When the country of Brazil is mentioned in a conversation, the mental pictures that are instantly conjured are not directly those of a musical nature. The go-to scenes that tend to flash in the mind’s eye normally include the high-octane carnival atmosphere, one of the world’s greatest football nations, and the fabled, inherently voluptuous women wading through thigh-high water in next-to-nothing bikinis. Of course, we can’t forget the “Big Jesus”, the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer standing majestic and watchful over Rio de Janeiro (ironically), one of the most casually lascivious cities on Earth.
Musically speaking it’s hard to think of anything but “The Girl From Ipanema” or unadulterated Samba coming through the speakers of any café or bar serving up Caipirinhas. Consequently, psychedelic rock is not a readily associated phenomenon that we attribute to the world’s largest Latin country.
Yet, rock music of all types has thrived in Brazil, including psych-garage. And why should it not? After all, many of the elements that fueled youth counter-culture in the ‘Age of Aquarius’ were as pronounced (if not more so) in Brazil—which has existed under an actual military state—than they were here in the United States. That and the proximity to near-infinite Ayahuasca resources in Brazil’s neighboring rainforests make her a fertile ground for psych-rock to flourish. And flourish it did, unlike in North America, where it died out shortly after lava-lamps, bell-bottoms and windowpane acid were exchanged for disco-balls, leisure suits and cocaine.
Brazil’s psychotropic pantheon clearly took musical cues from Britain’s hippy-dippy paisley age (mainly), but still kept a notable cultural identity. As a result, the creation of movements such as Jovem Guarda and tropicalia (Brazil’s cultural Avant-Garde) took place, enshrining freedom rock in the country’s music history forevermore. This assemblage of tracks (stemming back to the ‘60s) serves as an outline of that country’s freak-scene trajectory.
The selections on this compilation make for a pleasing listening experience that transcends language barriers, thanks to the linguistic charm of the Portuguese tongue. A couple of tracks permeate a pedestrian, Starbucks background-music vibe, such as the jangly alt-rock of Laranja Freak and the oddly listenable Mini Box Lunar, with their more mainstream, radio-friendly, carnival sound. That being said, there are a few gems on here that make this a worthwhile acquisition for any seeker of musical rarities. Among these is Jose Mauro’s “Obnoxious”, taken from his sole post-humus album of the same name. A jazzy, orchestral number that could have easily been used in a James Bond movie score, the song possesses the trademark saccharine melancholy that Mauro’s work is known for. Tom Zé is another important figure of Brazil’s Avant-Garde that is featured here. His pupil-dilating “Uai-Uai-Revolta Queto-Xambá”, a mad scientist/shaman’s brew of off-beat drums and synth trumpet, make Zé -an early prophet of tropicalia- sound like Brazil’s answer to Scratch Perry (at least within the song’s context.)
Other tracks have an influence that’s less home-spun and more derivative of British psychedelia. Among these, ‘Renata” by Liverpool, taken from their ultra-rare 1970 EP (and eight-track film score) Marcelo Zona Sul. Liverpool’s song is a beautifully forlorn jam that subtly evokes the Moody Blues with its ‘riding-off-into-the-sunset’ ambience that is not atypical of gauchórock. Also, Marconi Notaro’s “Anthropologica II” should awaken the inner ear of any anglophile acid-head with its intro of lo-fidelity outer space weirdness, leading into a folksy space ballad reminiscent of Hawkwind in a remote way.
The true rare gem on the record is the closer, “Sorriso Selvagem” by The Gentleman. An organically warm, mind expanding configuration of time and sound that resonates like a cross-pollination of Santana, Deep Purple, and the symphonic arranging of Mahavishnu Orchestra. The mystical groove of this all-out Jazz/Rock fusion has the heaviest rhythm on this collection and is perhaps the only song that dabbles in the sound of Brazil’s prevalent Afro roots.
The special edition CD also comes with Jupiter Maça’s 1996 Brazilian classic A Sétima Enfervescência as a bonus disc. This record is an infectious blend of artsy alt-rock, Revolver-era the Beatles with hints of Ziggy Stardust and some quasi-punk ethos thrown in for good measure. A striking record to listen to; quirky and whimsical, it captivates attention while evoking emotion with its smart, capricious songwriting.
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Brazil, courtesy of World Music Network is the quintessential introduction to the Brazilian psychedelia scene, past and present. Any fan of the genre that is on the relentless quest for the obscure will be sure to find this as the perfect starting point. Of course, understanding of the Portuguese language will probably make for the groovier experience, but then again, ‘altered consciousness’ is a universal language.