In Brazilian culture, music is as much a necessity of life as food, and equally nourishing to the population. Most casual listeners may not be familiar with anything Brazilian other than the bossa nova explosion of the 1960s, but the popular music of this large nation has expanded and evolved a great deal since then. Two of the more engaging and interesting examples of this contemporary diversity are Rita Ribeiro and Chico Cesar, who are both considered part of what is called MPB, or “Musica Popular Brasilera”: Brazilian popular music.
Ribeiro is from the northern state of Maranhao, a locale that exposed her to reggae and other more regional sounds as well as traditional Brazilian samba. As a result, the songs on her new CD, Perolas Aos Povos, carry the lilting air of the Caribbean, mixed with the rhythmic drive of roots reggae, as heard in the opening track, “Banho Cheiroso”. At times she veers close to western pop styles, as in, “Pensar Em Voce”, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Paul McCartney album. For those not fluent in Portuguese, there are translations in the booklet that reveal Ribeiro’s divergent tendencies toward beautiful sentimentality (“Déjà Vu”) and catchy silliness (“Vendedor de Bananas”, a light funk tune complete with hip-hop style record scratching).
Chico Cesar is also a northern Brazilian like Ribeiro, also less influenced by the popular dance music of his country than the funkier aspects of the outside world’s culture. On his new self-titled CD Cesar stakes out a more rock-influenced sound that draws from his native tropicalia sounds as well as modern pop and funk.
An impish-looking character with a distinctively odd hairstyle, Cesar’s playful nature shows in his music, which maintains a lightheartedness and sense of humor even in the more traditional moments. “Pedra de Responsa” (Real Good Stuff), for example, is a samba-like shuffle with a snappy horn section, yet the lyrics tell of smoking “a weird cigarette” and, “Boy, I really liked it.”
Perhaps the most memorable moment on the disc could also be considered by some the most annoying, on the track, “You, Yuri”. The lyrics of the song consist entirely of two names, Yuri Popoff and Yuri Gagarin, repeated endlessly. The former is a famous Brazilian bass player; the latter is the Russian cosmonaut famous as the first man in space. Whether Cesar means anything by this juxtaposition of the two Yuri’s isn’t clear, but the melody is a taut funk groove that will lodge in one’s brain for weeks, resurfacing at random.