For me, a huge amount of the enjoyment of "world music" is discovery: sometimes about new cultural groups and their music and sometimes the sophisticated and enjoyable sounds created when global popular music meets U.S. musical exports. Occasionally, whether from Delhi or Mexico City, sappy, silly pop makes it into the sales bin. So what of Beleza Tropical 2, a follow-up compilation volume produced by David Byrne for Luaka Bop? Think what one will about Byrne as a leading world music impresario, for my money he's still got the best ear in the business, and with some minor caveats, Beleza Tropical 2 is track-by-track a thorough delight.
New! More! Better! New? Not quite. A good portion of these tracks were recorded in the early and mid-90's. More? Perhaps, except Beleza Tropical 2 is culled from already-released and available albums. Better? Than what? If you paid any attention at all to the golden age of Brazilian Popular Music from the 60s & 70s, the tropicalismo movement, or the 90s progeny of those earlier styles, Beleza Tropical 2 just isn't going to hold much for you because artists like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are likely to be household names. On the other hand, if you missed much of those world shattering musical movements and sounds from Brazil still remain an adventure, just buy the damn thing. It'll be years before the U.S. popular music industry catches up to what you'll hear on Beleza Tropical 2, and it's as fun a trip as you could ask for with some of the biggest (and lesser) names of contemporary Brazil. As Byrne aptly notes, "Brazil is where everything is possible, creatively at least." You'll hear why the claim is more than hyperbole.
Favorites from Beleza Tropical 2 are tough to select because it's a "cover to cover" winner. Try out Gilberto Gil (Madalena), Lenine (Hoje Eu Quero Siar So), Margareth Menezes (Ifa, Um Canto Pra Subir), Chico Science & Nacao Zumbi (Rios, Pontes & Overdrives), Tom Ze (Curiosidade), Marisa Monte (Balanca Pema), and the wonderful track by Sergio Mendes (What is This?). And you might as well save yourself some time. If you don't yet have a copy of Beleza Tropical 1, get them both. - Richard Dorsett