Banda Black Rio: music and social revolution

By 18 October, 2010

Formed in 1976, Banda Black Rio is one of the most important names of Brazilian music history. Being one of the pioneers of a new music genre that began to fuse samba with soul music, Banda Black Rio was also among the leaders of a new social and cultural movement called Movimento Black Rio, which was inspired by the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Together with other bands and music artists such as Black Power, Soul Power, Tim Maia and Toni Tornado, Banda Black Rio and the Black Rio Movement revolutionised Brazil’s – especially Rio de Janeiro’s – music scene. However, the movement was not only restricted to music, as it also aimed to show the power and importance of the “black culture”.
The music itself was a new way of making Brazilian music, a way that was different from bossa nova, a music genre created in the rich South Zone of Rio by the white intellectual musicians. Black Rio wanted to reach the public as a whole, using elements of bossa nova and samba, but also including elements of jazz, funk, soul music and black foreign music in general.

The mixture of all the music elements reflected the social miscegenation of Brazilian society and how different the appreciation to culture could be due to the variety of cultural background found among people. Therefore, the transformation that was idealised by the Black Rio movement was to make the marginalised population of the suburbs and favelas of Rio (mainly African-Brazilians) to feel included in society and be proud to show their own ways of entertaining themselves and making music.

Banda Black Rio performing “Cravo e Canela” in 1983:

Basically, Movimento Black Rio is the story of a movement that influenced a whole generation of disillusioned black Brazilian youth during a very violent period of military dictatorship. Black Rio was important for the revaluation of black culture in Brazil and opened the doors for others following black music movements, such as Afoxe from Bahia and more recently for hip hop and funk carioca that have both developed in the suburbs of major Brazilian cities.

The Black Rio movement definitely achieved what they wanted. What started out as a simple expression of the universal power of black music became a symbol for the struggle of poor black Brazilians to choose their own destiny, music and fashion. Throughout the second half of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, Rio de Janeiro experienced a boom of black culture, that could be found around the North Zone of Rio in weekend funk balls (bailes funk), concerts and new venues all dedicated to play the new samba-funk rhythm. The cariocas that were in some way ignored by society now had more than a voice. They had their own space and lifestyle, places where they could go and show their culture and mannerisms without the fear of being judged by the rich – and mainly white – people from the south part of the city.

Banda Black Rio itself was from the North Zone of Rio, a part of the city that was forgotten or even ignored by governments and the organised society. However, what was proved by the creation and growth of samba even before the emergence of Black Rio, was that the lack of money and access to information in the poor areas of Rio never stopped and wasn’t going to stop the people from being themselves, dressing like they dress, dancing like they dance, creating music, starting new cultural movements, and making art in general.

Oberdan Magalhaes, a much respected and well known saxophonist, was the man who founded Banda Black Rio. By the time of the band’s foundation, the Warner record label had recently established itself in Brazil and was looking to invest in this new black music scene. Oberdan was contacted by Andre Midani, the head of WEA in Brazil, and accepted the challenge of forming a new band, that would become Banda Black Rio.

Banda Black Rio performing “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” in 1983:

Oberdan Magalhaes was very influenced by Brazilian samba legends such as Pixinguinha and Cartola and international soul stars like Coleman Hawkins and Stevie Wonder. He started playing the saxophone at the age of 15 and was a pupil of Paulo Moura, a great master of the sax. Oberdan’s first band was called Impacto 8. After this first experience he joined the pianist Dom Salvador and his group Abolicao, in which he played with some of the musicians that became members of Banda Black Rio later on, like trumpeter Barrosinho and trombonist Lucio Jose.

Together with the artists mentioned above and other musicians such as drummer Paulinho Black, arranger Claudio Stevenson and bass player Jamil Joanes, who were playing for different bands at the time, Oberdan Magalhaes created Banda Black Rio.

Initially the band recorded three albums: the instrumental “Maria Fumaca”, in 1976; “Gafieira Universal”, in 1978; and “Saci Perere”, in 1980. Besides that, Banda Black Rio also participated in albums from Caetano Veloso, Raul Seixas and Luiz Melodia, three of the biggest MPB stars of all times.

Banda Black Rio entered the 1980’s decade riding the wave of success produced by their three albums and performing shows all over the country. However, in 1984 Oberdan Magalhaes died in a car accident, which led Banda Black Rio to quit their activities.

Although it seems like the story of this revolutionary band ends here, fifteen years after that Banda Black Rio was reformed by Oberdan’s son, William Magalhaes, a pianist, arranger and music producer who worked with the biggest names of MPB such as Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa.

William started learning music at the age of seven. He was raised within a very musical family, in which not only his father but also his grandmother Yolanda and Aunt Maria were involved in music. As a teenager, William studied jazz and learnt piano with pianist Sonia Vieira. At the age of 18 he started playing with Gilberto Gil’s band, taking part in many international tours.

In the 1990s William became interested in researching his father’s former band, Banda Black Rio. What William found was new for him: beats, metal sounds, and a different music genre from what he was used to.

In 1999 William Magalhaes decided to bring back Banda Black Rio with a new formation but the same music concept. The whole idea was to continue what his father started but wasn’t able to finish because of his precocious death.

The decision to put in practice the project of reuniting Banda Black Rio actually started ten years before, in 1989, when during an international tour with Gilberto Gil, in London William found a Banda Black Rio’s old vinyl being sold for 100 dollars. Noticing the international recognition for his father’s work, William realised that Banda Black Rio wasn’t dead and needed to show the world some new work.

The first idea William had was to call up all the former musicians of Black Rio. However, none of them accepted William’s idea, maybe thinking he was still too young to carry out that ambitious project.

Although it seemed very difficult at the start, William never gave up the idea. Helped by Lucio Silva, one of the former musicians of Banda Black Rio, he went through all the albums and pieces of music ever recorded by his father and the band.

Giving up on the idea of reuniting the old members of the band, William Magalhaes found new musicians that were willing to be part of this “new/old” project. In 2001, two years after the re-foundation of the band, Banda Black Rio released a new album called “Movimento”. This album was also released in Europe in 2002 – by an English record label called Mr. Bongo – under the suggestive name of “Rebirth”.

The new formation of Banda Black Rio performing at music event Circo Soul, in 2008:

Combined, the two different names for the album, Movimento (movement) and Rebirth, express very well the new era of Banda Black Rio. The band is moving and has just reborn, putting together the old mixture of samba, soul and funk but also adding elements of rap and pop. Their new album is still in production but will be released under the name of “Supernova Funk Samba”.

Thus, William Magalhaes and his new team of musicians will always be remembered as the ones who brought back to life the unforgettable music of Banda Black Rio.

Buy Maria Fumaca at Amazon
Buy Gafieira Universal at Amazon
Buy Rebirth at Amazon

More info:

Artists and bands influenced by Banda Black Rio:
Ed Motta, Sandra de Sa, Paula Lima, Claudio Zoli and many, many more!

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