Sunday evening found a traffic-choked Hammersmith taking on a Latin ambience as crowds of exuberant Brazilians gathered outside the Tube and bus stations. The cause of this outpouring of South American pride was the UK debut of Tribalistas, a supergroup from Rio consisting of Arnaldo Antunes, Carlinhos Brown and Marisa Monte.
Tribalistas appeared in 2002 with an eponymous debut album that topped both Brazilian and Portuguese charts, sold 3m copies worldwide and won a Latin Grammy. They never toured or gave interviews and, beyond releasing a song in support of gay marriage legislation in 2013, all returned to their solo careers. Monte, aged 51, is a superstar in Brazil, celebrated both for her talents as a singer-songwriter and business acumen. Brown, 55, made his name as a samba percussionist with pop smarts — Shakira, Herbie Hancock and Sergio Mendes are on his CV. Antunes, 58, is a noted songwriter and poet. In 2017 the trio re-entered the studio and released an album (again called only Tribalistas, again topping Brazilian and Portuguese charts). Finally they are touring.
The capacity audience, drawn heavily from London’s Brazilian community, roared their approval from the minute Tribalistas took the stage. The trio, backed by a guitar-bass-drums-percussion quartet, blend their voices to create a lush celebration of Brazilian music and here they conveyed a real sense of joy. The only uncertain moment came when Antunes, in faltering English, explained why it had taken them 15 years to reach London — this prompted several audience members to shout for him to speak Portuguese. Monte took over, deftly addressing the fans as “our London tribe”, and all went smoothly again. While Tribalistas operate as a musical democracy — sharing songwriting and production credits — it is Monte who stands centre stage and is most often featured as lead singer.
The influence of both The Beatles and French singer Françoise Hardy is apparent in Tribalistas’s melodic odes to love and unity. The trio’s outfits also reflect a similarly late-1960s sensibility, feather boas and crushed velvet jackets being requisite stage wear. For the first hour Tribalistas sang acoustic songs with gentle bossa nova rhythms. This encouraged audience participation in singing along with choruses but lacked dynamism.
The second hour saw Brown, who surrounds himself with an array of percussive instruments, stepping forward and upping the tempo. Joined by the band’s drummer and percussionist, he unleashed furious samba rhythms and the Apollo metamorphosed into a huge club with the audience dancing in and out of their seats. Tribalistas rode this energy, the trio creating a carnival-style celebration, and ended the performance by dancing their way offstage. A week after Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of a very divided Brazil, Tribalistas demonstrated a musical unity that left everyone happy.
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