Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica

[26 February 2004]

By Marshall Bowden

The modern history of Brazil has been one of great promise and sometimes equally great frustration. The 1950s and early 1960s saw a democratic regime in the country and the emergence of populism, nationalism, and a period of great development. The capital was moved from Rio de Janiero to the sleek, modern city of Brasilia. The country’s auto industry flourished, albeit largely due to heavy protectionist policies from the government. Bossa music developed and joined other indigenous musical forms such as choro and samba. The country appeared to have a bright future until the rule of President Joao Goulart led to a military coup and the imposition of censorship and other repressive policies until 1985. Since then the country has ridden through a number of financial crises, but has generally modernized and seen the rise of new forms of artistic expression, particularly in music, where electronic dance music and digital studio techniques have melded comfortably with the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of the country’s musical past. The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica brings together some of the most interesting results of this musical experimentation by artists dating from the early 1990s to the present.

The disc begins with Suba, the Yugoslavian-born producer who moved to Brazil in the late ‘80s and helped forge the new Brazilian electronica sound. A classically trained pianist, Suba became extremely interested in Brazilian music and rhythms and found ways to combine electronics and acoustic instruments in ways that created a dreamy texture. He worked with major Brazilian artists such as Daniela Mercury, Hermeto Pascoal, and Marcos Suzano, and at the time he died was putting the finishing touches on Bebel Gilberto’s album Tanto Tempo. “Sereia” (“Mermaid”) emphasizes the approach used on that album, while the remixed version of “Samba Do Gringo Paulista” has a fiercer, polyrhythmic approach. The same local rhythmic emphasis can be heard on Cila Do Coco’s track, “Juntando Coco”, which melds tribal drums and call-and-response vocals with very modern electronic sounds.

Fernanada Porto, represented here by the track “De Costas Pro Mondo”, is a singer, composer, and musician who has studied the electro-acoustic work pioneered by Karlheniz Stockhausen and Edgar Varese. This track combines a stuttering drum ‘n’ bass-style drum track with a samba/bossa lilt over which she floats her crystal-clear voice. Some nice sax work recalls the heyday of the bossa craze when Stan Getz recorded several successful albums with Joao and Astrud Gilberto. It’s a perfect demonstration of the way that Brazilian musicians seem able to effortlessly combine the new and the old to create music of lasting beauty. The group Funk Como Le Gusta has remixed Porto’s work, and here they offer up their own acid jazz-influenced track, “Meu Guarda Chuva”. It’s a great track that would probably fill any dance floor from London to Rio to Berlin, and it demonstrates that, while the DJs and performers who create such music have some clear ideas in mind that they are trying to realize, sometimes it’s a good thing to let go of all the theory and just swing with the beats.

Porto’s roots go back to the samba and the bossa nova, but Claudia Telles goes back to the original bossa nova craze of the early 1960s. Here DJs Robert Menescal, Alexandre Moreira, and Marcelinho Dalua, noting the increasing use of bossa rhythms in the dance music coming out of the United States and Europe, sought to present an indigenous take on the fusion of electronica and Brazilian music. The result is an exultant version of the classic “One Note Samba (Samba De Uma Nota So)” that manages to absolutely swing, demonstrating the reason bossa and jazz made such wonderful companions.

Lest all of this sound like bossa music set to an electronic beat, rest assured there is plenty of variety. For example, Rebeca Matta, a native of Bahia, rocks out on her selection “E Que A Vida E…” in a manner that suggests a hard rock band with some electronic overtones, and there are other welcome surprises as well. The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica provides a great starting point for people interested in adventurous electronica that goes beyond the same old thing being done in Europe and the U.S. Given that the music of many of these artists is very difficult to find outside of Brazil, the Rough Guide producers have done a great service by providing a reference point for those whose interest will inspire them to seek out other work by these artists and others in the Brazilian electronica genre.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/various-brazilianelectronica/