Brazil: Time Warp
United States President George W. Bush is reputed to have asked President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, "Do you have blacks, too?"
Thankfully, he had (African-American National Security Advisor) Condoleezza Rice on hand to remind him that Brazil has the largest population of African descent outside the continent itself. Something like 70 million Brazilians trace roots back to Africa, and thus a newly educated Dubya traced a bumbling route back to Washington.
And so, with that thought in mind, the leap from Africa to Brazil is not a huge one, despite the transatlantic voyage the region's slaves endured centuries ago. The music of Brazil is incredibly diverse, with its most prominent strains rooted in samba and its jazzy derivative, bossa nova. At the same time the country is home for a countless number of rural communities, it also houses a sizeable urban population. That means the music of Brazil covers a broad range from tribal to post-modern.
These four reviews cover the full range from ancient to future.
Black Music visits isolated communities in Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador to document prayer music with obvious African roots. The self-titled debut record by Brazilian singer Mylene draws influences from all over the continent and the Iberian peninsula. Ramiro Musotto, who co-produced Mylene's record, also makes his debut with Sudaka , a sophisticated roots/pop/electro jam. Finally, Tribalistas brings together three superstars of Brazilian musicCarlinhos Brown, Marisa Monte, and Arnaldo Antunesfor an organic summit laced with romance.
Producer David Lewiston went about assembling this collection by identifying communities where geography and/or tradition provided enough of a buffer to keep ancient culture intact. Word of mouth was as good a way as any, and it led him to the Pacific coastal towns of Buenaventura and Guapi in Colombia, the inland community of Chalguayaco in Ecuador, and the first capital of Brazil, Bahia.
Once European colonists imported Christianity, it was rapidly absorbed by Latin American residentsbut rarely to the exclusion of native religions and transplanted African belief systems. In the latter case, the deities of West African Yoruba culture became known as orishas (and several other names) in the New World, with Oxalá the great father of them all. Suitably enough, Oxalá got all mixed up with Jesus, the closest equivalent in Catholicism. And thus the title of this disc represents a suitable summary of the mixed-up but still coherent beliefs shared by these performers.
The Christian influence comes through quite oddly in the opening track, a praise song for St. Anthony with words in Spanish but drums and chanting clearly derived from Africa. (St. Anthony, oddly enough, is associated with Ogun, the god of war.) The drums, shakers, and marimba all harken back to African instruments; as do the simplified call-and-response vocals.
An instrumental cumbia-like tune follows, played on native instruments derived from leaves, bamboo, and calabashes. No collection of this nature would be complete without a sample of capoeira, the unique Brazilian martial arts-based style of chant and rhythm which relies on the percussive string instrument known as the berimbau. Next, a samba with female vocals, whooping, and callsyou can't help but respect the depths of this music's roots.
A collection of praise songs follow, dedicated to orishas, saints, sex, and Bethlehem. It's a bit freaky to step into this time capsule where drums interlock in unpredictable, complex patterns; vocalists cry out in groups in response to a leader's shout; and a call to grace constantly tugs.
In the end it doesn't matter if you can understand the vocals, recognize the styles, or identify the instruments. The effect of this music transcends culture, though it's steeply rooted in centuries of tradition. All you have to do is listen in order to be transported away to far away places. This prayer is all about trance.
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Maybe it's the language, maybe it's the culture, maybe it's the climatewho knows, probably all of the abovebut Brazilian pop has always carried with it a characteristic sweetness. The young vocalist known simply as Mylene does nothing to contradict this fact. The songs on her self-titled debut release may cloak her voice in layers of production, but there's no mistaking that she carries her message straight from (and to) the heart. Mylene's delivery carries a sense of poetic drama, passing in and out of refrains without a break, soaring high and occasionally pausing for contemplation.
It's a gently lilting message that beckons you in, places you on a cushion of sound, and leads you through adventures that never feel awkward. Pure pop, make no mistake, but always perky and never dull. Downtempo without falling down.
The presence of co-producer Ramiro Musotto on all but one of these tracks is unmistakable. He's a percussionist first, playing a freaky collection of pan-global instruments from Brazil (berimbau), the Middle East (darbuka), the Balkans (dumbek), North Africa (Moroccan bongo), Southern Africa (mbira), and so on. On topor underneath, depending on your orientationhe superimposes purely electronic drum programming, samples, and effects. The acoustic/electric combination tends to be a dangerous mix in general, but not with this captain at the helm. And credit the artist (and co-producer) known as Jongui for squeezing tasty samples in here.
Musotto's rhythms serve as an underpinning for the rest of the group, which consists of a revolving cast of musicians playing acoustic and electric instruments from sax to guitar, keyboards, banjo, and beyond. Echoes of samba, fado, reggae, dub, drum-n-bass, Brazilian folkloric music, and capoeira inform each of these pieces in turn.
Certain combinations work better: "Pipoca Contemporanea" ("Contemporary Popcorn") spoons out the honey in an oddly funky meter of seven alongside samples in English; the folk bounce of "Madrigal" heads right into the emotionally drenched Portuguese fado tradition; "Clareo" feels oddly like a collision between capoeira and samba, entering a trance state through paced repetition. But watch out for the awkward version of "Eleanor Rigby" at the end, which feels totally out of place.
None of this music would work without Mylene's relaxed, warm vocals or Musotto's detailed production. The ancient-future collision among the instruments, styles, and themes on _Mylene somehow feels natural, open, and joyous. The chemistry must be just right.
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When you hit play on Sudaka, you'll either find yourself dazed or get up and shake it. Or both. Such is the ultimate collision between ritual and postmodern invention, something Ramiro Musotto delights in mixing to no end. He describes the record as "a psychedelic trip throughout and into the Afro-Brazilian and South American culture," which is as good an explanation as any for the virtual cornucopia of sounds on the record.
Musotto, who has played percussionist to the stars in Brazil, steps out on his debut release without reservation, mixing the folkloric sounds of the string/percussion instrument known as the berimbau with non-stop drum-n-bass patterning straight off a sequencer. It's most definitely plugged in all the waybut the things that gives it color, warmth, and strength are the strings, voices, guitarsand real-life samples from all sorts of varied traditions.
Musotto's strength lies in the balance between shiny production and organic spontaneity, which comes in many forms. On "Botellero," he samples a cart driver on the streets of Bahia, presumably hawking some sort of wares. You can hear his shouts and the click-clack of his horse, first clean and then processed, and finally tossed in with a flute-like cry and thrown directly into the blender. The disc sounds like it's skipping, then a techno groove shoots out. The insistent pulse of electronic dance music fuels a rocket straight into club-land, but the driver's voice never leaves. In the end, it becomes an instrument all its own.
Samples of ritual music from the Congo (female voices chanting, hands clapping, drums beaten) provide the meat of the next tune, "Bayaka." How exactly the tribal drumming is mixed with the programmed beats and Ramiro's own live percussion is impossible to tell, but in the end it doesn't matter. It's a jam, straight up and straight out.
Down the road, real live vocals, berimbau, tenor sax, sitar, and guitars meld together on "Antonio das Mortes," a downtempo stroll. Residual traces of disco mix it up with kids singing and clapping on "Xavantes," which eventually heads into club-land. The dark, ominous strains of "Torcazas Neuquinas" sound like an introduction to a song that never happened, and the disc closes out on a very human note with some inspired berimbau playing recorded live.
Ramiro Musotto has achieved something entirely new and distinctive here. The collision of street sounds, tribal ritual, prayer, and global percussion with electronic beats and electro sheen is not only dramatic, it's amazingly effective. It's not for everyone, that's for sure, but provided your ears can span the range, you'll find it an awesome trip.
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To get the point of Tribalistas you have to see past the hype. Sure, the three musicians who put this music together are huge stars in Braziland the world, at least the places where global music is appreciated. Marisa Monte has few peers when it comes to vocal music; her collaborators have made huge names of their own, Arnaldo Antunes as a pop hero in his own right and Carlinhos Brown as percussionist for everyone who matters. You might imagine that the triumvirate would crash and burn from its sheer weight. But, miraculously, it doesn't... and the result is a collection of memorable songs that taste great and go right down.
For the most part, anyway. The oddly dark "O Amor e Feio" ("Love Is Ugly") rides spare accompanimentunison guitar lines and tinkling piano swirlsalong with rustling percussion and odd noises, delivering a truly ugly message:
Love is dirty
It smells like piss
It puts the fear in you
But then, somehow, mere moments later, love redeems itself and becomes beautiful and full of grace. Obviously someone is in that very confused, self-indulgent adolescent state between love and resentment. The song works especially well because Monte's voice, smooth as butter, is juxtaposed alongside Antunes' rough, gutteral sound. Something like sandpaper paired with velvet, the combination somehow makes it all make sense. Sort of.
And that's true for most of the record. An exception is the torch ballad "É Você" ("It's You"), where Brown proves himself an effective tenor with smoky overtones, joining Monte while four guitars course through gently paced rhythms. But for the most part the contrast between the two main vocalists provides most of the color and drama. The very middle-of-the-road "Um A Um" ("One To One") plods a bit, but it's redeemed by the romantic strains of "Velha Infancia" ("Old Childhood") and the sing-song electro-samba of "Passe em Casa" ("Come By The House"), with just a bit of hip-hop tossed in the mix.
Admittedly the vocals are the centerpiece of Tribalistashow can that ever not be true when Marisa Monte is involved?but the rest of the music is an interesting amalgam of approaches. There's no particularly experimental edge or brilliant innovation here, but like most quality Brazilian pop, Tribalistas mixes things up well enough to steer clear of cliché. It's consistently warm and inviting, ceaselessly romantic, with no burn or aftertaste.
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Track and Personnel Listings
Black Music In Praise of Oxalá and Other Gods
1. Arrullo San Antonio - 2:41
2. Los Cholitos - 4:04
3. Oigame Juanita - 2:20
4. Capoeira - 3:03
5. Sambo de Roda - 2:46
6. Candomble - 2:48
7. A Adorar a Antonio - 2:43
8. Salome - 3:24
9. Me Voy a Belan - 2:20
10. Voy a Bando - 2:27
11. Currulao Cantado - 5:18
1. 48 Horas (48 Hours) - 4:12
2. Longa Longa Noite (Long Long Night) - 3:40
3. Coração Tonto (Dizzy Heart) - 3:57
4. Nela Lagoa (Lagoon Along Her) - 4:17
5. Pipoca Contemporanea (Contemporary Popcorn) - 2:52
6. Clareou (Daylight) - 4:23
7. Promessas (Promises) - 3:39
8. Riio Lisboa (Rio Lisbon) - 2:56
9. Madrigal Madrigal) - 4:23
10. Eleanor Rigby - 5:26
Mylene Pires: Vocals, Mini Moog; Ramiro Musotto: Percussion, Drums, Triangle, Gamelan, Atabaque, Berimbau, Darbouka, Caxixi, Bendire, Pandeiro, Repique, Sampling, Mbira, Shaker, Shekere, Drum Programming, Mixing, Finger Cymbals, Doumbek, Timbaus, Crotale, Surdo Virado, Alfaia, Arabesque, Ferrino, Moringa, Rums, Tom-Tom; Fernando Nunes: Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Guitar, Producer, Fretless Bass, Acoustic Bass, Synthesizer Bass; Sacha Amback: Keyboards, Fender Rhodes; Milton Guedes: Flute, Soprano Sax Fernando Caneca: Electric Guitar; Sergio Chiavazolli: Acoustic Guitar, Banjo, Bandolin; Alex Veley: Synthesizer, Fender Rhodes, Mini Moog; Chiquinho Chagas: Accordion; Jongui: Guitar, Percussion, Sampling, Drum Programming; David Moraes: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar
1. Caminho - 2:30
2. Ginga - 3:32
3. Raio - 5:19
4. Botellero - 5:00
5. Bayaka - 3:35
6. Antonio das Mortes - 6:22
7. Ijexá - 4:27
8. Xavantes - 3:56
9. Torcazas Neuquinas - 2:08
10. La Danza del Tezcatlipoca Rojo - 2:48
Ramiro Musotto: Percussion, Keyboards, Programming, Atabaque, Caixa, Berimbau, Repique, Cuica, Synthesizer Bass, Apito; Gato Barbieri: Tenor Sax; Lulu Santos: E-Bow; Sergio Ricardo: Acoustic Guitar, Vocals; Sacha Amback: Keyboards, Harmony Vocals, Electric Sitar; Henrique Portugal: Keyboards; Christiaan Oyens: Hawaiian Guitar; Botellero: Vocals; Buziga: Vocals; Pigmeos du Nord Congo: Percussion, Vocals, Clapping; Espiga de la Loza: Keyboards, Synthesizer Bass; Camafeu de Oxóssi: Vocals; Alex de Souza: Keyboards, Moog Synthesizer; Kids From The Aldeia Xavante Etenhiritipa: Vocals, Clapping; Laucha Lencenella: Bass, Guitar, Effects; Julio "Ciego" Moreno: Guitar
1. Carnavalia (4:16)
2. Um a Um (2:41)
3. Velha Infancia (4:10)
4. Passe Em Casa (3:54)
5. O Amor E Feio (3:11)
6. É Você (2:51)
7. Carnalismo (2:36 )
8. Mary Cristo (3:00)
9. Anjo da Guarda (2:47)
10. Lá de Longe (2:17)
11. Pecado É Lhe Deixar de Molho (2:58)
12. Já Sei Namorar (3:16)
13. Tribalistas (3:23)
Marisa Monte: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica, Trumpet, Accordion, Hammond Organ, Sound Effects, Viola, Handclapping, Cajon, Mixing, Gaita, Nylon String Guitar, Animal Sounds, Palmas, Toy Trumpet, Assobios; Margareth Menezes: Viola, Vocals, Gaita; Carlinhos Brown: Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Percussion, Piano, Strings, Bongos, Conga, Cymbals, Drums, Glockenspiel, Harp, Marimba, Hammond Organ, Sound Effects, Tabla, Tambourine, Viola, Vocals, Whistle, Bells, Berimbau, Tumba, Handclapping, Caxixi, Pandeiro, Repique, Spoons, Zarb, Producer, Vibraphone, Djembe, Agogo, Cajon, Cuica, Reco-Reco, Shaker, Tumbadora, Editing, Cordas, Bateria, Sapo, Timba, Bacurinhas, Music Box, Afuche, Drum Effects, Nylon String Guitar, Baixo, Box, Bumbo, Chapuis, Financial Director, Metal Sheets, Moringa, Music Stand, Palmas, Prato, Assobios; Arnaldo Antunes: Vocals, Whistle, Handclapping, Vox Organ, Palmas, Assobios; Dadi Carvalho: Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Guitar, Piano, Accordion, Steel Guitar, Hammon Organ, Sitar, Ukulele, Viola, Whistle, Handclapping, Viola da Gamba, Cavaquinho, Slide Guitar, E-Bow, Cavaco, Animal Sounds, Apito, Baixo, Bandolin, Pizzicato, Sementes