A Nova Bossa Nova:
Brazilian experimental music today
by Andy Cumming2001, I am in the splendour that is Belo Horizonte Brazil, taking part in the Eletronika festival, an annual international electronic music festival that combines performances from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Flanger, with DJ sets from Amon Tobim to rockin' Brazilian Techno dj Anderson Noise.
I watch a live set by a trio consisting of Anvil FX, or Paulo Beto, on electronics, João Parahyba on percussion and Miguel Barella, guitar and effects. All of these players have experimental and innovating histories in the grand tapestry that is Brazilian music. The set mixes electronics, fantastically free Brazilian percussion and Eno-era Fripp-like guitar noise and effects, it is impressive to say the least and quite unlike anything I have seen before in Brazil.
Fast forward to a year later and I'm shopping in the galerias (shopping galleries/malls) on 24 de Maio street in São Paulo, an essential destination to pick up new and unconventional music. I pick up a mysteriously packaged CD-R by LCD which has two of the players from the trio I saw in BH (Paulo Beto and Miguel Barella) improvising wildly with two other players. The CD is a revelation, a sprawling 78 minutes of jagged improvised electronic noise and guitar effects resembling a sonic equivalent of São Paulo itself.
Brazil has a hidden history of experimental music that is little known outside specialists. While Tropicália has been well documented, there have been numerous unsung innovators that are virtually unknown otherwise. In the seventies artists such as Walter Franco, whose experimental MPB verged on Dadaist sound, and Modulo 1000, with their grungy prog-psyche, released highly individual, and now collectable, albums.
Later on, in the eighties São Paulo had two important labels producing cutting edge sounds: Wop-Bop released a series of classic albums such as O Ápice by Vzyadoq Moe, which combined punk, drone, kraut rock and industrial noise, and the dramatic electronics of Fairy Tales by Harry from the coastal city of Santos. The second label Baratos Afins released key post punk LP's by Voluntarios de Patria (containing guitarist Miguel Barella), Fellini and Akira S & As Garotas Que Erraram. Importantly, Barato Afins were responsible for the resurgence of interest in Os Mutantes in the mid-eighties.
The nineties are renowned for a dry spell- the big rock bands of this decade dominated the national music scene playing dull derivative rock. The indies that started with so much promise never really developed creating a stagnant era in Brazilian music.
Now it seems there is a renaissance coming out of São Paulo. A crop of labels have recently appeared that want to exclusively release new and edgy national music to a market that has been increasingly isolated by unimaginative and bankrupt majors.
The eclectic label Ybrasil have released the latest CD by Anvil FX, Miolo, which brings together a host of players to create an intriguing whole. The CD takes in a range of styles from lush bossas to extended electro-acoustic improvs driven by roaming exploratory percussion provided by João Parahyba, a celebrated percussionist having played with many of Brazil's greats and currently with samba-rockers Trio Mocoto. The CD even takes in Aphex/Mike Paradinas territory but the highlight must be the cover of the Tom Zé tune "Ela-Eu" which starts with an orchestrated gentle singing and gradually becomes a looping mantra of digi-noise.
YBrasil are also behind the release of Instituto- Coleção Nacional, a groundbreaking compilation that brings together rappers, beatboxers, turntablists and live instrumentation with the production skills of Rica Amabis and multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Daniel GanjaMan creating a fantastic organic Hip-Hop-Samba-Dub mixture that, by combining the traditional with the new, truly reflects Brazilian Modernism. The highlights on this CD must be the tracks recorded with the recently tragically murdered Sabotage whose gruff rapping can be heard on "Cabeço de Nêgo" (which has a lazy beat with lovely NorthEastern Brazil/African chanting scratched in) and "Dama Tereza" a funky samba rap number with luscious woodwind accompaniment. In fact, the whole CD is a must.
Both Anvil FX and Rica Amabis crop up as guests in Vocabulário the third CD by the quartet Bojo released by Outros Discos. Each of the 70 tracks, ranging from 30 seconds to one minute, is named after 70 essential words that were chosen to describe the world (like 'father,' 'life,' 'air,' 'food' etc.). The result is a conceptual suite in alphabetical order. There is a grand variety of genres from plunderphonics to fake tango. In between, Bojo adopt all manner of styles with the aid of dozens of contributors. According to Mauricio Bussab, programmer and keyboard player, "we have the absolute notion of the futility of this exercise, but with the ambition to categorise the world in an album, we would achieve something cool, but at the same time it's obvious that we would fail."
Mauricio Bassab also runs Outros Discos one of the new independent labels operating from São Paulo. When asked if São Paulo was the leading city in Brazil for experimental music he said: "I wouldn't say that Sao Paulo is the leading city. Brazil is a large country and traditionally change comes from everywhere. But SP benefits from being the biggest critical mass of studios, venues and artists and so there's always something going on here. But you can easily find interesting new music being made in any major city in the country."
Bassab refers to the independents from the eighties as an influence in starting his label, which has a small but growing roster, but ultimately it was the need to release unclassifiable music that could not find a home anywhere else.
Bizarre Records is another SP based label and one that perhaps more than any other is set on releasing unclassifiable experimental music. Linked to a shop in the galerias and masterminded by Carlos Farinha, this label is releasing some of the most radical music made in Brazil today by artists such as Objeto Amarelo, Tetine and plunderphonists National. Objeto Amarelo play a kind of deconstructivist faux-naive rock reminiscent of the Red Crayola. Last year, the duo National made the daring (stupid?) move of releasing 9 CD's at once, all with high Cagean concepts behind them.
Tetine are Brazilian multi-media artists Bruno Verner & Eliete Mejorado who describe their work as 'electro psycho-physic improvisations.' They have just released their sixth album Men In Uniform on Bizarre Records. The album sounds pretty electro-clashy to these ears – very much in vogue in SP this year - while managing to discuss sexual, musical and social uniforms (they are artists remember!).
Bizarre have only recently formed a cartel with two other indie labels, Midsummer Madness and Monstro Discos. Outros Discos are being distributed by Tratore Distribuidora a new Brazilian venture that specialises in distributing independent labels. All of these point to a bright future for new Brazilian music that really doesn't fit into the accepted idea of "Brazilian Music."
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