Bonde Do Role gangs up on Brazilian dance music

[18 September 2007]

By Len Righi

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

Two years ago, Marina Vello held down two jobs - working part-time in a library and as a waitress - while she studied literature in her native Brazil. “I was happy with my life then,” she says, a trace of wistfulness in her voice.

And now? “I live like a Gypsy. I don’t have home.”

What caused such an upheaval? Bonde Do Role.

The 22-year-old Vello’s voice - an amusing, exaggerated combination of badgering bluster and bored brashness - is the fuse that has helped detonate the Brazilian trio’s frenzied take on baile funk, the bass-heavy playful party music from the shanty towns of Sao Paolo.

Over the last year Vello (nee Ribatski) and her Bonde Do Role (Bon-jay doh Hole-ay) fellow travelers have circumnavigated the globe, signed a record deal with the label behind Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys and released a buzz-creating, rump-shaking debut disc, “Bonde Do Role With Lasers.”

Of course, the high-spirited Vello points out, she, Pedro D’eyrot and Rodrigo Gorky never intended to be a band.

“The band started as a joke,” says Vello, calling from a ferry heading to the Isle of Wight, where Bonde Do Role was to perform at Bestival.

“One day we were supposed to (record) some electro-rock songs, but at our first rehearsal we were really drunk, so we did some funk songs instead,” she continues, the sounds of the sea and fellow passengers threatening to swamp what she is saying in Portuguese-accented English. “We sang whatever came into our heads.”

A short time later, Gorky, who was working as a DJ in the beach resort of Florianopolis, played one of the songs during a show. The club crowd reacted so favorably to “Solta O Frango (Free the Chickens),” which is built around a rock guitar riff from The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” that Gorky was offered a paying gig for his nonexistent “band.”

“He came back and said, `I got a show for us. We can go for free to the beach if we can do 10 songs,’” recalls Vello.

So Gorky, Vello and D’eyrot came up with the necessary material. “We did demo versions on very cheap equipment,” Vello says. “We used to do everything with samples. It was totally, totally for fun. After we told our friends about it, our friends were asking for them, so we put them on MySpace for download.”

The songs caught the attention of influential Philadelphia DJ Diplo. “He was planning to (start) his own (Mad Decent) label,” says Vello, “and he invited us to be the first release. We said, `Yeah, we can do it.’ Then things really started happening fast.”

Bonde Do Role’s songs often mash up electro-pop, rock guitar and hip-hop - “booty music with people screaming over it and lots of energy” is how D’eyrot recently described it - and the lyrics are mostly all chanted in Portuguese.

Vello says her favorite phrase is in “Teita” - “melo do malandro.” “It means gigolo, a guy who always takes advantage, but in a bad way,” she explains. “The songs says all the a - holes in the world are the same. You shouldn’t bother about whether someone is gay or straight, because the a - holes are all the same.”

That cheekiness permeates other tracks as well. For example, “Danca du Zombi,” bolstered by an Eddie Van Halen guitar riff and a Satanic laugh, is about “taking drugs until you turn into a zombie,” says Vello. “It’s not an apology for drugs,” she quickly adds. “It’s just a silly joke.”

And on the percussion heavy, rock guitar riff-fueled “James Bonde,” “the lyric is about James being gay,” says Vello. “All the jokes are 10-year-old children’s jokes.”

One of the catchiest tracks, “Gasolina,” name checks Afrika Bambaataa and uses what sounds like a tuba to burp out a melody line over a Bambaataa-derived beat. “We did this song with Diplo,” says Vello. “We just sang nonsense words into the mike, like `come to play with my spider.’” And why the Bambaattaa references? “Because he’s a big influence on us.”

Bonde Do Role, which last week began a string of 30 North American dates, has developed a reputation for wild, party-pumping live shows, the result, Vello says, of the band’s spontaneity and “cooperative” crowds. “One of the craziest shows we’ve had was in Toronto,” she notes. “People were dancing in waves. They were packed in so tight they had to move in groups.”

She also recalls breaking her arm at the July 2006 Pitchfork festival in Chicago when, following some crowd surfing, Vello landed awkwardly after being deposited a few feet short of the stage. “That day, I didn’t finish the show,” she says. “But the next day, when we were playing in Minneapolis, that was worse. I finished the show crying in pain.”

Vello credits touring with improving her English. “I used to read English in Brazil, so I thought I could speak it,” she says. “But when I get out of Brazil for the first time, I found out I didn’t understand anything. But one time in England and one time America was enough. Then I was speaking English with no problem.”

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