With the Tropicalistas all moving toward retirement age, who will rise to lead a new generation of important Brazilian pop artisans? On this U.S.-only CD release, Lenine steps easily into ranks alongside the older generation within the Musica Popular Brasileira vanguard.
If you’re new to Brazilian pop, here’s what I’m talking about: In the late 1960s, Brazilian youth culture was experiencing its own flowering empowerment, with its particular brand of hippie kids trying to change the world through the power of psychedelic music with a message. These upstarts assembled in 1968 to create an LP calledTropicalia, which would become a landmark, a fulcrum, a springboard, and any other term that translates as found-freakin’-dational. The members of this collective included Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, and the band Os Mutantes, all of whom would go on to have successful (and mostly enduring) careers. The lifespan of this movement mirrored its U.S. analog, essentially disintegrating in the early ‘70s, when the then-ruling military regime in Brazil forced both Gil and Veloso into temporary exile in England (while less public figures simply disappeared). A short time later, when the climate mellowed a bit, the two singers returned to their homes and, along with Costa, Veloso’s sister Maria Bethania, Jorge Ben, and Milton Nascimento, would form the core of the genre Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB), the literate and creative alt-pop of that largest of South American nations.
Now closing out the fourth decades in their careers, this boomer-aged cohort has remained productive and occasionally even vital. Nonetheless, a fresh voice is needed, and that voice belongs to the mononymous Lenine (pronounced leh-NEE-nee), already a success in his homeland and now primed to break through into the global marketplace. Based on the merits of this very fine collection, he is ready. Assembled from his three most recent studio albums for BMG, Lenine features just over an hour’s worth of terrific songs taken from 1997’s O Dia Em Que Faremos Contato, 1999’s Na Pressao, and 2002’s Falange Canibal (ignoring only his 1993 debut, Olho De Peixe, recorded for the Velas label).
A wonderfully eclectic musician, the variety of textures, moods, and sounds Lenine incorporates on this disc all fit together amazingly well. The singer-songwriter is equally assured when delivering a melancholic ballad like “Distantes Demais” as he is the funky, strutting pop of “Alzira A E Torre”. The progenitors of MPB were hip to the latest production techniques found in Western recordings, and Lenine follows suit. His music features plenty of electronic elements, but, unlike much world music wherein the drum machine beats and synth washes feel tacked on, Lenine’s are well and smartly integrated into his very fresh-sounding tracks. It helps that he would be compelling enough utilizing only his syncopated guitar strummings and his terrific voice, a low tenor that sounds great when raspy or sweet. His songs are made even more arresting by their soldering together of traditional folk sounds onto contemporary rewirings; samba onto rock, pop, and funk; the influences of Prince onto his inheritance from Veloso.
It’s little wonder that Lenine has captured the hearts of his fellow Brazilians, with his blend of the old and the new, all familiar enough but played with creativity and relaxed confidence. Accessible and excitingly good, he should resonate with the rest of the world, as well. I’ve long been a fan of MPB, but the rewarding releases have been fewer and further between since the genre’s glory years in the late ‘60s and throughout the ‘70s. It’s a boon to find a newer artist picking up where the graying Tropicalistas left off. Already a star in his home country, Lenine is the new word in MPB for U.S. fans who understand that, along with soccer, Brazil has another excellent export to offer: smart pop music.
Lenine - Do It
// Notes from the Road
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