Wanna know more about new Brazilian music than most Brazilians? Check out this debut record by the coolest underground group in that crazy wonderful country. Even my friend Adriana, who lives in São Paulo, hadn’t heard of Cabruêra — but her younger co-workers had, and were unanimous in their praise for this group. Now Portland’s hip Alula label has released their self-titled LP, and you can hear the sound of young Brazil for yourself.
(Standard disclaimer paragraph: it’s not just all bossa nova and samba blah blah Brazilians are more tuned into more kinds of music than anyone else in the world blah blah their whole nation is based on synthesis of cultures and ideas blah blah their music shows the world the way it ought to be, everything in the same pot, heat it up, blah blah blah. I’ve said it a million times, I’ll say it a million more.)
Cabruêra comes from Recife, a northern Brazilian capital city located deep in the swampland. The last wonderful movement to come from Recife was the wonderful combo of Chico Science and Naçao Zumbi, who melded psychedelia and electronica with Brazilian and African and Latin music until it sounded perfect; their album Afrociberdelia is pretty much required listening for anyone who wants to know what modern Brazil sounds like. But ever since Chico died in that car crash a couple of years ago (Naçao has gone on to form XXXX), Recife has been waiting for the next new thing. Along comes Cabruêra.
This is a six-person combo that has managed to mix a time-honored Afro-Euro-Brazilian music in with the rest: they manage to work the ska-polka rhythm of forró music in with all the other sorts of music created by humans, and make it work. They have also perfected a new way of playing the electric guitar, a way which — oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First tracks first.
They start with “Loa de Chegança”, an a cappella chant that serves to wake us all up. I can’t remember the last crucial band to open their debut album with an a cappella chant, but Cabruêra has the balls to do just that. Then they launch into a song called “Forró Esferográfico,” a tune which I heard on last year’s Piranha live compilation Sons da Terra. When I reviewed that record for PopMatters last year, I noted that Cabruêra leader Arthur Pessoa was credited with playing a guitar esferográfico, but had no idea what that might be. Well, now I know: he’s wailing on an electric guitar with a ballpoint pen. (Simple, really: esfero = sphere, gráfico = pen. My Portuguese ain’t that good.) My ears hear this as a more organic way to play e-bow style effects, but I’m going to quote the booklet, which claims that this sounds like “a cello which has swallowed a beetle” — much better than mine. At any rate, it sounds kick-ass, and the instrumental that has been built around this “instrument” is one of the catchiest funkiest things I’ve heard in a long time.
Cabruêra plays several other instrumentals or quasi-instrumentals on this record, and all of them are worth the time that it takes to hear them. Guitarist Fredi Guimarães is a skilled composer who knows how to maintain moods without using a lot of words. His “Certo Sertão” is gentle acoustic folk-picking undergirded by a strange tone that sounds like a didgeridoo, until the clean light percussion moves in and gives it a pulse. The rest of the track intermixes organic and computer sounds, but not in that man vs. machine way; Guimarães just treats keyboard squiggles and freaky bell-like tones as everyday business. “Música Nova” is just as delicate — a moody meditation soundtrack that uses wordless vocals until it evolves into a sambafied down tempo dance with the repeated yell of “Terra!” (That’s what I mean by quasi-instrumental, by the way.) Fredi’s collaboration with (I’m assuming it’s his brother) Efrem, “Galopeando”, uses the contrast between melancholy and sunniness to create a truly stunning soundtrack to whatever thoughts are in your head; it’s Yes and Caetano and Brit-pop and Peter Gabriel all in one, with that esferográfico sound hovering just out of sight. And if you’re looking for the Asian Massive sound in a Brazilian electrogroove, “Bagacera” (co-written by Fredi and bassist Orlando Freitas) brings it out lovely, with sitar sounds played on guitar and tabla sounds played on Brazilian drums and a phase effect that’ll make you gasp.
But Pessoa is the leader of Cabruêra, and his songs are impressive too, even if they have lyrics on ’em. “Muganzé” is a spoken-word piece done like a political rally set to some scary-ass Yoko Ono backing courtesy of percussionist Zé Guilherme. My Portuguese she is not so great, but when words like “Fatores externos exercem coerçao sobre o ser” are declaimed in a big ol’ creepy bass voice, it works immensely, and when everything turns into a coffee-flavored monstermovie dance, you’ll be smiling and scared at how good this band can potentially be. This is to be entirely contrasted with the no-static-at-all smiliness of “Parapoderembolar”, which is entirely bossa-rap in the fashion of Arnaldo Antunes and name-drops Jackson Pandeiro and Luiz Gonzaga right along hip-hop (pronounced, in that Brazilian way, “hippie-hoppy”) and “sambafunkysoul” and rock and xote and xaxado; quite a manifesto, especially with that airy but insistent beat floating from each speaker like a cool new breeze blowing from the south.
Cabruêra truly recognizes no boundaries between any of those genres of music they mention above, because they’re too busy running shit. Track for track, this is the most accomplished and least intimidated debut I’ve heard this year. They just bust out the way they want to with no fear about anything, the way music was meant to be. I love this group, but I have a feeling that they’ve already gone far beyond what this record sounds like. I can’t wait. Alula, do your duty and bring on Album #2!