Perceptions of Brazilian music may have been shaped by international stars like Sergio Mendes and Gilberto Gil, but in a young country — 40 percent of the population is under the age of 24 — scenes spring up fast. Today Brazilian popular music is dominated by baile funk, the celebration of gangster culture that exploded out of the favelas a decade ago, samba rap, and funhouse-mirror takes on MPB (“Música Popular Brasileira”), where bossa nova and baião music is spliced with rock and arty beats.
The girl from Ipanema has been replaced by socially-conscious wordsmiths like Emicida, and artists such as anarchic funk group Metá Metá are reinventing Brazil’s glorious musical history with a harsh electronic edge. The new sound of Brazil is often fueled by anger — which spilled out in the protests against the excess of the World Cup preparations — and captured by labels like Mais Um Discos and Biscoito Fino, whose releases feel like snapshots from the frontline of a society in flux.
To celebrate the World Cup, Chris Nickson spotlights albums that are shaping Brazil’s musical revolution, from 10 of the hottest artists south of the equator.
Valesca Popozuda, who fronts the all-female Gaiola Das Popozudas, is one of baile funk's biggest female stars — vulgar, sexual and forthright. The name of her band literally translates as Cage of Big-Bottomed Women, and the raw, bass-powered music shouts loudly for equality in a genre known for celebrating the misogynistic and materialistic. There's no shortage of bling and crassness in her lyrics, but they stand alongside tracks like "Hoje Eu Não Vou Dar, Eu Vou Distribuir" ("Today I Will Not Give, I Will Distribute"). Diplo's a fan, and a couple of tracks featured on his FabricLive.24 mixtape.
Emicida has established himself as one of Brazil's leading hip-hop artists with a string of singles that showcased a dazzling verbal flow — his name stands for "Enquanto Minha Imaginação Compor Insanidades Domino a Arte," which means "While my imagination composes insanities I dominate the art." This debut LP marked him out as a political force too: The album title translates as "The Glorious Return of Who Was Never Here," while the lyrics describe lives where "dreams are only filthy water in the fridge." Emicida's status as Brazil's pre-eminent socially-conscious rapper was confirmed when he guested on MC Guime's World Cup protest hit "Pais do Futebol" (Football Nation), an anti-poverty anthem that has had more than 26 million YouTube views.
Stars of the boundary-pushing label Mais Um Discos, Metá Metá are a Brazilian trio who are putting the country firmly on the map of avant-garde music. They come from São Paulo, but the roots of their colourful fusion style lie in Bahia, the centre of candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion that has links to the days of slavery. Using African rhythms as a foundation for their fractured music, they create musical anarchy against a constant undercurrent of danger, even at their most ecstatic, as on the driving punk-funk of "Oya." Imagine the jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler meeting the Pop Group in São Paolo; little wonder legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen has called them "inventors for the new music scene in Brazil."
Latin Grammy nominee Assad belongs to a celebrated Brazilian musical dynasty, but her music is far from safe or predictable. Her fourth album has been acclaimed as the most startling Brazilian jazz album in years, nodding to the music of Japan in tracks like "Fantasia," and even incorporating rap on opener "De Perna Pro Ar." Assad is an impassioned scat singer, but "A Morte da Flor" features an aria from the American soprano Melody Moore, while the music mixes piano with screams of dissonant violin. Wildly ambitious, it tears up the old definitions of jazz and replaces them with something thrillingly new.
Fronted by the striking São Paulo singer Mariana Da Cruz — Brazil's answer to M.I.A — Da Cruz's disco-driven music is riotous in every sense. This concept album was intended to reflect the state of Brazil in 2014, and is divided in two — a "bright" side and a "dark" side. The first is a party soundtrack fueled by euphoria and abandon: Recent single "Bola da Discoteca" is a club track that could have come straight from the DFA stable. In contrast, the crackling electronics of the dark side convey a sense of impending violence, at its most visceral on "Crianças de Revolta." It's a snapshot of a country divided, from a woman who calls herself the voice a disenchanted generation.
The music of Brazil and Cuba share a common root — the music of the African slaves who were transported across the Atlantic — and the two still fit together with surprising naturalness. René y Carol — aka Brazilian filmmaker Carolina Sá and celebrated Cuban musician René Ferrer — explore the musical connections on this album which sets languid, bossa nova-style vocals to Afro-Cuban habanera drums, tempered with shiny 21st century electronics. Sung in Portuguese and Spanish, it's a lulling, unique mix of son, samba and more.
Samba rapper Fábio Brazza grew up intoxicated by the Carnival samba that his grandfather Ronaldo Azeredo — one of Brazil's leading poets — loved. He puts his own twist on the county's most iconic music, using it as the backdrop for his own flowing rhymes. The title track translates as "Son of the Fatherland," but the clear-eyed lyrics of "Wake" describe the country's percolating social unrest. No one has put samba and rap together before, but Brazza makes them into natural companions, creating a bold new style in the process. The hard-edged mix resonated with Jurassic 5; band member Chali 2na guests on "Time to Love."
For years, forró was considered the poor country cousin of Brazilian music: an accordion-powered style that originated in the rural Northeast of the country, with the iconic Luiz Gonzaga as its great star. Zabumba Bacamarte turns those roots into something new, adding electric guitar and flute, and turning the amps up to 11. Their name — a "zambumba" is a Brazilian bass drum and "bacamarte" translates as blunderbuss — symbolizes the rhythmic onslaught of the five-piece band from the city of Caruaru, who are proudly flying the flag of the region.
A protégé of the iconoclastic Tom Zé, Azevedo is an award-winning actress and poet, as well as a subversive singer-songwriter. She combines traditional Brazilian rhythms like maracatu and maxixe with some fiercely individual lyrics, tempered by beguiling musical quirkiness — hardly surprising when her band includes musicians who've played with Tom Waits and David Byrne. This live airing of highlights from her catalog glides between romance and the artiness of the avant-garde, and is a suitably polished introduction to the queen-in-waiting of new Brazilian pop.
Electro bossa — or updated bossa nova — first appeared in the 1990s, but is reinvented yet again by luminaries BossaCucaNova on their most recent album. The band, which is helmed by Marcio Menescal, son of bossa nova pioneer Roberto Menescal, sample revered songs, then add new arrangements, vinyl scratching and soulful blasts of brass. Here, veteran vocalists like Maria Rita as Os Carocias provide a thread to the past, while the band pull sonic tricks out the bag: techno beats, electronic washes and dubby basslines.