[11 March 2008]
As one of the few high-profile Brazilian artists to have performed as far north as Edinburgh, DJ Dolores can probably appreciate that there’s cultural life outside London, just as his art is dedicated to proving there’s cultural life outside Rio. Or São Paulo, for that matter; his backyard is the Northeastern outpost of Recife, and he’s well proud of the fact. An original player in the city’s Mangue Beat movement, Dolores has always taken its pulse through his music, to a greater or lesser extent. This time round, Recife spoke to him through through a dirt-poor fishing community, or rather their music of choice, “based on traditional rhythms, beefed up by electric guitars, drum machines and lo-fi computer programming”, with lyrics “of love, sex, deceit, cachaça (sugarcane alcohol), and the naïve hardness of those who are content with very little…”. The man’s own musical brew isn’t so dissimilar, at least not in its constituent parts. His programming is definitively hi-tech rather than lo-fi, and it’s painstakingly produced. Or at least it’s never going to sell for 1 Real, the going rate for a dodgy CDR down on Recife’s seafront, but he’s DIY to the core.
He may have indulged another seamless, fiercely contemporary exercise in globalista beat construction, but he distinguishes himself from the rent-a-fusion hordes while using a cache of secret weapons, chief among them the flinty wail of a rabeca, a Notheastern fiddle lowing somewhere between Persia and medieval Portugal. It’s a sound Antonio Pinto used to beguiling effect in his Central Station score. As a soundtrack composer himself, Dolores is well-placed to contextualize it between his turntables.
He does so without losing either that filmic echo or the kind of electro-organic synchronism which, with time and patience, peels back seam after seam of inspired arranging. Curling, Rico-meets-Brass Construction horn lines and funky organ glue his creations together. Meanwhile, his eye for sympathetic vocal talent proves to be undimmed. Longstanding contributor Isaar bleeds what sounds like a lifetime’s messy emotion over the rum-shop bassline and restless guitar of “Números”, while the ravishing triste tropique of Rio-based Gallic chanteuse Marion Del’Eite acknowledges that city’s lifelong French love affair on the gorgeous standout “Shakespeare”. Oh, and Hugh Cornwell of all people proves a suitably portentous harbinger of doom on “Danger Global Warming”, a remix of a track by multi-media art collective the Blacksmoke Organisation.
Rather than the babble-esque wordplay of fellow populist Manu Chao, though, Dolores is often at his best submerged in cut-and-paste surrealism. “Have you ever seen a flying horse?”, wonders his sampler aloud in heavily accented English, as calcified twang stalks an equine dreamscape. “Wakaru” sucks up flute from the Northeast’s caboclinho carnaval tradition, littering it with garbled Japanese. His world is one in which Jean Paul Sartre is the ideal of male virility, where the contrary comes naturally. One of the man’s eminently quotable press release comments—on that old Lusophone chestnut that he helpfully titles a track after, saudade—is a case in point: “What does it mean? These lyrics try to explain that for those who don’t understand Portuguese (but they’re in Portuguese….)”. Of course. Needless to say, DJ Dolores writes his own brand of love song; check out the beach-babe-as-emotional-hoodlum metaphor of “Tocando o Terror”. But when it comes to politics, rather than projecting himself into first-person bulletins from the poverty frontline, or just protesting for protest’s sake, he is surprisingly equivocal, taking Brazil’s uniquely virulent class division to task but refusing to toe the party line. “Proletariado” counters rapacious capitalism and escalating violence with the obvious - provision of equal opportunity for all - while the vocal belly dance of “Cala Cala” simultaneously shakes its rump at holier-than-thou lefties, with lovely, sugar-bird syllables apparently erroneously credited to Silvério Pessoa.
What the music does share with Chao, even more so than the whippet-taut guitar and boho-magpie aesthetic, is a pan-Latin preoccupation with often frantic, Jamaican-derived rhythm. Or rather, the Caribbean cross-hatching of Dolores’ Northeastern heritage makes it sound that way. Yet there are times when you wish he would unplug the electronics, a sense of that heritage. Its rhythms and its melodies starve for a spare arrangement. The nearest he gets to it is the aforementioned “Shakespeare”. Even here, a syncopated arsenal frames the hurt, underlining the fact he’s first and foremost a DJ. As opener “Deixa Falar” makes clear, though, the man doesn’t much care for pigeonholing. By extension, he possibly doesn’t care that much about reviews either. Nor need he. 1 Real is Brazil’s headlong bedlam made digital, an urban sprawl imploding in rhythm. It’s a record which will likely make more than a few end-of-year polls, and he knows it. As he puts it himself, “let the dogs bark while the caravan dances.”
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/dj-dolores-1-real/