Taste of Brazil
the early days of the Portuguese conquest of the land that
would one day be Brazil, a Catholic bishop named Sardinha
won a place in the nation's history simply by being the guest
of honor at an unusual dinner. In fact, he was the dinner--for
a tribe of cannibals.
It was a menu that has resonated throughout 20th-century Brazilian
culture. In 1928, Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade extrapolated
the concept of "antropophagism," or cultural cannibalism--taking
the offerings of Europe, consuming them, assimilating them,
and using them for Brazilian ends. Sometimes the process has
been undeclared and subtle, as with the bossa nova hipsters'
merging of samba and American cool jazz. Sometimes it has
been explicit: The Tropicalistas of the late 1960s cited de
Andrade's concept as a direct inspiration when they took the
music of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and European avant-garde
composers and pulped it with Brazilian musical forms and their
own rebellious energy, creating a wholly unique culture explosion.
Tropicália movement mouthpiece Caetano Veloso later went so
far as to claim that "Brazil was born the day the Indians
ate Bishop Sardinha."
The 1990s brought a whole new course of Euro fodder to Brazil's
table in the form of contemporary electronic music. Now a
new generation of urban Brazilians and expatriates is busy
rewiring electronic music with Brazilian musical guts, and
a pair of U.S. labels are importing the new sounds north.
A caipirinha is a Brazilian cocktail made with sugarcane brandy;
a caipiríssima is version made with rum, a non-Brazilian substitute.
The New York-based Caipirinha label, run by Brazilian-born
filmmaker Iara Lee, serves up Caipiríssima, a compilation
of new music from Brazilian electronic- music culture.
The shuffling beats of batucada, Brazilian music's massed
drum sections, have long provided exotic samples for record-bin
raiders; Caipiríssima features "Sub Tropic," one such track
from Brazilian-born/United Kingdom-based Amon Tobin. But the
compilation also offers up "Pupila Dilatada," wherein São
Paulo's Suba and Mestre Ambrosio (billed as M.A.U., or Mestre
Ambrosio Underground) use modern production techniques to
turn a shuffling forro rhythm into a trancey, rumbling batucada
dance track. For North American ears, it's a dizzying treat
to hear up-and-coming artists such as Recife's DJ Dolores,
BiD, and Apollo 9 put their mark on familiar old drum 'n'
bass, breaks, and trip-hop; they bring both new and traditional
Brazilian flavor (witness the samba whistles of Dolores' "Monica
No Samba [She Loves Drum n' Cavaco]") to their tracks. Other
artists such as Ramilson Maia and Chelpa Ferro explore sounds
that don't quite match up to European or Brazilian models.
Like any compilation, Caipiríssima has its peaks and valleys,
but the new twists and dislocations each cut offers make them
all worth exploring.
Several of Caipiríssima's cuts come from artists like Tobin,
who spent formative years in Brazil and later relocated elsewhere
on the globe, including DJ Soul Slinger (represented by the
slinky, DJ Wally-assisted "Masterplan") and Arto Lindsay ("Whirlwind"
offers a beguiling example of his technology-friendly neo-bossa
After a new-Brazilian music comp (Brazil 2mil) and a set of
remixes of vintage Brazilian classics (Bossa Cuca Nova), the
San Francisco-based Six Degrees label leads off a trio of
impressive new Brazil-related releases with Outro Lado from
Zuco 103, a threesome working on a new Euro-Brazilian fusion
from the Netherlands.
Dutch drummer/programmer Stefan Kruger and German keyboardist/programmer
Stefan Schmid cook up plenty of sleek, urbane beatscapes that
wouldn't be out of place on Germany's jazzy/electronic Compost
label. But cuts such as "Brazilectro" and the propulsive "No
Bar do Samba" find the production duo bringing lively Brazilian
grooves to their cut-and-paste studio creations, while Brazilian-born
Lilian Vieira writes and sings (in Portuguese) words and vocal
lines that mix fleet, rhythmic raps on the up- tempo numbers
and sensuous torch singing and piquant harmonies elsewhere.
Zuco 103 may sound a bit self-conscious on paper, but Outro
Lado bears no traces of it; there is something appealingly
soulful and contemporary about the album's bipolar mix of
club-ready hip-shakers and lovelorn blues. While "Zabumba
No Mar" and "Cujo and Cuja" deal specifically with scuffling
through everyday life in Brazil's down-market urban neighborhoods,
the lyrics and vibes of the stylish café-pop title track and
the drowsy bossa nova ballad "Fome Total" bring European angst
and Brazilian saudade (longing) into perfect alignment for
wistful city-bound strugglers everywhere. After all, overcrowded
clubs and tiny, lonely apartments are pretty much the same
all over the world.
Of course, Brazilian artists have been producing refined,
complex, emotionally rich pop for decades without conspicuous
sampler and computer use, and Bebel Gilberto has a better
grip on that tradition than most Brazilian artists putting
together their first full-length ever could. Gilberto is the
daughter of bossa nova Zen master João Gilberto, perhaps the
best-loved male singer in Brazil, and the niece of Chico Buarque,
the country's pop-song poet laureate; her mother, Miúcha,
is a singing legend in her own right. The friends and collaborators
who helped Gilberto put Tanto Tempo together aren't quite
as Olympian, but they're impressive nonetheless: The album
was produced by Suba (him again), with additional board chores
from Amon Tobin (ditto); Washington, D.C.'s foremost electronic
Brazil-boosters, Thievery Corporation; and Beastie Boys aide-de-camp
Mario Caldato Jr., among others.
Tanto Tempo doesn't sound like a globe-hopping, demi-celebrity-packed
plugged-in patchwork, though. If anything, Gilberto's album
glides along on the spare, gripping clarity and lean-closer
vocals of the early-'60s bossa nova classics with which her
father quietly stormed the world. The Tobin and Thievery tracks
in particular are right in line with the producing artists'
usual styles ("Samba de Benção" simply recycles a track from
Tobin's Permutation album), but perhaps thanks to the profound
effect past Brazilian music has had on both producers, their
fingerprints are invisible--the songs are all Gilberto's.
Suba himself programs the edgiest track, the loping, trip-hoppish
As a songwriter (she co-wrote seven of the 11 tracks here),
Gilberto toes the party line as well; her "August Day Song,"
written with and produced by Chris Franck and Nina Miranda
of Smoke City, retains a bossa-nova sway though it could nestle
into recent albums by Beth Orton or Dot Allison without fuss.
But it doesn't hurt Tanto Tempo's balmy, near-perfect summer-evening
vibe when Gilberto cherry-picks a handful of Brazilian classics
to accompany the originals. "August Day Song" may be catchy,
but try not humming Marcos Valle's "So Nice (Summer Samba)"
for a week after hearing Gilberto's caressing version. And
she does her lineage most proud on a ravishing acoustic-guitar-and-vocal
version of her Uncle Chico's "Samba e Amor." The low-key but
up-to-date production helps Tanto Tempo sound timeless rather
While Gilberto's album updates a tradition in fine style,
Suba's São Paulo Confessions offers a compelling vision of
Brazil's electronic-music future as well as a tantalizing
glimpse of a career that might have been. Mitar Subotic built
a career as a producer, composer, and electronic-music maven
in his native Yugoslavia long before transferring his in-demand
talents and his residence to the turbulent metropolis of São
Paulo in the late '80s. But, it wasn't until last year that
he set about creating his own solo debut with an ambitious
project--a musical portrait of his adopted home city.
It's exactly the kind of conceit that led many a British drum
'n' bass producer off into snoozy double-album Neverneverland
in the late '90s. But beginning with "Tantos Desejos," a lulling
civic love song sung by Cibelle Cavalli (one of several guest
vocalists), Suba embarks on an sonic travelogue that is as
engaging as it is sweeping in scope. Aided by veteran percussionist
and longtime collaborator João Parahyba (who appears on both
Caipiríssima and Tanto Tempo--these albums make Brazil seems
awfully small for such a big country), Suba seamlessly combines
local rhythms and sounds with contemporary electronic production
and musical paradigms for a true portrait of a modern tropical
city on the cusp of the millennium. "Samba do Gringo Paulista"
underpins strumming cavaquinho (similar to a ukulele) and
thundering batucada with the icy synth washes and prominent
kick drum of house music. "Na Neblina"'s atmospheric stab
at drum n' bass (complete with an X-Files synth hook) offers
an evocative impression of the city's foggy streets, while
the piano chords and programmatic flow of "Um Dia Comum (Em
SP)" ("A Normal Day [in São Paulo]") give it the feel of a
São Paulo Rhapsody in Blue for the dance floor. Most impressive
here is the fact that Suba's urban song doesn't sound like
it would fit London, New York, or other electronic-music capitals.
Sadly, Suba's debut is also his swan song. Last Nov. 2, two
nights before he was scheduled to leave for a European trip
to promote São Paulo Confessions, Suba's apartment caught
fire. He was reportedly rescued unscathed by building custodians,
but he dashed back into his burning studio to retrieve computer
discs for Gilberto's album; he died of complications from
smoke inhalation soon after.
Despite this devastating loss to an emerging scene, this new
raft of American releases proves that Brazilian electronic
music is bursting with energy and inspiration at a time when
other sounds and styles in more established Northern Hemisphere
scenes seem stuck in status-quo mode. Suba was in the vanguard
of something, and he knew it; check out the bumping, batucada-fueled
fifth track of his concept album, a collaboration with Mestre
Ambrosio. The title? "Antropófagos"--"Cannibals."
from on-line magazine "Metrotimes")