This is just a snapshot of some of the amazing new sounds coming from Brazil. It's a country that I fell in love with by accident. I honestly thought I knew a lot about Brazilian music with my Os Mutantes and Caetano Veloso records. I was wrong. The country has revealed itself to me as a musical behemoth where I am continually blown away by the music, whether it be a lost Afro-Brazilian treasure or some rhythm a spotty, white kid knocked together in his bedroom. These are just a few of the artists that are worth checking out and might show you a different side to Brazil than that which Michael Palin or David Beckham has been showing the nation on the BBC.
The biggest break-out star of recent years. Criolo had already earnt a loyal following for his early raw rap albums, appearances at underground poetry evenings (called saraus in Sao Paulo, where they are hugely popular and cooler than you'd think) and starring role in the hyper-real Profissão MC home-made movie. It was his last album that turned him into star though. No Na Orelha was the first Brazilian hip hop album that really moved out of the favela, partly because Criolo showed that he could also sing as well as rap, and then put together a crack-team of Brazilian musicians for an album that features reggae, afrobeat, old school rap, classic samba, heavy afro rhythms and Criolo's impassioned voice at the centre of all. If you want to understand why Brazilians are protesting at the World Cup then Google Translate this man's words and you'll understand the sentiment of the Brazilian people.
If you've seen any of the documentaries about Brazil in the lead-up to Brazil or read any lazy piece of journalism about the country you'll be well aware of baile funk (or funk carioca), Rio's harsh, low-budget and incredibly demeaning form of dance music. Well, baile funk has changed a lot, and even accepted into the mainstream (where terrible pop artists like Naldo and Anitta use the rhythm for their own devious means!) Leo Justi is an artist who has created his own version of the style, something he has dubbed "heavy baile" and which is essentially a more club-ready version of the sound, influenced by the global bass movement, but also with a surprisingly detailed and hyper-energetic production. Justi has only released a few songs so far but has been picked up by Waxploitation Records (home of Danger Mouse and Gnarls Barkley) so expect to hear much more from this Rio-based producer in the future.
Brazil is blessed with female singers, the legacy of great bossa nova and samba singers like Elza Soares, Elis Regina and Joyce, and this tradition continues into today, with singers creating fusions of electronica, pop, indie, bossa and more obscure Brazilian rhythms. Céu is the biggest name of the new generation, but I struggle to get past Tulipa. She was a late comer to the world of music, previously working as a journalist, amongst other jobs. This shows, as she already has the maturity to create concise, vivid portraits of her life in Brazil's biggest city, São Paulo. She has already moved on from the simple hypnotic guitar work of her debut album to a fuller sound using musicians from her city's experimental scene. With a voice to kill for and some of the best lyrics on show, Tulipa is definitely one to check out.
As with Criolo, Bixiga 70 represent a new afro consciousness taking place in Brazil. Whether white, mestizo or black, many Brazilians are beginning to fully appreciate the role of Africa in their culture, seeing the links between their own music and that of Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia (largely thanks to the blogs that have helped spread African music around the world) and setting off on new musical voyages. After a chance encounter with Tony Allen (Fela Kuti's drummer), it was afrobeat that Bixiga 70 took as their calling card. However, by their second album they had already mutated, adding disco, funk and jazz to their horn- and percussion-heavy sound. I have often said that their second album (called Bixiga 70 in Brazil and Ocupai in Europe) is one of the best Brazilian albums of the last ten years, and I will say it again. A mind-blowingly good fusion of Brazil and Africa that is equal to the likes of Antibalas and Budos Band.
Dom La Nena
Arriving seemingly out of nowhere last year, Dom La Nena's debut album Ela is an absolute delight. She was raised in Paris and Buenos Aires, learning to play cello (inspired by the British cellist Jacqueline du Pré) at a young age, as well as soaking up the music of her Brazilian parents. Her music reflects all of this, and is as intimate as the best bossa nova, using loops in a similar vein to Juana Molina and clearly influenced by the Nouvelle chanson of France.
During the nineties, Pernambuco, in Brazil's North-East, was the home of the best new Brazilian music, with artists mixing the region's rich traditions of drum and vocal-led music with hip hop, electronica and rock in new and interesting ways (Nacao Zumbi, Eddie and DJ Dolores are the best examples of this) but now it feels like the scene is splintered. There is now a very clear scene of folkloric music with no wish for experimentation and then, on the other hand, there is indie, pop and electronic music which seems more influenced by the West than Brazil. Out of that group there is D Mingus, a bedroom musician whose albums have moved from joyous electronic squeals to guitar-based acoustic mumblings and now on to his current indie-electronica, full of whimsical, pastoral ditties which show his real knack of great melodies. I like to think of D Mingus as a Brazilian Metronomy, which is high praise indeed.
Russell Slater has been visiting and writing about Brazil for many years and recently edited and published a book about the country's music and culture, entitled Sounds and Colours Brazil. You can buy it from The Music Exchange, Five Leaves or online.
Sounds and Colours website