[2 July 2008]
Before the dust has even settled on the well-reviewed Rough Guide to African Street Party, here comes the Brazilian instalment, banging on any and every percussion instrument, chanting its way to the next shot of cachaça, and generally having it “gran-jee”. A roaring James Brown medley—from Funk ´N Lata—opens proceedings, with compiler John Armstrong (a DJ with a hand in many a fine collection, including Strut’s seminal Nigeria 70) perhaps reiterating the point that the late Funky President continues to exert more of an influence on Brazilian popular music than any other single Western musician.
The inter-breeding of Brown’s polyrhythmic atavism and the sloping bent of samba has created a kind of hedonistic Übermensch for thousands of dancefloors for decades now, and—if the contemporary round-up presented here is anything to go by—it’s a love affair yet to grow cold. The thrill isn’t as fresh as it once was, though. While Jorge Ben defined the original “África Brasil”, here community activists Afroreggae cut up a groove akin to the Ben anthem, “Ponta De Lança Africano” (amongst other Ben-isms), with Manu Chao purring some of his favourite syllables (“luna”, “pena”, “destino” etc.), the end result of which is very 21st century, but lacks the natural high of the first time around.
Rio’s latest syncretic homage to Brown’s legacy, baile funk, comes courtesy of MC Marcinho, or at least the frothier end of the genre: Favela, it has to said, sounds more like the kind of anthemic Euro-queijo you might have heard on the costas ten or twenty years ago. But credit to Armstrong, he’s certainly no trainspotterly snob, and you’ll be singing this all the way to the departure lounge, flip flops aloft. Capoeira Experience likewise tick to the dull thud of cheap technology, but—like many a Brazilian before them—cut their funk from the mono-string buzz of a berimbau. Married to a vocal melody of near-classic MPB vintage, “Princesinha Da Maré” successfully gets over its own disposability.
Sourced from further up north (Olinda and Recife) is something Armstrong dubs “acoustic street-funk”: the resplendently named Zé Cafofinho E Suas Correntes call it a combination of “barbecue jazz” and “samba played with your hands on the bar”; in fact, “Meio De Transporte” is the kind of uniquely Lusophone artistry that makes you want to both cut a rug and stare forlornly into your beer at the same time, the high whine of a rabeca and fish-gut ping of a cavaquinho sawing away at both your solar plexus and your hips. And no street party would be a street party without the hard stuff, even if it’s sourced from abroad—Ashen and Walker supply a cuica’n cowbell colossus in “Batucada Ostinata”—a deskbound production rather than a carnival outtake (for that, fast forward to Sururu Na Roda’s joyfully interpreted ‘40s standard, “Na Gloria”, with a few Os Mutantes-esque “Hey ba-ba-ba-chu-ba"s thrown in for kitschy measure), but it more than does the job. It also demonstrates how batucada picked samba’s bones clean and took Brazilian groove to its frenzied conclusion.
And so the compilation goes, swinging wildly between the street and the studio, between local tradition, favela transgression, and ‘80s fixation. Between an unlikely up-north frevo from erstwhile Seu Jorge associate Gabriel Moura, and the dubby cross-hatching of hip-hop maverick B Negão. Between the animist, ensemble maracatú of Comadre Fulazinha, and the funk-rock grind of Anna Luisa featruing Pedro Luis & A Parede, all the while throwing loud, confetti-like palmfuls of its common currency—Afro-rooted rhythm—into the crowd as it goes. “Mr Bongo"s “Brazilian Beats” series worked a similar formula to often brilliant ends, but then they often relied on bigger names. Although it sometimes flies too close to the commercial knuckle, you won’t find many Brazilian comps as fearlessly diverse as this, with such an emphasis on lesser sung artists, and that has to count for something.