My good God, but this is an enthusiastic disc. Most dance music aficionados probably think they understand the concept of high-energy music—be it “happy hardcore”, frenetic IDM or drum & bass or whatever—but listening to this disc is positively exhausting in a way that nothing else can quite touch. Listening to Brasil is the sonic equivalent of being set down in the middle of a raging block party at the heart of Rio.
Which is not to say that the disc doesn’t have a few quiet moments. It actually presents a near-comprehensive sampling of the most popular musical styles of South America (not withstanding baile funk, ‘natch). At its heart, however, the disc belongs to the dancefloor, where the flavors of samba, salsa and mambo freely cross-pollinate with austere house textures to create a satisfying, if subtle, hybrid.
Salomé de Bahia has been recording since 1958, but sings with more vigor and precision than most singers a third of her age can muster. Surprisingly after such a long and storied career, Brasil is her North American debut album. Even stranger, the album owes much of its existence to French house producer Bob Sinclair. Eleven years ago Sinclair first saw Bahia performing at the famous Chez Felix. Bahia, an expatriate in Paris who had made her reputation performing in long-running Brazilian cabarets such as “Brazil Tropical”, later appeared with Sinclair’s Reminiscence Quartet, a leading light in the continental acid-jazz scene.
Considering the album’s peripatetic origins, it remains remarkably true to its conception as a Brazilian showcase. Those seeing Sinclair’s name who come expecting a house album will be sorely disappointed—there do not seem to have been any concessions made to adapting the music beyond what is already an extremely able dance template. Album-opener “Taj Mahal” readily demonstrates that this kind of party music doesn’t really need any help. There is the slight hint of an accentuated 4/4 kick drum, but nothing that would be even slightly out of place in an authentic Brazilian showcase. The carnival vibe—complete with whistles, congas, cowbells and a full horn section—sets a breakneck pace that simply does not let up. It is to Bahia’s credit that at no point in the album does she she seem even slightly overwhelmed by the incredible wall of sound all around her. I imagine seeing her live must be an experience akin to seeing James Brown, another indefatigable bandleader who somehow manages to never be overwhelmed by his incredible band.
There are quieter tracks sprinkled throughout, such as the bossa-tinged “Mas Que Nada” and the almost acoustic “Lanca Perfume” and “Bossa Nova” (shades of João!) But the overriding feel is one of energy and momentum, a powerful, uniquely Brazilian vibe that even the quieter tracks transcribe as a kind of overwhelming sexual anxiety. The most blatantly house track is also the last track, “Outro Lugar” (also a single)—probably not the purest expression of Bahia’s explosive presence, but perhaps a necessary concession to those in the club world who may otherwise be alienated by the foreign language and world music barriers.
As is usually the case, I am certain that there are world purists among us who will bewail any bastardizations of pure ethnic expression. But anyone who begrudges this album its mild house touch is sincerely missing the point. A party is a party, be it in a Paris nightclub or a São Paulo housing project. A kicking bass drum means movement in every culture.