brasil_three

MUSIC OF BRASIL, part 3

BAIANASYSTEM
DUAS CIDADES (free on line)

My pal Zeca told me to check out this group, Baiana System: I gave it a cursory listen and said, nah, too techno for me, thanks. Then I stumbled across their video for carnaval 2017, "Invisivel," which got under my skin and I decided to give them another listen. Like many other bands they give away their music since they know people will steal it if they can, so you can check it out for free. One hopes this promotes them to the point where they get more gigs and that pays for their time and effort. This album is firmly rooted in their home turf: Cidade Alta and Cidade Baixa of Salvador da Bahia. The Duas Cidades (two cities) sit on the Bay of All Saints from which they get their name, and are separated by an old lift: the Lacerda elevator which takes you up from the bay to the precincts of the beautifully preserved 17th-century town on the cliffs above (a UNESCO world heritage site). When I first went there 20 years ago the Lonely Planet guide said, Avoid the ruined old city at night because it's full of thieves and prostitutes, so I figured that was the place to go. And I was right, I loved it on sight. Baiana System have a nice touch on the one-drop reggae, with post-Adrian Sherwood effects. In fact the album starts in the middle of a dubby piece with tasty piano and squeaky jazz clarinet riffs bouncing off a prowling bass line and very busy drums. You feel like you opened the right door late at night to a welcoming little bar off a cobbled side street in Pelourinho. The band are cooking and you are not yet too intoxicated to appreciate it. "Playsom" is a reggae/axé hybrid and the drummers really merge well, even adding in some Style Scott drum fills before a crashing dub comes in. In addition to the samba-reggae there are some more -- what's the word? traditional -- hip hop type tracks, including a tribute to Fela Kuti.

ELZA SOARES
THE WOMAN AT THE END OF THE WORLD (mais um discos MAIS 031CD)

This is the 34th album by this Brasilian icon: the septuagenarian "Queen of Samba." I have lived in Brasil and never heard of her, but then what do I know? Gay black women were never allowed a voice before this century. Her style of music is called "Samba sujo" or dirty samba, and she has the gravelly vocals to deliver on that promise. Her backing band on this are Paulistas who bring rock, free jazz and noise to the party. They wrote the tunes for her, and the theme of the album is "carnaval as the apocalypse," which definitely accords with my experience of carnaval over three successive seasons. I remember flying into São Paulo and as the plane lowered into the city approach I could see the polluted rivers glowing ominously like radioactivity and small fires burning in waste ground sending out acrid black smoke, it really looked like a scene out of Hieronymus Bosch. Now, with that backdrop, imagine a 70-year-old woman who has had an inordinately tough life singing like a weary punker with a bunch of out-of-control guitars and electronica over chugging drums and punch drunk horns. Maisumdiscos (literally "one more record") have a thing about reinvigorating the careers of elderly ladies, which is great when they can sing, like Elza and the amazing Dona Onete, I just wish they would put a bit more effort into the packaging: the sterile black on white lettering is wretched and doesn't suggest anything like the passionate content. Here, I doodled this alternate cover in 15 minutes while listening to the album (You're welcome, Mais Um).

LUISA MAITA
FIO DA MEMORIA (Cumbancha)

Here's a second very interesting album from Luísa Maita that verges on rock but keeps an experimental edge. It's downtempo and heavy on electronica and, while she is no Björk, it's very enjoyable. She keeps her soft voice in the range of whisper, which is a Brasilian trait, kind of pillow talk vocals. Her first album was more in the traditional samba and bossa nova vein (with dubby touches) so the fact that she decided to push out of that arena and aim for a more global sound is welcome. She sings in English on "Around you" and the closer "Jump," but the title track makes a better single. The keyboards are organ (Fender Rhodes piano) and synth, there's a solid bass underpinning and various drums: the odd part is they used echo and flanger effects on the ride cymbal. When the guitar comes in you can tell he and the bassist are thinking Gang of Four -- they are always on the verge of breaking out into some grungy power chords, but the whispered vocals rein them in. The resulting tension is very effective, especially on "Sutil." The songs mainly have one-word descriptive titles, there's even one called "Volta" (which means "come back" in Portuguese), but was the title of Björk's 2007 album with the hit "Earth Intruders." Brasilian rhythms and axé drums appear from time to time to keep the whole thing related to the Southern hemisphere.

META META
META META 3 (jazz village 570122)

Tony Allen, the legendary drummer, called Metá Metá "the inventors of the new music scene in Brazil," after he jammed with them in 2013. Since their formation in São Paulo in 2008, Metá Metá have blended hard rock, punk, with more traditional Brasilian rhythms and avant jazz into a high-energy mix. MM3, their third album, presses their musical agenda while singing about corruption in Brazilian society. Most people however don't pay attention to the lyrics unless they are cringeworthy ballads. But while ignoring the lyrics I do notice one song is called "Angoulème" and another "Angolana," which to me suggests the ritzy world of the French autumn jazz festival on the one hand and the hardship of the forgotten south African land that was once a proud sister of Brasil on the other. The solid percussion underpinning is their main asset. But the crazy sax player is also engaging: he reminds me of James Chance of James White & the Blacks, though some say Chance never knew how to actually play the sax -- he just blew into it with all his might, but there was certainly a lot of energy in that band -- and in James Chance and Les Contortionists, his other No Wave punk band. I wasn't sure I could listen to a whole disc of this, so after a few tracks I put it on pause and sought them on YouTube to try to figure out what I was hearing. Seeing is believing, and can help your hearing, no? Their December 2013 live show is really hot and shows the high energy drummer, though the singer is occasionally off key (a problem with live performing is you often cannot hear the monitors). The album grew on me though, as the stronger tracks are at the end; and it goes out raving with the electric guitar putting up a wall of sound with his pedals on, and the sax getting moody as hell instead of going all Ornate and blow-it-out-yer-assy. Not suited for every mood, but stick with it, and I think it will click.

DONA ONETE
BANZEIRO (MaisUmDiscos)

How thrilling to have a new album from the great Brasilian songstress Dona Onete. I asked my Brasilian music expert what the name of her indigenous rhythm is, You know it, he replied, it's called Ska! It does indeed have that Specials quotient going on. Amazingly the 78 year old Dona (Ionete da Silveira Gama) does keep up with the band. Onete wrote ten of the dozen songs here which were recorded in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania). The title cut is in the Bhang rhythm (sic) apparently brought from Africa to the new world, but most of the other tunes are in bolero and carimbó rhythms according to one source. "Banzeiro" means wake, not in the funeral sense, but in the way boats send out ripples as they move in the tide; it's also the name of the barque in the lovely cover image. "Proposta indecente" -- I don't need to translate that for you -- has a wonderful tropical drum machine aesthetic (guiro, bongo and clave) with Farfisa which is nostalgic (for anyone who remembers rhythm settings on organs) but still seems a fresh approach to bolero -- or maybe this is the carimbó track! This must be great live. The same rhythm, reminiscent of morna music from Cabo Verde (especially with her raspy voice which echoes Cesária Evora) is employed for "Coração Brechó". Her careworn voice, in fact, also reminds me of the Jolly Boys' singer Albert Minott so it puts me in a good mood. (From July 5 the disc will be available for free listen or download from the Musical Natura website.)

SIBA
DE BAILE SOLTO (YbM Music / Polysom P0566)

Polysom is the last vinyl manufacturer of South America. Since 2010, they've also operated as an independent record label and they have an impressive catalogue. Not sure how you can track this one down on vinyl if you are not in Brasil. There's amazon's lame MP3 download if you are happy with cheap earbud quality sound, but if that's the case, Siba gives away all his discs in low quality on his website. Siba who used to front Mestre Ambrosio, sings and plays guitar and delivers a blend of rock and maracatu -- the traditional Pernambucan sounds. His lyrics are politically engaged, protesting deforestation, which is finally a hot topic in most of Brasil. Violence, consumerism, over-reaching authority, and social inequality are among his other themes delivered over an interesting mix of electric and acoustic instruments: hand percussion and a pair of dueling guitars that seem differently tuned and would not be out of place on a Nigerian stage with Orlando Owoh. Also did I mention tuba bass? It's rocking. His voice is sometimes tentative which lends appeal to the plaintive pop ballad "Tres Carmelitas." A song about a spider and a jar ("A Jarra e a Aranha") rehearses an old tongue-twister ("arranhar" is to scratch; "aranha" is spider; "jarra" is jar). This is a very catchy and varied album and the more I play it the more I like it.

DANIELA MERCURY
VINIL VIRTUAL (Biscoito Fino)

Daniela Mercury has been at it for decades, but there's enough new ideas here to make her latest release worth checking out. It's predictable, which is good if you are a best-selling artist; it's not quite MPB, but a mix of samba-reggae and pop, with occasional outbursts of axé -- to me, the most interesting aspect of Brasilian carnaval music. 16 years ago I used my press credentials to get backstage at her bloco and met the lady; my Portuguese was unacceptable and she didn't speak English, but see how far we've come. "Frogs in the sky" is sung in English though it makes as much sense as a Sarah Palin campaign speech, if a bit more left wing: "Love is freedom... No violence... peace and love." Her impetus, she says, was the Annie Leibovitz photo of John and Yoko on the cover of rolling stone which spoke to her about peace and love. OK, I am losing my mind, "Alegria e Lamento" starts out like "Hotel California." Get me outta here. "De Deus, de Alah, de Gilberto Gil" is haunting. Warning: earworms ahead. Time to move on. "Antropofágicos São Paulistanos" seems to be about the cannibals of São Paulo. It has the heavy insistent axé drumming I was talking about. Truly old-school Hohner clavinet (à la Stevie Wonder) rips up the intro to "O Riso de Deus (God's smile)" which also has popping bass and the drumming bedrock, this time singing more favorably about Rio. The title track is a rap, sort of. Well more of a spoken thing over outré jazz piano, but the full force of her skill as a singer is brought to bear on "Tres Vozes" where she brings in Olodum on the battery. I am not sure of the heavy rock influence on "Minha Mãe, Minha Pátria" since I never listened to Queen or AC/DC, but I suspect it's in there somewhere. Overall, a varied and worthwhile enterprise.


CABRUERA
COLORS OF BRAZIL (Tumi Music TUMI239)

It's been a decade since we last heard from Cabruêra outside their homeland on the sensational Probido Cochilar album, subtitled "Sambas for Sleepless Nights," on Piranha. They come storming back with a vivid landscape that sounds like a rock and roll movie soundtrack. It's hot and bright, like the title suggests, and spills over in all directions requiring two albums to present it all (The first of the two discs, titled Visagem came out in Brasil in 2010; the second, known as Nordeste Oculto was released in 2013). The band was created in Northeastern Brasil, in the city of Campina Grande, Paraiba, to reinvigorate local folk music. In addition to the core group of founder Arthur Pessoa on vocals, accordion (that's the traditional aspect!) and his trademark ballpoint-pen guitar, which is a vibrato-like tremelo sound he has invented, bassist Edy Gonzaga, drummer Pablo Ramires and second guitar Léo Marinho, there are twenty or so guests, notably trumpet and trombone, but also sitar, more percussion, more vocals, more guitars, keyboards, and more brass. Their name means herd of goats (referring to the wild critters who chew up the dry landscape of their homeland), but it is also a slang term and suggests the gang of famous outlaw Lampiao, the Robin Hood of Northeastern Brasil, much celebrated in popular literature, the Livros do Cordel, which I have written about elsewhere. Speaking of the cordels, which are printed versions of sung cutting contests or doggerel poems about current events, a typical song, "Embolada," has elements of samba with a reggae guitar and funk bassline, and seems related to the cordel tradition. Between rapidfire lyrics, Pessoa plays a lyric accordeon. But then the bic comes out for the guitar wobble and an electronic intro turns into a ska rave with frevo overtones on "A Pisada." Disc two, "Nordeste Oculto," starts with the sitar and tabla tracks, a bit of hippie nostalgia, reminiscent of "See My Friends," and a respite from the heavy stuff, but not altogether a success. Little bursts of declamatory poetry with guitar interspersed on disc two suggest that indeed Cabruêra is presenting some of the repentistas (authors of the cordels), as well as his more atmospheric tracks. We go gentle into the night with more twanging sitar and some fuzztone distortion. The second disc is more of a showcase of other performers in contrast to the driving rock of the main act. It's certainly colorful.