RootsWorld: Brazil

A small list of recomended recordings... far from complete, but we're working on it. These reviews date back to about 1989, so labels may have changed and some may be out of print. Also note that we have made no attempt to write about classics that may predate RootsWorld. Maybe someday... maybe someday...

An overview of Brazilian music styles by Christina Roden

  • The language of the Guarani of Brazil is explored in Words and Images.

    Special artist features
    Milton Nascimento
    Carlinhos Brown

    Newest reviews

    Carlinhos Brown
    Omelete Man
    Metro Blue

    Carlinhos Brown is best-known as the founder of Brazil's drum-dominated pop group Timbalada. Brown, who first learned drumming on the street, proves he is still the precocious percussion prodigy. Wildly creative, Brown takes to percussion like a child takes to finger-paints, having fun as they create a big, beautiful mess. Listening to this wide-ranging album, one can easily imagine the mischievous glee in Brown's eyes as he tries trick after trick.

    Brown's strongest songs are his Prince-like dance tunes. Using unique amalgams of traditional and modern percussion, he lays down playful but irresistible grooves. Though Brown is certainly a Brazilian artist, he has a strong fascination with American music, which is not unusual in Brazil, where U.S. songs often hold sway on the charts. Several of his songs have English lyrics, though they are decidedly impressionistic, as dreamy as his Portuguese lyrics. Still, he puts such a distinctive spin on his tunes that it is hard to accuse him of being a copycat.

    Less successful are some of Brown's slower songs. These crooned tunes are still pretty interesting, but it's hard not to feel let down after the sugar rush of his more effervescent cuts. - Marty Lipp

    Sergio Santos
    Blue Jackel (

    Gilberto Gil
    Quanta Live

    Sergio Santos presents the gentler side of samba, closer to the bossa nova. Though the difference can be subtle, bossa is usually more musically sophisticated and jazzy, whereas samba is more straightforwardly rhythmic. On most of Mulato's tunes there is an undercurrent of percussion beneath Santos' billowy soft voice and instrumentation, while other songs lay back into bossa territory.

    In Brazil, this music would be considered old-fashioned - not in the sense of being folkloric, but in its being in line with the sambistas who revere pure samba unadulterated by electronics or the influence of other genres. Though it has an easy-going backyard samba feel, the music here is not raw-sounding - it glistens as much as any music polished in a modern recording studio. One of Brazil's most beloved performers, Gilberto Gil, came to prominence in the late 1960s as part of the tropicalismo movement, which brought a new experimentalism to pop music during a particularly repressive time. Now over 50, Gil is still an innovator, but he continues to embody the smiling, generous spirit of Brazilian music.

    Since this Grammy nominee is a concert album, the emphasis is on energetic, crowd-pleasing songs - with about half the cuts coming from Gil's exquisite 1997 Quanta. Among the highlights are two Bob Marley songs, an auspicious sign of Gil's upcoming tribute album to the late reggae star. In the mix of Gil's own songs, he and his band demonstrate their agility at playing anything from Afro-Brazilian rhythms to rock. In fact, categorizing Gil's songs is often impossible. Even in a country famous for syncretizing music, Gil is unparalleled in his ability to wrap up the past and future to make one big, colorful present for us. - Marty Lipp

    Guilherme Franco
    Capoeira: Legendary Music of Brazil
    Lyrichord (

    A berimbau is an instrument with African origins, a wooden bow with one metal string attached at the ends and a resonator gourd at the bottom to amplify the tones when the string is struck by a bamboo stick. Capoeira, which is both a martial art and a ritual trance music, relies on the berimbau to enhance the trance state and assist the dancer in the ritualized combat moves. Developed and still practiced in Brazil, Capoeira also has African origins, possibly as a way for slaves to defend themselves against the Portuguese slave traders. (African slaves were not allowed to carry weapons, so what might have appeared to the colonizers as just another quaint cultural dance was actually a very athletic method of teaching hand-to-hand combat.) Today, the Capoeira danced in Brazil is highly stylized, with acrobatic moves such as cartwheels and handstands.

    Guilherme Franco was born in Sao Paolo, and became established as one of the premier percussion players in the region. Later he traveled to the US, and worked extensively with jazz greats such as McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett. Currently, he plays in no fewer than six bands, has private students and is on the faculty at Jersey State College. While he has an all-star career in American jazz, he is also firmly rooted in his own country's musical traditions.

    Capoeira's 17 tracks illustrate a variety of capoeira beats, all based on traditional rhythms with space for a great deal of improvisation. It also includes a number of pieces with chants. Franco plays several different types of berimbaus including his own creation, a double berimbau (two bows and two gourds), as well as an assortment of other percussion instruments.

    This is largely a solo album from a man who is devoted to keeping the Capoeira tradition alive. Even if Franco doesn't get you standing on your hands, he makes a convincing case for the potential of the berimbau as an improvisational instrument. - Ivan Emke

    Tony Mola and Bragadá
    Quebra Mola
    EMI (Brazil) / Blue Jackel (USA) (

    From its opening, Bragadá explodes with a flurry of percussion, guitars, and brass, including one funky tuba. Quebra Mola is the second offering from Tony Mola and Bragadá, currently one of the hottest Bahian groups from the Brazilian city of Salvador. Following in the footsteps of Olodum and Timbalada, which Mola founded with Carlinhos Brown, Bragadá distills the Afro-Bahian rhythms of Axé (pronounced "ah-chay") with ragamuffin, salsa, forró, and hip-hop into an album that reaches far beyond Brazil. Mola's group actually evolved in New York City from a percussion ensemble playing samba de roda (a variety of samba played in Bahia) and capoeria (a martial art from Africa). Mola returned to Salvador with a new concept for 'tribal' music and with a handful of Bahian musicians, Bragadá was born. Now touted as the new Bahian sound, Bragadá was chosen as Banda Revelação (Best New Band) for the 1998 Carnival. As on the first release, Bragadá, Mola has added other instruments like piano, accordion, and guitars to soften the wall-of-drums sound. While its roots may be steeped in the Bahian rhythms, Bragadá has ventured into international waters, taking other danceable beats and making them their own. Originally released in 1997 on EMI in Brazil, this album is currently available in North America on Blue Jackel. For those that may have missed the first album, Quebra Mola also features a crisper version of their Brazilian hit-single "Pega-Pega." -Wayne Whitwam

    Paulo Moura
    Blue Jackel (

    A tribute to the late Brazilian musician Pixinguinha, this live recording features the little-known genre called choro. Though 'choro' means 'to cry' in Portuguese, many of the genre's tunes are bright and lively. Choro is a sub-category of samba that emphasizes instrumental prowess and improvisation, much like jazz. In fact, at times one can sense the kinship between this old instrumental style and the jaunty syncopations of American ragtime.

    Few people in Brazilian music loom as large as Pixinguinha, who composed, performed and arranged for decades, leaving behind a much-beloved repertoire of songs. Born Alfred Da Rocha Viana Filho in 1879, Pixinguinha's popularity peaked with his band Os Batutuas in the 1920s and 1930s, and he remained an important figure in Brazilian music until his death in 1973.

    Moura is considered one of the finest clarinet and saxophone players in Brazil today and here he assembles a dexterous group of instrumentalists to re-create and celebrate Pixinguinha's legacy. Urged on by the skittering, breakneck rhythms of the tamborine-like pandeiro, the melodies here ripple out like laughter. The enjoyment of the musicians is palpable as they break off for solos and then come together to chase down Pixinguinha's playful tunes. Though this collection of short songs was recorded live, the sound quality is crystal-clear and, except for applause between songs and one impromptu sing-along, the recording seems like it could have been made in a hermetically sealed studio.

    The troupe creates a mood that is effervescent and bouyant; their fingers fly, but only to create music that is as sweet and welcome as a balmy breeze. Jazz fans should find this a welcome addition to their CD library as should anyone looking for music to give an otherwise droopy day a bit of a lift. - Marty Lipp

    Caetano Veloso
    Polygram Latino

    The debate began long before Bob Dylan first strapped on an electric guitar: Can you modernize traditional music? Each year the argument bubbles anew as musicians from around the world bring the music of their particular culture to the international marketplace. Can they tinker with their heritage without squandering it? Purists may turn up their noses each time a young hotshot takes his or her traditional music out for a spin, but some performers have updated older forms with wonderful results.

    No country seems more musically omnivorous than Brazil, which itself can be seen as an extraordinary mishmosh of European, African and indigenous cultures. In recent years, Brazilian musicians have easily incorporated hiphop and reggae into their musical stew as generations before them did with rock and jazz.

    Caetano Veloso was one of the preeminent exponents of Brazil's border-leaping Tropicalismo movement of the late 1960s. Now past fifty, Veloso shows he is still marvelously inventive on 'Livro,' where he manages to sound lushly romantic and starkly modern, primitive and sophisticated -- often at the same time.

    On each song, Veloso constructs a rhythmic foundation with the hand-played percussion instruments of his native state of Bahia. On top of this, Veloso layers anything from heavily distorted guitars to swaths of strings and his own lullabye-soft voice. The result are romantic songs that move with an inexorable swing, and modern-sounding songs that propell their intellectual arrangements with muscular, tribal-sounding beats. While one or two songs may be a bit out for some, overall this is one of Veloso's strongest albums, a masterful melding of old and new. - Marty Lipp

    Rough Guide To The Music Of Brazil
    Rough Guide/World Music Network

    To really know Brazilian music, you have to get into samba -- then get away from it. This collection from the London-based company responsible for the Rough Guide tour books takes the approach of surveying the entire array of Brazilian music instead of presenting another greatest hits set. For the most part, the producers stay away from the biggest names of Brazilian music, yet still manage to give a good sense of the various styles that bubble up from South America's biggest country.

    Of course, there are sambas here, but the compilers give us one in the Rio Carnaval style, another in the loping samba-reggae style of Bahia and contemporary jazz-flavored versions. In addition, there is a bopping forro tune from Brazil's northeast and several creative, sophisticated stews from the catch-all catalog called MPB, or musica popular brasiliera. There*s even a Brazilian version of country music, called serteneja, represented here by one of the genre's most popular duplas or duos, Pena Branca & Xavantinho; as well as songs influenced by rap and the Amazon's indigenous Indians. The accompanying liner notes are artist-oriented, but still manage to give listeners some information about the various genres. The breadth of the disc alone makes it a perfect introduction to the often-ignored panoply of styles in Brazil. Overall, the 19-cut disc is a vibrant, upbeat collection with enough surprises and little-known artists to even appeal to those with their own sizable Brazilian libraries. - Marty Lipp

    Cyro Baptista
    Vira Loucos

    Among recording artists like Paul Simon (Rhythm of the Saints), percussionist Cyro Baptista is a highly sought after musician. He is frequently behind the scenes, lending his skills on his large arsenal of percussive instruments, some from his native Brazil, others his own invention. On Vira Loucos, the New York based artists, steps out on his own, reworking the compositions of Heitor Villa Lobos (1887-1959).

    Villa Lobos was the great Brazilian composer who used folk melodies, from the then popular choro music (a Brazilian "blues" that predates samba), as inspiration for his own material. Baptista's initial plan was to strip down the complicated elements and explore the sources used in Villa Lobos' work. Somehow, thanks to producer John Zorn, the plan became a project of inspired lunacy. With help from Romero Lubambo on cavaquinho (a type of lute), Chango Spasiuk on accordion and Greg Cohen on bass, beautiful Villa Lobos' melodies like "Dansa" and "Sapo Cururu" are ripped apart at the seams. Baptista is clearly at his best mixing up the Villa Lobos compositions. The accordion and cavaquinho carry the gorgeous melodies, while Baptista's arrangements are playful and robust. One minute we're at a sidewalk cafe in Rio, the next minute Carnaval comes rolling in like thunder.

    Baptista's own compositions, however, pale in comparison to the master. We're often treated to extended solos on tuned PVC piping, which looks impressive in a live venue, but loses its character on the recording. Overall though, the album is full of enough surprises and talented people to keep it going for several plays. Vira Loucos was released on the Japanese Avant label last year, and is now available in North America on Koch. -Wayne Whitwam

    The Discoteca Collection
    Missao de Pesquisas Folcloricas
    Rykodisc (

    Most of this is ritual dance music, and so is quite repetitive and definitely not a candidate for the world-beat hit parade. It is for serious students of the music of Brazil and its roots. All but one of the 23 cuts are vocals, accompanied by a potpourri of percussion. Much of the former reflects the unmistakable call-and-response of African esthetics. You can also hear precursors of the modern rhythms of Brazil in unique blends of various percentages of African, European and Amerindian influences. This material was recorded in northern Brazil in 1938 and eventually found its way Library of Congress

    I was especially taken with the choral backgrounds on the two cuts of Indians from Praia. They sound like work songs from Texas transferred through some trans-dimensional pitch warp machine. The bilingual notes tell something about the function of the music, and can, I suppose, help you learn to read Portuguese. - Stacy Phillips

    Mãe De Samba
    Mercury Records

    On Mãe De Samba, Timbalada delivers high paced, percussion based relentless pop tunes that will force your head to bob and hips to shake. Frantic beats race to offer a last moment of bliss before the apocalypse in many of the songs, where in others beautiful, melancholy, smooth melodies sung over churning rhythms they draw you in and don't let go.

    Timbalada is one of Brazil's most popular Afro Bloco Samba bands, appearing at Carnaval (Mardi Gras) massing around 200 members. Formed in 1993, their music is considered new school Samba, and a social and cultural project that gives jobs to people on the streets.

    The founder of Timbalada, Carlinhos Brown (named after his idol James Brown) has become internationally known through the music of Caetano Veloso, Sepultura, Marisa Monte and Sergio Mendes. The 32 year old from Bahia, Brazil recently released his solo debut, Alfagamabetizado, as the first of three discs due by contract in six years. He is the author of 26 number one hits on Brazilian charts.

    Mãe De Samba is Timbalada's best album yet and may even approach representation of the group's live performance energy. Currently in the U.S. it is only available as an import, but well worth the effort to seek out. - Paul Harding


    Timbalada turned the chant-and-drum sound of Bahia's carnaval into wondrous pop with great songwriting and arrangements. Its fourth album finds the group strutting along pretty much the same streets. Comparing it to founder Carlinhos Brown's wonderfully eclectic solo album, fans might be excused for being a touch disappointed. However, Timbalada's usual is still better than most. No one in the world produces roots-rooted pop like this -- showing that African-derived, human-powered polyrhythms can be as fresh and innovative as any state-of-the-art electronica.

    Timbalada's exuberance and spirit of community (who else includes a female lead singer and a senior citizen -- the impish Fialuna?) could sound like the type of treacle that gives pop a bad name. But its latest shows Timbalada's still at the front of Bahia's percussive pop parade. - Marty Lipp

    Various Artists
    House of Samba, Volume 1

    This disc is the result of a series of outdoor concerts held by Polygram in the Tijuca Gardens of Rio. Each track pairs various Brazilian stars, though the disc's liner notes give no clue as to the other players --nor much else. Despite its somewhat mysterious geneology, the disc is brimming with the swinging joy of straight-up samba played in a variety of tempos.

    Just a few of the highlights include a meltingly bittersweet reprise of "Ex-Amor" by Simone and Martinho da Vila, Louis Armstrong reincarnation Elsa Soares ripping through "Se Acaso Voce Chegasse," and Zizi Possi elegantly navigating "O Amor E A Rosa."

    The disc also pairs new stars with veterans, such as the throaty folk-rocker Zelia Duncan with the "old guard" of the Portela samba school and pop sensation Ivete Sangalo of Banda Eva with the grizzled Demonios Da Garoa. Joined by an audience that knows all these classic sambas by heart, the musicians create an ambiance that feels like a neighborhood bar singalong. Not for everyone, this disc is a party in a jewel box for wouldbe sambistas everywhere. - Marty Lipp

    This 1988 compilation is still one of the best intros to this accordion driven music
    Brazil Forro: Music For Maids And Taxi Drivers
    Rounder-US; Globestyle-UK

    Helenos Dos Oito Baixos The word "forro" is Brazilian pronunciation of "for all," and that's what this music is about: folk music in the rock 'n' roll tradition, played by anyone with an instrument, just for the joy of it. This is the rockabilly of Brazil; raw, rhythmic Saturday night party stuff. Other comparisons might be zydeco or TaxMax, but mostly this is its own thing, influenced by the popular sambas and played on European instruments in a region with heavy African roots and an indigenous culture. Unlike the samba or the bossa nova, it's ragged but right; you feel it before you hear it. And don't expect social commentary or subtle poetry-like zydeco, forro is about love and sex, sweaty nights after hard days. The ensembles are similar as well; accordions, drums, triangle and bass back up the vocals, usually soloists in an uptempo mode made for dancing. Pick hits would have to be "Linda Menhina" and "De Pernambuco Ao Maranhao," both real rock 'n' roll types, and the Listen! very rootsy "Entre E Sai," (Real Audio) played by Helenos Dos Oito Baixos with just a percussion accompaniment. If there's a place like Mulates in the northeast of Brazil, this is what's on stage, playing to the local truckers and ranchers, the taxi drivers and the maids. And I'll bet they love it!

    Tinder Records ([email protected])

    Brazil has always produced anomalous musical art forms, mixtures more diverse and skewed than even its complex history would lead one to expect. Caetano Veloso and Hermeto Pascoal are just two artists who come to mind, artists who broke all the rules, created new molds and promptly broke them in the creation of a new wave of Brazilian music that extended from the 60's into the 90's. Karnak is the newest incarnation of this tropical deviancy, and they make a vengeful, weird, distorted pop music that will both delight and repel you. The band is large (seems to be about a dozen, if you count the dog), and its range is as big as its size, grabbing melodies, rhythms and samples from a half dozen continents and mish-mashing them together in sometimes droll, sometimes jarring combinations. It can be a bit self-conscious at times, a bit to "art for art's sake" in its execution, but the groove is irresistible, the music is exciting and at times it is indescribably perfect. It's a convergence of Brazilian street music, jazz, hip-hop and dub, a slice of rai, a dose of bagpipes, a shot of Italian, Spanish or African song, a hit on the drum and a blast from the horns and its off in yet another tangent.

    Like a lot of the most adventurous Brazilian music, it is neither as bold as it claims to be nor as simple as it seems on first listening. Like French tribal bands Les Negresses Vertes and Lo Jo or a dozen Brazilian experiments, Karnak is neither greater nor less than the sum of its parts. In fact, it is its parts, it thrives on its confusion and diversity and ultimately rises and falls on a tide of beautiful confusion. - CF

    Oswaldinho Do Acordeon
    Forro Novo
    (Piranha Pir 1149)

    Forro: Bals Populaires du Nord-Est du Bresil
    (Kardum Kar 265)

    Though the origins of the word 'forro' are a bit murky, the genre's purpose is clear: to have fun. Fast, lively dance music from northeastern Brazil, forro (pronounced foh-HO) is traditionally played by a trio consisting of an accordion, triangle and a bass drum called a zabumba.

    These two discs take slightly different approaches to forro. Oswaldinho, whose father was an early proponent of the genre, adds just a soupcon of new elements so that his disc can swing like jazz and has room for a bit of electric guitar. The Kardum collection leaves the genre in context so you hear nordestinos whooping it up.

    Oswaldinho's nimble fingers fly, race and weave around the melodies and improvisational runs of these instrumental tracks, while urged on by his frothy percussion accompanists. While his playing is sophisticated enough to dazzle, the message of these caffeinated rhythms is anything but daunting.

    The Kardum disc, by contrast, grabs the listener and tosses them into the middle of a northeastern party. Fireworks whistle, revelers yell out encouragement to the band and everyone is clapping. The exuberance of this music, which is one of the few joys in a hardscrabble existence, bubbles out of the speakers. --Marty Lipp

    Warner Brothers

    It's always an event when Brazilian superstar Milton Nascimento makes a record. It guarantees you a wide variety of music, brilliant moments, a few throwbacks to his past and few leaps into the abyss. This one is no exception. It roars out of the gate with "Praying Mantis," classic drum and vocal piece that will compete with any carnival song you've heard, but with the enigmatic lyrics that you come to expect from this master songwriter. "The Rider" follows with a ballad featuring a Spanish guitar and an accordion, but overlaid with all the lush keys, drum machines and such that every Nascimento recording requires. The official over-loaded ballad of this album, "Paper Napkins," (in two versions; Portuguese and Spanish) does away with the acoustics and goes for total pop. There's a bizarre, wordless and lovely version of "Old Man River" that will keep heads scratched around the world. Yes, it's the usual mix that makes adoring a Nascimento album both difficult and inevitable. His arrangements are bright and surprising, his instrumentation is always walking the line between hackneyed (Body and Soul) and boldly folky (Window To The World). Enigmatic as ever, Milton Nascimento continues his journey and you should walk another mile of it with him, just to see where the road leads. - CF

    Nonesuch - 1992

    Veloso eclipses his own iconoclastic image with another tropicalismo-gone-mad recording. "Circulator" is more proof that he has no rules left to break, no set goals to stick to. In track after track, unusual touches of electronic and primitive sound fill the canvas, from cello and synth to harsh primal electric guitar, including one particularly wild cut ("Ela Ela") with Arto Lindsay, who also produced this album. Through it all, what splashes and strokes all this musical color is a voice that is both beautiful and abrasive. He wields his words like a palette knife, creating pastoral scenes and nightmarish dreams. Few singers in any genre have the rhythmic power of Veloso. He at once storyteller and percussionist, rattling out lyric in a rapid fire staccato here and a smooth swoosh of shaker there. "Fora De Ordem" epitomizes both his vocal skill and the production genius at work here. It's funk, samba, and modern experimental poetry, moving from groove to groove, breaking apart for a cello interlude, flashing back to funk again, his voice accenting each change. All of this to carry a lyric as dark and cryptic as anything in pop music today. "And the barrel of the pistol that the children bite reflects all the colors of the landscape that is much more beautiful and much more intense than the postcard... something has gone out of order out of new world order." The title track is another example of how his voice plays the percussion part against cello, accordion, bass and guitar. Romantic florals on solo guitar and voice ("Baiao Da Penha"), lush ballads ("Itapu") and edgy, strange duets like "Ela Ela" are part of an exotic body of work that maintains Caetano Veloso's position as one of the extreme leaders of tropicalismo in the modern world, a world as frightening, beautiful, fractured and romantic as the Circuladô de Fulô.

    Elektra - 1989

    Caetano Veloso's music is rooted in the '60s, not the Woodstock variety, but in Brazil where there was also real social and political turmoil, Along with Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Maria Bethania, he forged a new Brazilian style out of the bossa nova and the samba by fusing it to Dada poetry, rock, psychedelia and jazz. The result was dubbed "tropicalismo" and reaction on the left was vicious, pointing to the bastardizing of Brazilian culture, while the right was equally afraid of their popularity and theirveiled political message. This led to incarceration and eventual exile for Gil and Veloso, but upon his return Veloso once again blasted into new terrain, this time taking on the music of his native Rahia and once again upsetting the traditionalists with new ideas and strange influences.

    And so his career has careened to this record, "The Stranger." His lyrical sense has stayed as twisted as ever, and on a few cuts in English you get a taste of his poetry, especially "Outros Romanticos" with its recitation of the smoky Brazilian lyric, and the more romantic but equally hazy "Jasper." Estrangeiro roams from samba to rock to reggae and zouk, but typical of the music of Brazil, it has a smoothness that sometimes belies its power. What unites and ignites this recording is Veloso's singing, always fighting to break and then reunite the rhythm of the band, and ultimately always dominating the song. The poet you'll have to read in the translations, but the poetry comes through on every song, riding on the persuasive voice of Caetano Veloso. - CF (1989)

    MARISA MONTE A Great Noise
    Metro Blue - 1996
    After 8 years and now four records, Marisa Monte has moved from aspiring pop star to an adventurer, a true artist whose palette is the world's music but whose canvas is still Brazil. She is following the path of Gil and Veloso, bringing as many colors as she can to the surface of her music while still have an underlying base of Brazilian roots, and A Great Noise is her most successful effort yet, less self conscious that her last, all acoustic album, more confident and creative than her first two pop albums.

    The first seven tracks are new studio pieces, moving from the smooth bossa of Carlinhos Brown's "Magamalabares" to the punchy sixties rock of Gilberto Gil's "Cerebro Electronico." These tracks use her brilliant touring band along with Bernie Worrell, Melvin Gibbs, and musician/producer Arto Lindsay.

    But there are two albums here, the second an eleven track live set that burns up the aluminum. Here we get her road band in full fire on songs from her previous albums as well as some of Brazil's greatest hits. She pays tribute to Caetano Veloso, Gil, Paulinho da Viola and Luis Gonzaga, whose "O Xote Das Meninas" brings it all back home with a raw and rootsy forro closer. It is A Great Noise Monte and her band make, and this live material makes it greater. - CF

    TONY MOLA Bragadá
    Blue Jackel - 1996
    Following in the footsteps of Afro-bloco groups like Olodum and Timbalada (of which Mola was a member), Bragad  makes the drums of Brazil blaze with new energy and ideas. Expanding the style to include a hefty dose of accordion/forro sounds, Mola adds jazz, hip-hop and pop from Brazil and New York and makes an already energetic percussion groove burn even hotter than before. Sweet, sexy and witty, this album is a for any fan of rhythm music, no matter the geography.

    Musica Armorial
    Nimbus - 1996
    In the 60's and early 70's a major artists movement was taking place in Brazil . The Armorial movement was an event that crossed into many fields of art. It was an appreciation for the folk aesthetic that expended to painting, theater and music. In music, it not only incorporated folk melodies (as much classical music does) but tried to acquire the attitude as well, a rootsy approach to composition and a raw approach to performance that culminated in the music of The Armorial Orchestra, whose music provides the fundamental base for this recording and includes compositions by some of its most prominent members. To an audience raised on Kronos the music may seem tame, but for the time this was radical stuff. These works are a testament to the influence of the movement, which clearly affected the coming generation of folk-pop composers like Tom Zé, Milton Nascimento and the tropicalismos of the 70s and 80s who incorporated everything they heard from around the world into a uniquely Brazilian sound, one with a fire in the belly and a sense of dark graceful beauty that was at the heart of the Armorial movement. This is an exquisite recording of remarkable music, played with that same grace and fire.

    One of the beauties of releasing a compilation is that you can take a great career and make it seem stupendous. When you add it all up, Brazilian singer CLARA NUNES had a great time before her death in 1982. From the most raw street samba to the slickest of pop tunes, Nunes sang them all with an incomparable energy, and created a catalog of music that is historical in both scope and importance.

    But ComVida (Hemisphere/EMI) is not a compilation, it's a tribute, and it strikes out for dangerous turf. These tracks were culled from her extensive catalog of recordings by long-time producer Paulo César Pinheiro. In the Cole-meets-Cole manner so terribly abused in this decade, he then invited some of her closest friends and musical compatriots to recreate duets with her. You get to hear her sing with Gilberto Gil, Milton Nacimento, João Bosco, Chico Buarque, Martinho da Vila and a host of other stars of the Brazilian scene, artists she knew and loved, and who loved her work. Just take one track, her duet with Nana Caymmi "Na Linha Do Mar." Backed by the caviguinho driven band of Paulinho Da Viola, she is the essence of earthiness, sweet and musky. The addition of Caymmi to the mix is interesting, it takes nothing from her brilliance, but does it ADD anything? Here's the catch, and it is one that nags me even as I glide along to each song. Because she is such a great singer, and because the original recordings seem to be left reasonably untouched, this is a good record of a great time in Brazilian music. But... why not just a collection of Clara Nunes? That would have kept her memory alive in a way that this collection can only hint at.

    ARTO LINDSAY O Corpo Sutil/The Subtle Body
    (Bar/None Records)
    Arto Lindsay has long lived a double life: downtown dissonant rocker as well as purveyor of sweet Brazilian sounds. On this, Linday veers toward the latter, producing a 34-minute, all-ballad collection. Not even picking up his signature skronk guitar this time, Lindsay ranges from classic Bossa Nova to quasi-lullabyes to soft jazzy tunes. He imbues each delicate song, however, with a touch of his quirky humor, whether it's a light synthesized flourish, an offbeat lyric, or a twist of the melody. - Marty Lipp

    (Metro Blue/Capitol)

    This master of the Brazilian beat has taken many artists to the outside edge with his creative approach to rhythmic structure, but here we get the full vision of the man who re-named himself after the godfather of soul. This album pulls together modern dance grooves and merges them with the rhythms of the world, from Africa to Arabia to East L.A. In the classic Brazilian style of the Tropicalia of the 70's, he takes the cliches of Caribbean and North American pop music and hauls them across the river to the streets of Brazil. He's aided by a flood of talent on this album, producer Wally Badarou of Benin, NY-Brazil connector Arto Lindsay, and a host of vocalists including Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa. The seamless mesh of talents and styles into this album is quite extraordinary. Hip-hop creeps in under the candomblé, driven by Afro-pop guitar riffs and acid guitar fills. In music the whole is not always the sum of its parts; it is the echo of them, the residue left when you filter out the individual ideas and are presented with the greater reality, the long note, the groove that sits apart from the music. Carlinhos Brown has heard that note, played that groove, and is finding ways to get it on tape. - CF

    Ihu (1996)
    Pan Brasil/Blue Jackel
    Brazilian jazz singer Marlui Miranda tackles a difficult task on Iho. She has studied and learned the vocal music of a number of indigenous groups in Brazil, taken the words and music and interpreted them as a contemporary jazz singer. There was clearly a lot of respect for the original material, but there seems to be no attempt to be "authentic," an impossible task anyway. Instead she has gathered together an excellent group of collaborators and carefully re-written the music to hold onto the essence while still offering personal expression. It's an impressive ensemble: percussion-experimenters Uakti, world-class singer Gilberto Gil, the potent vocals of Grupo Beijo and top notch jazz musicians adding keyboards, piano, bass and percussion. And the outcome is equally impressive, offering a wide array of sounds new and old, a strong sense of place without ever falling into bad ethnographic imitation. This is possibly one of the year's best vocal albums.

    Marlui Miranda
    2 Ihu Kewere: Rezar (1998)
    Pau Brasil / Blue Jackel ([email protected])

    This Brazilian singer and composer more than interested me in her previous recording, Ihu: Todos Os Sons. That record had a bite, an edge of jazz that at the same time delved deep into the language and music of the native people of the Amazon basin. While it was not for everyone, that recording had some daring, some impulse.

    Unfortunately, not so this latest effort. Here she has tried to fuse a Christian liturgical text and orchestra with the same Amazonian roots and it's pretty dismal. Ostentatious might be the word, although I personally am leaning towards bombastic. The huge drum sounds, the over-wrought symphonic passages all cry out for some serious editing. In much the same way that I feel the infamous "African Mass" experiments fail because of their imperial pretenses, so too does "2 Ihu." - CF

    Metro Blue/ Capitol

    It would be enough just to have the voice of Maria Bethânia. It is an instrument that has the lushness of rain, the strength of steel, and yet can falter like youth or whisper like love. It would be enough to have songs written by Carlihos Brown and caetano Veloso and sounds like Jaime Alèm's guitar, Pauliho da Costa's percussion, and guest artists like Chico Buarque and Zap Mama's Marie Douine. All together, they would be more than enough.

    Ambar, however, is much more, as are all of Bethânia's recordings. There are surprising new songs, subtle arrangements, unexpected twists and turns hidden just below the surface of the music. She is the consummate Brazilian artist because she can take so much from outside of her nation and make it personal and Brazilian. Jazz and classical themes are the undercurrent, sometimes so sweet on first hearing them that you might dismiss them as candy. They are not. They are rich confections, to be sure, but complex, full of spices that never conflict yet remain distinct. But they exist for one purpose, that first purpose, the voice of Maria Bethânia.

    In an age of drum-driven rhythms and beats, of fusions harsh and forceful, here is music that is proud of its personal passion, its richness, its sweetness, its voice. Listen closely, because below that subtlety is a power unchallenged by fashion, untouched by time and technology. - CF

    Arto Lindsay
    Mundo Civilizado
    (Bar/None AHAON-082)

    Hyper Civilizado
    (Gramavision GCD 79519)

    On his latest, Arto Lindsay proves he is one of the true heirs to the bossa nova legacy. When bossa was first on the ascendent in the late 1950s, Tom Jobim and Newton Mendoca wrote Desafinado (Out of tune), which playfully answered critics who said boss nova was just music for singers who couldn't sing on key. The critics then didn't recognize what Jobim and his co-conspirators were doing -- breaking rules to make music that was more challenging, engrossing, and ultimately more long-lasting.

    Still to this day, bossa has its critics -- many of whom dismiss it as easy-listening music -- but they forget the genre's revolutionary pedigree and often ignore its subtle intricacies. On Mundo Civilizado, Lindsay preserves the laid-back swing of bossa, but adds some dissonant Downtown salt to offset the genre's languid sweetness. In addition, his lyrics -- clever, if obscure -- give these bluesy bossa tunes a hipness for those who might not ordinarily go for the heart-on-sleeve romanticism of some Brazilian popular music.

    The electronic sound of Mundo Civilizado may be reminiscent of Brian Eno's atmospheric inventions, but Lindsay has limited himself to his neo-bossa palette. Lindsay obviously knows how to play with his polyrhythms and to set up matrices of unexpected elements, though, personally I'd love to see more upbeat tunes like his thoroughly charming Pleasure. Lindsay, though, obviously wanted to produce a cooler sound -- and did so with considerable creatively and panache.

    On Hyper Civilizado, Lindsay plays Dr. Frankenstein to his own songs, making electronic monsters that are neither dance-floor ready nor or more interesting than the originals. Using his delicate songs as jumping off points, Lindsay adds heavy electronic thwacks and stutters -- creating cuts that sound like they want to head for the nearest club but are too cool to please the beat-hungry masses. - Marty Lipp

    Ritual Beating System

    This record is a MONSTER. I don't think I've ever said that about a recording before, but it is the first word that came into my mind as I listened. After too many trite, boring or just adequate attempts to start the next Brazilian wave, who else but Bill Laswell and company comes on the scene with a blueprint for fusion. Brazilian music has always had an experimental edge, from Veloso to Nascimento, Byrne to Simon. What this most harkens to is the weird edginess of Tom Zé or Hermeto Pascoal. Bop, blues, jazz and funk have all been boiled down in a Bahian vat of smooth vocals and brutal drumbeats. The cast alone is recommendation, and I can't leave out one: the smooth voice of Carlinhos Brown, the pulse of Olodum, the metallic beats supplied by Larry Wright and David Chapman, the kit drums by Tony Walls. Melody and chords come from the ever so funkadelic keys of Bernie Worrell and Herbie Hancock, and an outside tune is blown by Henry Threadgill and Wayne Shorter. This is a drummers paradise, and they are not relegated to mere coloration. They are the whole point, in fact, and even the other instruments begin to take on the percussion aspects throughout. Great credit goes to producer Laswell for finally finding a dynamic slot for the throbbing rhythms of Bahian drum ensemble Olodum, a group that was poorly utilized on Paul Simon's excursion south. What to play? The street samba of "Guia Pro Congal," the incredible power of the Shorter/Hancock/Olodum compositions "The Seven Powers" and "Gwagwa O De." Oh, hell, play every damn cut on the album. For a change I haven't a nit to pick or a complaint to make. - CF

    Children of Ibeji

    Great bio: born in Sao Paulo in 1961 to a Polish father and a Brazilian mother with a Russian heritage and a musical career, he ventured into classical guitar and piano, then Dixieland jazz as a clarinetist, and finally into the post-bebop jazz world, where he finally found his niche as a sax player. He carried his axe to Europe and the Americas before finally landing in New York. He has now put together this album, a powerful, Coltrane/Rollins fueled exploration of the religious fusions of Yoruban and Christian ideologies. On Children Of Ibeji he has created one of the most unusual, disturbing and ultimately amazing modern interpretations of Brazilian folk yet to be made. The power of this experiment required some pretty heady backing, and he found some of the best. Flora Purim proffers her voice as a tool. Frank Colon, Andrew Cyrille, Manolo Badrena, Mor Thiam and Guilherme Franco find the thunder for the drums of New York and Bahia. Don Pullen and Paul Bley contribute piano, Fred Hopkins sends bass and Brandon Ross, guitar. All but three of the pieces are traditional Brazilian folk songs, although the final results leave any notion of "folk" in the dust. Bebop, swing, and just plain wailing noise carry these songs into the future, sometimes melodic, sometimes downright scary, a fitting tribute to a region so full of the conflicts of beauty and misery. To single out one of these pieces would be irrelevant, but one of the other songs deserves special mention just for its screwy heritage. Over the drone of an electric berimbau and some simple, earthy drums, Perleman wails wildly and vaguely the melody of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner," a song oft covered but never quite like this. From beginning to end, Children Of Ibeji pays tribute to the lives of the poorest of the poor of Brazil, her abandoned children, in music with dark corners and hopeful vistas.

    TOM ZE
    The Hips Of Tradition: The Return of Tom Ze
    Luaka Bop/Sire

    Hips. Good word for this music. It calls for dancing. It calls for thought. It portends newness, but in a cool, contrived sort of way. The Hips of Tradition sometimes sway, sometimes jerk, but in all of Tom Ze's work, there is some sort of movement, unexpected, clearly defined motion. Thank god, there is also humor, an element I find increasingly necessary in countering a daily dose of American (and no doubt worldly) life. Ze credits a wild pantheon of influences; poets, scientists and science fictionists like Augusto de Campos, William Faulkner, Arthur C. Clarke and Thomas Edison. He welds those varied sources onto a music that pays passing tribute to everything from European deconstruction through rap and rock to the smoothest samba Rio has to offer. He does it with a remarkable lack of pretension for one whose poetic vision is so complex, intellectual and informed, and he makes it happen with a benign countenance, a grin and a wince.

    The Hips Of Tradition carry a wild child in their curves; the industrial swell of "Fliperama," the futuristic samba of "Ogodo, Ano 2000," the swaying sweetness of "Sem A Letre 'A'," the post-punk pretensions of "Sofre De Juventude," the goofy affront of his duet with David Byrne in "Jingle Do Disco." The Hips of Tradition are broad enough to carry all of these children, aware of their roots and yet unconcerned by the limitations of history. Tom Ze knows where he comes from, but he doesn't let it keep him from going where he needs to go. He is riding The Hips Of Tradition into the future of pop music.

    Verve/Brasil Series

    Too often, the major label temptation is to cull the old racks for something they own that has lately become hip, and plow it into the new furrow with little regard for the seed or the fruit. Occasionally, however, they manage to create a collection that reflects the real diversity of the music, the roots intact, the innovation shining. Four new CDs illustrate the latter. Samba Brasil, Nordeste Brasil, Afro Brasil and Bossa Nova Brasil (all on Verve) each have their schmaltzy moments, but this set was really compiled for a different kind of new listener, one who is hip to the roots of the music, one who seeks to know the real Brazil through its music, not just the Brazil of a "Road To.." movie. Each offers familiar classics like Gal Costa's "Aquarelas Do Brasil," Margareth Menezes "Ejigbo" and near archetypical songs like Luis Bonfa's "Manha De Carnaval" from the film, Black Orpheus or Costa's "Desafinado." But there is also a wealth of less familiar, less readily avilable beauty in the set. Caetano Veloso's wonderful "Two Naira Fifty Kobo" (Afro Brasil) is a smokey haze of rhythm and harmony. Jorghino Feijao's "Aqua No Feijo" (Samba Brasil) is exemplary of the caviquinho and percussion of samba. Each CD in the set offers introductions and reacquaintance, and a look at the variety of Brazil's culture and music. Joao Bosco's description of the samba could apply to the entire body of Brazilian music. "The rhythms are set designs, but each melody makes a samba more or less personalized. There exists a bed of samba. You lie in it with whomever you like."


    In his 25-plus years of recording, guitarist-composer Egberto Gismonti has moved with ensembles big and small, and in solo outings both grandiose and simple. ZigZag finds him neatly in the middle, playing his guitars and piano with second guitarist Nando Carneiro (who also supplies a little keyboard here and there) and bassist Zeca Assumpçào. While for Gismonti the composer this offers some limitations, on ZigZag you get to hear Gismonti the guitarist play some breath-taking and beautiful music. His technique hinges on no one style; he is neither jazz nor any of the more traditional Brazilian categories, yet he fits any one of those definitions as he flies across his 10 and 14 string instruments. His references to samba, choro, flamenco, fusion jazz and even rock are obvious in isolation, yet when you pull them into an entire piece like "Mestico & Caboclo" they become blurred into something completely his own. The cross-rhythms between the guitars and bass, the subtle melodic conflicts and compromises allow Gismonti to resist being cornered by either his Brazilian heritage or his connection to the world's jazz. He makes music on his own terms, and they are clearly laid out on ZigZag.

    Danca Dos Escravos

    This is how the playing of Gismonti ought to be heard-alone, just he and his wondrous guitars. Danca Dos Escravos, The Dance Of The Slaves, is a musical poem about the colonization of Brazil, a tribute to the life and will of a population enslaved by Europeans come to plunder the rich South American continent. Each of the seven instrumentals is passionate and beautiful, and exhibits Gismonti's powerful and dexterous abilities on a variety of different guitars. These pieces have a classical feel and structure, but each emanates from the jungles and towns of Brazil, and each will carry you away. The liner notes are a collection of brutal histories from the overlord's viewpoint, depicting the stupidity and brutality of the masters. The paintings on the cover and sleeve (by artist Trimano) are strong, sensuous portraits, as are the musical portraits on the album. And both are a lesson for the present. - CF

    The music of the Xingú River basin has been well recorded over the years, notably by Ocora/Radio France. But on Smithsonian Folkways seventh volume of Traditional Music Of The World, you will hear the music in a new way, superbly recorded and copiously documented. Ritual Music Of The Kayapó-Xikrun was recorded in 1988 by The International Institute For Traditional Music, a German based organization dedicated to preserving the world's disappearing folk culture. This is deep , ritualistic music derived from nature and imbued with human spirit, much in the same vein as the famous gnawa musicians of north Africa, and will affect you the same way.

    Brasil: A Century Of Song
    Blue Jackal

    Covering Brazil in four CDs is a tall order. These folks do a remarkable job, though, hitting on everything from the early hits of Carmen Miranda to the smooth pop of Nascimento and Monte. One entire CD is dedicated to carnaval music, another to "folk and traditional" (although how they chose Carmen Miranda to open that one is a mystery to me). Perhaps most enticing is the "Bossa Nova Era." The roaring opener defines what bossa nova was about, with a raw and edgy horn section punctuating a sweet, smooth 1958 ballad by João Gilberto. Bossa was one of the first jazz idioms to really capture a local cultures traditions, and also one of the biggest influences ever to twist American jazz. It was no small accomplishment, and this set of 16 songs shows why.

    Canto Do Pajé

    If there is a voice in the world that epitomizes the definition of "sultry' it is that of Maria Bethânia. Her's is a thick, humid breeze from Brazil, every syllable filled with promise, every note a ripe musical fruit. She is one of the country's most popular and revered singers, and here she celebrates twenty five years of making the great songwriters of Brazil greater. The writers on this set represent the best: Gil, Veloso, Villa Lobos, Buarque are only the more familiar contributors. Musicians and singers of note are also to be found: Nina Simone, Gal Costa, Hermeto Pascoal, Toninho Horta just start the list. Bethânia presents these artists in a sometimes lush, often stunning light, moving from easy, string-soaked jazz ("Quase") to street samba to the wonderful weirdness of Paschoal's arrangement of "Tomara." Her blues-samba duet with Nina Simone is another highlight, the voices offering a stark and wonderful contrast. There is nothing here to shock, amaze or bombard you. Maria Bethânia is from the school of slow waters and hot summer nights. Consummate sensuality prevails on "Canto Do Pajé" (The Song of The Shaman).

    Point Music

    On the subject of music that is impossible to describe, let alone pigeonhole, a listen to Uakti (variously said to be pronounced Wah-ke-chi, You-kee-chi, Waht-chi) is recommended. Combining the simplicity of the primitive with the materials of modern industry, the create a sort of new age industrial sound, mechanical, repetitive, but still organic in tone and natural in its rhythms. Their instruments are the stuff of hardware store lovers everywhere: PVC pipe, scraps of wood, wine glasses and the like are combined with strings, flutes and drums in a Calder-esque orchestra where the sounds are as elemental as the chords and melody. It's like being trapped inside a music box built out behind The Home Depot store at the mall. The complicated African beats are shuffled between long strokes on the bow, and endless decays lead to new rhythms, new notes. It is no surprise this band attracted the attention of a cyclical mind like Philip Glass, who was the executive producer of this album. Their kinship with him is obvious, and their influence on him over the years is revealing. - CF

    (Hemisphere/Metro Blue 7243-8-53343-2-0)

    Neither a greatest hits package nor a history of the genre, Samba! Still gives the listener an enjoyable tour of Brazil's heartbeat rhythm.

    Samba! is culled from EMI Odeon's catalog and provides a smorgasbord of samba and its subgenres, so it has bossa nova as well as jazzy chorinhos and more drum-and-voice, African-influenced tunes.

    If one faults this enjoyable collection at all, it is for featuring cuts by artists, such as Djavan, Elis Regina and Ivan Lins, who are not really sambistas, but only occasionally sampled the style. It also steers clear of a few samba subdivisions such as Carnival's samba de enredo and samba-reggae.

    The overall feeling one gets here is that of visiting a samba-phile friend and asking them, 'what is this samba anyway?' and having them sit you down while they yank out album after album. The collection doesn't move in chronological -- or any other apparent -- order, but still its rewards are numerous: Gonzaguinha's Vocal Sampling-like a cappella tune, Simone's swinging 'To Voltando,' and Doris Monteiro's slinky 'Da Noite, Na Cama.'

    The definitive samba collection remains an elusive, if not unachievable, goal. Certainly it's impossible to squeeze samba's 80-year history onto a single disc, but this is supposed to be the first of a series. Producer Gerald Seligman acknowledges there are more well-known songs not on the disc, but he says the collection simply aims to please -- and that it does. --Marty Lipp

    Brazil, Universo
    Happy Hour Music, 5206 Benito St., Montclair, CA 91763)

    JAZZ! OK, have I got your attention? If you don't listen too closely, the label fits here, but sit for a minute and really dig in, and there are so many layers to this record that peeling it will make you cry. Pascoal is a master of many instruments, notably the accordion, sax and piano, but the real beauty of his music is the way he uses sound to create changing moods and patterns that are at once sophisticated and primal-while firmly rooted in the tropical style of Brazil, this music reaches around the world for its ideas. The quintet that he works with, a team for over ten years, is exciting and raw, and seems to know instinctively where the next twist is coming from. Listen to "Era Pra Ser E Nao Pra" with its constantly turning tempo, time signatures dropping like flies before the band's barrage of horns. The simple beauty of "Crincas" is made with bottles, along with voices both manufactured and recorded in a nursery school. The accordion pieces have a more Caribbean flavor, spirited and danceable but still full of the sonic craziness that is the hallmark of this music. Finish off with "Calma de Repente," a soulful song pitted against a solo ten-string guitar that Pascoal plucks and tortures to tell what must be a very sad tale. Come visit Pascoal's Universo. It's an interesting place.

    Point Music/Phillips

    Uakti (variously said to be pronounced Wah-ke-chi, You-kee-chi, Waht-chi) is highly recommended if you like "new" music. Combining the simplicity of the primitive with the materials of modern industry, the create a sort of new age industrial sound, mechanical, repetitive, but still organic in tone and natural in its rhythms. Their instruments are the stuff of hardware store lovers everywhere: PVC pipe, scraps of wood, wine glasses and the like are combined with strings, flutes and drums in a Calder-esque orchestra where the sounds are as elemental as the chords and melody. It's like being trapped inside a music box built out behind The Home Depot store at the mall. The complicated African beats are shuffled between long strokes on the bow, and endless decays lead to new rhythms, new notes. It is no surprise this band attracted the attention of a cyclical mind like Philip Glass, who was the executive producer of this album. Their kinship with him is obvious, and their influence on him over the years is revealing. - CF

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