa nova when they hear it.