Friday, February 10, 2012

BRAZILIAN BEAT (Putumayo, 2012)

Brazil is inherently cool and that's an axiom that very few would dare argue against. That's what distances Brazil from the rest of the Latin American countries. That all-emcompassing aura of über-coolness.

Everybody loves Brazilian music for being so cool and I get it, I love it too. I always did. I grew up in a house where my parents had only two cassette tapes, the same two that we'd listen in every road-trip. Both were Brazilian music recordings. So, in some sense, my earlier years were spent closer to Portuguese-language music than Spanish-language music, and living in Argentina, next door neighbor to Brazil, that wasn't at all an odd thing.

But here's the thing, so close we were to Brazil and it's vibrant pop culture, that the cheesy, disposable, commercial crap also permeated on a regular basis. And being Brazil such a huge music market, you'd be dumb to assume there's not a lot of that too. Only that when you live here, in the English-speaking northern hemisphere the only Brazilian music that reaches out to our ears is the cool stuff, the soulful stuff, the stuff that's been pre-approved for gringo consumption. Not the cheesy one hit wonders that you listen everywhere during the summers at every Brazilian beach bar or nightclub. Brazilian music arrives to the gringo ears after being filtered and curated by labels with high standards for quality and sophisticated taste, like Putumayo or Six Degrees.

That's why when you throw a Brazilian music party (and I've been doing these for many years now) you get a lot more "hip" gringos who want to be down with all that Brazilian inner coolness, the kind who would never show up at a party that says Mexican music on its flyer, for example.

That's why when you see the lists of the Grammy nominations, the Brazilian category is always filled with cool stuff, real artist, awesome talent, while the Spanish-language categories are overflowing in lame-ass cheesiness. I'll never forget that one time, almost ten years ago, when I was assigned to cover the awards ceremony for the Latin Grammys and representing Brazil they had Bossacucanova (über-cool bossanova with breakbeats!) while representing the rest of the Latinos who did they have? Vico C, Jon Secada, Vicente Fernández. I'm not kidding you. Where was the Spanish-speaking equivalent of Bossacucanova (at that time it would've been Gotan Project, who had just released their groundbreaking La Revancha Del Tango)? Nowhere to be found.

And that's mainly because of the way the music market is segmented. Record labels that release Brazilian music in the US have as a target the world-traveled college-educated open-minded gringo, while most record labels that release Latin music in Spanish in the US have as a main target the undereducated working class nostalgic immigrant. 

Thus, the illusion of Brazilian music being infinitely cool, in opposition to the cheesy Spanish-speaking crap, gets perpetuated.

But not for too long. I just DJ'd at a Brazilian music party last week and throughout the night I had five people approach me with song requests. All of them requested the same song. Michel Teló's "Ai Se Eu Te Pego," the current one-hit-wonder that's the number one in all charts in South America and many European countries. It's a cheesy-ass pop-forró song with a catchy chorus and a singing dude that seems like a would-be American Idol contestant for the Brazilian equivalent of that show. And it gets worst, the song has a dance choreography attached to it that all dancers at the club are expected to know in advance. You know, like "La Macarena." (This is a pre-requisite for all cheesy summer hits in Brazilian pop if they want to become number one, by the way). That's how lame it is.

Usually these type of songs don't get out of Brazil or only reach the next-door neighbors for about three months of summer and then fade away. But this one managed to cross over to Europe, imported by Brazilian soccer players in the Euro league who did that fucking dance on the field. And yes, now they are trying to get it to crossover to the United States (they even did a HORRIBLE english version called "Oh, if I catch you," yikes).

And judging by the insistence of last week's party-goers it's already crossing over, because somehow, they all knew that song already and the dance. Which means we are at the verge experiencing a new Macarena-like phenomenon that could damage forever that untouchable image of intrinsic coolness that Brazilian music carries around with pride in the United States.

In the meantime, on the opposite side of the spectrum, Putumayo keeps releasing compilations like this one here, of la crème de la crème of the current Brazilian cool music for export, curated for the demanding ears of the sophisticated gringo who'll play this as background music in his living-room when he invites a hottie over and tries to impress her with how cool he is because he knows Brazilian music.

Buy it here.


Kaymir Stark (CFYE) said...

This just made my day haha! So true and very nice read

Delasoulos said...

Enjoyed this post! Great observations!!