DJ Gilles Peterson’s guide to classic and contemporary Brazilian music

Rap and heavy metal have their place along with bossa nova, samba’s gentler, jazzier cousin

Football fever is in full flow. Beautiful game or not, there’s no escaping the World Cup for the next month. And the fact that the tournament is in Brazil might pique some curiosity about the soundtrack to the action.

Brazilian music has more to offer than the touristy carnival image or the subtle sway of bossa nova, samba’s gentler, jazzier cousin. Rap and heavy metal have their place in Brazil, as they do almost everywhere. Most people will have heard a few of the great names – Tom Jobim’s “Girl from Ipanema”, made famous by João and Astrud Gilberto; Os Mutantes, the South American Beatles; “Mas Que Nada”, the Jorge Ben song – but may know little of the recent work and nothing of the local gems.

Gilles Peterson, a Londoner born in France, has been a champion of Brazilian music for more than 25 years – as a club DJ, through compilations and latterly with his globally syndicated BBC radio show, Worldwide. His latest project is an album called Brasil Bam Bam Bam by supergroup Sonzeira, in which he’s brought together some of his “all-time favourite musicians”. Among others, there’s Marcos Valle, whose bossa stylings first fired Peterson’s Brazilian passion; Wilson das Neves, the drummer whom Peterson says has “played on every important record out of Rio” and remains the “ultimate Carioca dude” (Carioca is slang for Rio’s insouciant inhabitants); and soap opera star and singer Emanuelle Araujo.

Sonzeira translates as “wicked sounds” and the material comprises mainly new versions of these artists’ key songs “in a modern context”, Peterson told me on the phone from Havana. Knowing the spotlight would be on Brazil this summer, he wanted to “lay down a musical representation of the country that wasn’t going to be a cliché”. His guiding principle, citing the Ry Cooder initiative that brought veteran Cuban stars to the attention of international audiences in the 1990s, was “Buena Vista meets club culture”. Peterson was fortunate that Alexandre Kassin, of the bands the +2s and Orquestra Imperial, could act as his fixer. The rest was left to good taste and “letting life take you”, as the Cariocas say.

At my request, Peterson has selected 10 tracks as a guide to classic and contemporary Brazilian vibes.

. . .

“Where Naná Hides” by Sonzeira

This track features Naná Vasconcelos, who has played with artists from Pat Metheny to Talking Heads. A virtuoso of the berimbau, a musical bow with a resonating gourd, he epitomises Brazil’s musical links with Africa. “I try to show the landscape of my country in my compositions,” Vasconcelos has said. Having formed a band, Codona, in New York with Don Cherry, the percussionist/composer is also among the original citizens of “world music”.

. . .

“Cravo e Canela” by Milton Nascimento

Another of Peterson’s Brazilian “first loves”, the singer-songwriter shows that samba isn’t just about the massed ranks of batucada drummers. A gossamer melody and propulsive percussion collide in this track from 1972’s Clube da Esquina, often regarded as The White Album of the post-bossa scene.

. . .

“Carolina” by Seu Jorge

He won fame as an actor in 2002’s favela thriller City of God, and sang Bowie covers in Portuguese for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). At home, Jorge is acclaimed as the king of samba-pop. Effortlessly funky.

. . .

“A Bossa Nova é Foda” by Caetano Veloso

From his new album, Abraçaço, the 71-year-old hero of Tropicalismo, the protest movement against Brazil’s 1960s junta, proves he’s still got it. Fluting falsetto and acoustica joust with churning drums and an interrogative squiggle of electric guitar. An affirmation of faith.

. . .

“Baby” by Gal Costa

Tropicalismo involved an openness to British and American rock and psychedelia. Here, on her 1969 debut album, Costa coos like a flower-powered, lusophone Carole King.

. . .

“Boa Noite” by Karol Conka

This might be reminiscent of MIA – the baile funk sound was pillaged on her “Bucky Done Gone”. Baile is the Rio term for favela dance parties. Raw and electro-driven, funk is the true report of Brazil’s urban frontline. On her debut album, Batuk Freak, Conka rhymes with the relish of early Kelis, bringing hip-hop to the baile.

. . .

“Baiao” by Mental Abstrato and DJ Tahira

There are many ways to shake a booty in Brazil. Sambass is a mash-up of samba and drum’n’bass, while tecnobrega is an incorrigibly cheesy form of EDM. Elements of reggae, dub and grime get down as one on the recent compilation Brazilian Bass, from which this pulsing, then body-poppingly, frenetic example is lifted.

. . .

“Metal Metal” by Metá Metá

Melding improvised guitar and sax with an Afro-punk aesthetic, São Paulo’s Metá Metá take Tropicalismo’s fusion approach in a bold new direction. (The band follow Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion that has links to the days of slavery.) “We’re the fruit of the third world, of imperfection, discomfort and worry,” horn player Thiago França has said.

. . .

“Avante” by Siba

Siba, aka Sérgio Veloso, made his name in the 1990s in the group Mestre Ambrósio, part of Recife’s “mangue bit” movement (“mangue” as in mangrove and “bit” as in computers – because electronic music was central to its style). On his latest album, he emerges from time spent in the Brazilian interior playing traditional dance music such as ciranda and maracatu to plunge into São Paulo indie-rock.

. . .

“Aquarela do Brasil” by Elza Soares/Sonzeira

The country’s alternative national anthem, sung by the 76-year-old queen of samba, this is the track of which Peterson is most proud on his Sonzeira album. He believes it is the first time Soares has recorded the song, even though she was discovered by its author, Ary Barroso. Every heartache is poured into her mournful yet resilient version.


‘Brasil Bam Bam Bam’ is out on Talkin’ Loud/Virgin EMI; ‘Brazilian Bass’ is on Far Out Recordings; ‘Rolê: New Sounds of Brazil’ is released on Mais Um Discos tomorrow

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