What do you get if you throw a bunch of top Brazilian and British musicians together? David Pollock finds out
(Image: Os Mutantes)
Thanks in no small part to the popularity of endearingly loud-mouthed São Paulo disco-punks CSS on these shores, Brazilian alternative music has been gaining increasing levels of recognition in the UK of late. Yet exciting music originating from the South American country neither begins nor ends with Lovefoxxx and her noisy crew, and the three-day Trocabrahma mini-festival should introduce fans to a whole new crowd of Brazilian rock artists.
Programmed by the same people behind Scotland’s Triptych festival, it follows a similar dynamic - a series of gigs are spread out over three days in three cities (in this case Glasgow, London and Liverpool), with all of the acts involved visiting each city in turn. The key theme of the event is collaboration, with each of the British artists involved being paired off with a Brazilian band whose style complements their own, in order that they might work on some new material together.
This year’s Trocabrahma project, in fact, started out over May and June, when a selection of British artists were flown out to São Paulo - the undisputed centre of cutting edge music in Brazil - for a week of rehearsals and a culminatory gig with their chosen playing partner.
‘The thinking behind Trocabrahma is that we wanted to offer an alternative to the usual summer festival provision, and we wanted to do something that would give artists and audiences alike a fresh perspective,’ explains Neil Mowat, co-programmer of the event. ‘We do rehearsal and live work in Brazil, there’s a Trocabrahma podcast and forthcoming documentary on Channel 4, but obviously these shows are the ultimate end product of all that hard work.’
To understand where Brazilian music is at now, however, it’s important to recognise the differences and similarities between their pop musical history and our own. If Brazil has given the rock world one genre that couldn’t have been created anywhere else, it’s Tropicalia, a movement encompassing poetry and theatre, but mostly music, that emerged from the late 1960s and early 1970s as a combination of British and American psychedelia, and more traditional Brazilian influences.
At the forefront of this movement was a band called Os Mutantes, a group who were complete unknowns in Britain during their heyday (they split up in 1978), yet who have since been rediscovered and promoted by artists including Kurt Cobain and Sean Lennon. Beck named his 1998 single ‘Tropicalia’ in their honour, while The Bees borrow much of their summer-friendly sound from Os Mutantes. The fact that the band are playing at Trocabrahma is a significant result for the organisers, as their reformation gig at London’s Barbican last May was the first and, until now, only show they’ve ever played in the UK.
‘There’s such a massive variety of styles and attitudes amongst the Brazilian artists that we’re working with that it would be hard to say there’s one common influence between them,’ says Mowat. ‘But certainly, with most artists working in the contemporary field in Brazil, they’ll either be influenced by the music of Tropicalia, or great admirers of the political aspects of it.’
(Images: Four Tet and Open Field Church; King Creosote and Romulo Froes;
Gruff Rhys and Tony da Gatorra)
The political edge to Os Mutantes, and their contemporaries Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil (currently Brazil’s minister of culture), is important. While their North American counterparts had Vietnam to rail against, those at the forefront of Tropicalismo found themselves in active opposition to the Brazilian military dictatorship which held sway from 1964 until the mid-80s. Veloso and Gil even found themselves imprisoned, before exiling themselves in London.
‘There was a huge division even among the Brazilian public about us,’ says Os Mutantes’ Sergio Dias Baptista, who formed the group with his brother Arnaldo when he was 14. ‘We would play guitars, and they would call us Yankees. Some of them would say we were right wing, while others would call us communists, revolutionaries.
‘It was a weird thing to be spoken of like this by all these guys that were older than us, the newspapers, the critics. We were just free-spirited and doing what we wanted to do, fighting whoever wanted to fight us, because that’s what kids do. Once we played a song on stage with Veloso called ‘Forbidden to Forbid’ and the audience were throwing eggs and chairs at us so we turned round and played with our backs to them. People said this was a beautiful thing, politically, but we were just trying to cover our asses!’
Baptista compares the era to Paris in 1968, and it’s not hard to see that the days of Tropicalia were a kind of Year Zero for the current crop of Brazilian artists. Mowat describes the attitudes of those involved in this year’s Trocabrahma as very much a ‘work hard, play hard’ affair, and says the collaborations that went on in Brazil were a great success.
There are many intriguing team-ups among them, including noted eccentric Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals alongside the possibly even more barmy Tony da Gattora, inventor of his own guitar/synthesiser hybrid, the gattora (Lovefoxxx owns one, as does Franz Ferdinand’s Nick McCarthy). Funk-rock friends of CSS, Bonde Do Role - in the process of establishing their own name here - are teamed with their long-time collaborators Radioclit and Amanda Blank, while the mellower partnership of songwriters King Creosote and Rumulo Froes will be turned into an epic ten-piece line-up by the inclusion of each artist’s full band.
It’s an intriguing, exciting prospect, and one that Mowat intends to continue for the next year or two at least. Yet such a cross-pollination of cultures isn’t anything new, at least according to Baptista.
‘There was something powerful about the era we came from,’ he says. ‘There was this vortex of energy in the 60s that was at work on humanity all over the world. I loved Pink Floyd and The Beatles, even though I knew nothing about them other than their music. We adopted the flower from the Flower Power movement, and we knew about Vietnam too - Brazil was like a kaleidoscope, where we got bits and pieces of information from all over the world and mixed it into our own psychedelic thing. I think that’s why what we were doing was so unique’.
Four Tet, Open Field Church and DJs Aidan Moffat and Chris Geddes play the Classic Grand, Glasgow, Fri 27 Jul; King Creosote, Romulo Froes, Gruff Rhys, Tony da Gatorra and DJs Nick McCarthy and Paul Thomson (Franz Ferdinand) play the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Sat 28 Jul; Ben Westbeech, Tita Lima and Gilles Peterson play the Classic Grand, Glasgow, Sat 28 Jul; Os Mutantes, JD Twitch, Bonde Do Role, Radioclit / Amanda Blank and Diplo play the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Sun 29 Jul.
We look back over some other memorable musical collaborations
A match was made in musical heaven when Paul Simon (pictured above) hooked up with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who later promoted Heinz beans. Recorded in and inspired by South Africa, world music met folk on the album Graceland, a Grammy winning smash, full of African rhythms and timeless bangers such as ‘You Can Call Me Al’.
Who could forget when tash-sporting rock god Freddie Mercury gazed into the eyes of hairspray loving Spanish opera diva Montserrat Caballé and belted out ‘Barcelona’? This Camp, OTT double drama queen combo made deliciously sweet, spine-tingling music together.
After dabbling in a spot of transcendental meditation, the Fab Four decided to embrace the Indian sound - all mantra chants and rolling beats - on the White Album and Abbey Road. George Harrison had already collaborated with Hindustani musician Ravi Shankar (pictured above) and went on to swap his beloved guitar for sitar on the single, ‘Norwegian Wood’.
It was a genre-straddling, tambourine-thumping frenzy when Romany gypsy punk outfit Gogol Bordello met disco dolly Madonna to sing ‘La Isla Bonita’ at the recent Live Earth Gig. What ensued was a highly entertaining, although bonkers, moment of musical madness at which lucky gig-goers were treated to an awful lot of frantic fiddles and crotch thrusting.
His compositions for the Oscar-winning soundtrack of The Last Emperor were a far cry from David Byrne’s (pictured above) pop roots. The Dumbarton-born Talking Heads founder joined forces with Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto to create the soundtrack’s sweeping, Chinese-flavoured score.
Paul Young wanted no more pain and no sorrow, but arguably caused plenty when he collaborated with Italian rock legend Zucchero for ‘Senza una Donna’. Moody sax, wind machines and non-stop air grabbing only add to the appeal of this heartfelt soft rock ballad. Like they say, torture and bliss.
One, a Mexican guitar virtuoso with a background in Latino music, blues and rock. The other, a Haitian rapper who mixes reggae funk with hip hop. It shouldn’t have worked, but when Carlos Santana (pictured above) met Wyclef Jean for ‘Maria Maria’, their Spanish-soaked single went straight to number one.