Tag Archives: David Byrne

Jorge Ben’s Africa Brasil

7 Oct

Never has Brazilian music been as funky as this. The colour and hustle of Rio de Janeiro’s streets sits alongside the tight funk of James Brown and Fela Kuti on an album increasingly being thought of as Jorge Ben’s crowning achievement. The glittering guitar work, insistent vocals and bursting melodies are the same as he’s always used but there’s a power to the band that wasn’t completely there before and a rawness which would soon be lost in the eighties.

Opening track “Ponta De Laca Africano (Umbabaraúma)” starts the album with one of the densest grooves Ben has ever concocted. It also continues one of Ben’s main lyrical themes, that of football. Umbabaraúma is the name given to dribbling the ball past the opponents. It’s almost startling when you see the English translation of lyrics as the song is built like a chant. Here’s one of the verses:

Play ball play ball ball player
Play ball I want to play ball ball player
Jump, jump, fall, get up, go up and get down
Run, kick, find a hole, thrill and give thanks
See how the whole city empties out
On this beautiful afternoon to watch you play

Another two songs take football as their main theme on this disc; “Meus Filhos, Meu Tesouro” and “Camisa 10 da Gavea”. It’s one of his enduring qualities that Ben has always stayed clear of songs with political intent, choosing instead to write about themes from which any Brazilian can find joy. That he’s held in the same regard as heavyweight songwriters such as Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso is testament to how good these songs actually are.

This album includes two particular songs which have gone on to become stoned-on classics. “Taj Mahal”, which had featured as an improvisational jam on his collaboration with Gilberto Gil from the previous year, was here reinvented as a disco-funk tour-de-force. Some people see this as the step that Ben made away from Samba Funk and towards Samba Disco. It is definitely true that later albums would be far more disco’d up, but this should in no way detract from this track. It is impossible to sit still as the beat kicks in on this number, before the hushed words ‘Taj Mahal’ get the ball rolling and both an irresisitible verse and chorus leave no moment of rest for the song’s entirety.

“Xica da Silva” is another song which has gone on to become a staple, appearing in different guises on future Ben albums. It also brings up one of the other themes of the album, it’s African roots. I’ve tried to find out more about this record and where the African influence comes from but have failed to find anything substantial. Has Ben been to Africa? Were African musicians used on the record? After many listens I would have to suggest that the African influence comes more from the African influence within Brazil, a country which bought more slaves than any other. Xica da Silva, more commonly written as Chica da Silva or Francisca da Silva, is the name of an African slave who managed to work up the class ladder by marrying one of the wealthiest colonialists in Brazil. In some ways her story is very controversial as she kept slaves once she became wealthy but Ben chooses to concentrate on the paradigm of her being a black slave treated like loyalty, and with such a slinky, soulful groove this was perhaps the better choice.

Although I’ve alluded to James Brown and Fela Kuti these are just some touchstones in terms of understanding this album because it seems to have it’s own unique flavour. On first listen I was quite adamant that I’d never heard anything like it. Even other Ben records written around this time don’t seem to quite grasp the raw funkiness of this, a funkiness which does undeniably make you think of Fela Kuti rather than any of Ben’s Brazilian contemporaries, but then at the same time the album is undeniably Brazilian. From the songs about football to the Afro-Brazilian drums and rippling samba he learnt in Rio it has to be Brazilian, but then songs such as “Cavaleiro do Cavalo Imaculado” seem to come out of nowhere and you get lost once more in this album.

It has to go down as one of the greatest Brazilian albums of all time. I have no doubt about that despite only so far having a limited exposure to Brazilian music. There is put simply just some music which breaches all boundaries and exists on its own pedastal. Africa Brasil has to be one of these albums.

In 1989 David Byrne released Brazil Classics Vol.1: Beleza Tropical, a collection of classic MPB (Brazilian Popular Music) songs. “Ponta de Laca Africano” was the opening track and made a lot of people in America investigate more of Ben’s work, and especially Africa Brasil. This video of the song was produced when that CD was released:

Tom Ze at SESC Vila Mariana, Sao Paulo (25/02/11)

26 Feb

Like an excited schoolgirl awaiting new gossip on Justin Bieber the prospect of seeing Tom Zé in the flesh almost brought me out in hives. If I ever had any doubt this man is a genius this has now been put to bed.

The concert in Sao Paulo was to celebrate the release of Studies of Tom Ze: Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You, a compilation by Luaka Bop that combines three of his albums; Estudando o Samba, Estudando o Pagode and Estudando a Bossa. It’s songs from these albums that he would be playing, although he did stray into other albums quite a few times. One of the highlights was “To”, which is the video above, and also contains the line “Eu To Te Explicando Pra Te Confundir,” which is where the new collection gets the second part of its title. For some reason “Explaining Things So I Can Confuse You” just doesn’t quite have the same rhythm to it.

Here’s “Jimi Renda-Se,” one of those songs that isn’t actually on the Estudando albums, but is simply too good to miss out:

And here’s “Brigette Bardot.” It is said the cover of this album is actually a photo of a marble stuck up someone’s arse, something Zé did to amuse himself while the military dictatorship was at its most dominant.

For me, the concert at times was quite tiring. Mainly due to the fact that every song had an introduction, that would involve Zé pulling out a letter that he had written to Ronald Reagan, or explaining the contents of his new release, or putting a new jacket he had just made that he wanted everyone to know about. I’m pretty certain Ze’s brain works at 10 times the rate of mine, so even if he had been speaking English I would have struggled to keep up. As it was, in a rapid-fire of Portuguese my brain started to fizz and crackle trying to understand every nuance. It was these intros, which would often segue into the songs, that made the performance half theatre/half song, especially as he was playing with just a small quintet of performers, as opposed to some of the larger groups he’s been helming lately.

And for a bit more background information, this is the little promotional nugget Luaka Bop put together for the release.

A David Byrne style update on Brazil

10 Sep

When you’re hoping for an update on Brazil with a slightly oft-kilter but ultimately prescient nature you can’t really do much worse than David Byrne. Luckily, he has been writing about Brazil on his blog, which I can handily paste in here. He basically highlights the film “Saudade do Futuro” as one to look out for as well as mentions for Caetano Veloso and CéU. The first of these doesn’t really need any introduction, other than to say he still has it, but CéU maybe does. She is still getting bigger and bigger but yet to really break the US or England yet. She played in London for the second time this summer, and has been popping on all kinds of different albums, including new releases by Herbie Hancock and 3namassa. As Mr Byrne says, it really is only a matter of time before she makes it. Here’s what he had to say in full:

Brasil Update

The other day I watched a Brazilian film called Saudade do Futuro, a documentary about Northeastern musicians in São Paulo. This means the poor Northeast in Brasil, not Northeast as in Connecticut. The film is very poetic — there is almost no voice over, and almost no didactic explanations of what we’re seeing — but those techniques are made unnecessary because the style of music — forró, and especially repentismo — tell the stories of the singers’ harsh lives in the lyrics. The latter style consists of rap/rhyming duels, with the singers also playing pandeiros (tambourines with heads, to us northerners). They describe how they had to leave the Northeast — as Luiz Gonzaga did decades ago — and their struggles to survive in the big city. There’s a lot of humor and innuendo in the lyrics as well. Years ago I went to a forró club in SP and it was lovely — great dancing and live music blasting over a horrific PA system.

The filmmakers intersperse the musical scenes with poetic footage of São Paulo — the stock exchange, the street bustle, the commuter trains — that also have a kind of musicality to them. It all fits together in a way that is lovely but inexplicable.

I saw Caetano Veloso’s show here recently at Terminal 5. He’s touring with a band led by guitarist Pedro Sá. The music from his last two records is minimal and raw — rock with a subtext of samba. Lyrics about relationships gone bad, the US base at Guantanamo and drug addicts. Not exactly feel good stuff — but he manages inevitably to make it enjoyable and even beautiful. His pleasure in performing was infectious. It was the best sound mix I’ve ever heard at Terminal 5.

Sunday night I saw Céu, a singer who is one of the exponents of the kind of electronic-roots hybrids now coming out of Brasil. She does a very contemporary kind of music that’s informed by a myriad of historical (mostly Brazilian) styles. The band was, like Caetano’s, minimal — bass, drums, keyboards, and a guy who played samples by using discs as a DJ might… but in this case he played the discs manually, triggering sounds off his laptop. In the last few years she’s gotten hugely popular — well, everywhere except the USA. I expect that might change soon.