On The Margins

By 11 July, 2024

Hi there, so much good music around at the moment, it’s difficult knowing where to start. Here’s a selection of what I’ve been listening to. This month I look at favela rock, Caipira roots music, psychedelic bossa, doom metal, and plenty of modernist MPB.

Mateus Fazeno Rock – Jesus Ñ Voltará (Deck)

This caused quite a stir last year. Mateus Fazeno Rock plays rock music made in the favela, stemming from a cultural project in Fortaleza influenced by grunge, punk, baile funk and rap, all elements that can be heard on this fascinating album. Influenced in equal measure by Djavan and Kurt Cobain, as a young black rocker, Mateus grew up playing guitar and listening to Nirvana and Silverchair but he didn’t see himself in grunge, a scene made up mostly of white people, hence the need to create the Fazeno Rock project. This is a deluxe release of this album from last year. The title track with Jup do Bairro that opens the album is a bold statement, a dramatic and emotional piece of rock music, stating that Jesus is not coming back, drawing the parallel with people who give in, who self-destruct through suicide and alcoholism, its verses stumbling over each other in an urgency to be sung. Many areas are covered, black masculinity is a central theme to many of the songs, but there’s also gentrification and the grind of favela life, where the wordplay provides depth to the songs. Brisa Flow contributes a rap to “Indigno Love”, and “Da Noite” is inspired by the bailes of Brega-funk but linked to memory, magic and prayer, quite remarkable. There is a near perfect mixture of Brazilian melody and rock dynamics as he does indeed encapsulate the duality of his beloved Djavan and Nirvana, but also it’s possible that the genre of rock can be reanimated through marginalised voices bursting with ideas.

Gustavo Galo – folhas_frutas (pequeno imprevisto)

Inspired by Stevie Wonder’s Journey through the Secret Life of Plants from 1979 (a much misunderstood project), this is a work of two halves from former member of band Trupe Chá de Boldo, the name coming from a renowned hangover cure. The first release, folhas (leaves), has a minimalism that echoes Galo’s relationship with plants and the nature that surrounds him when he moved from São Paulo and went to live in the stunning region of Serra da Mantiqueira. While the second, frutas (fruit), uses more of a band sound, played with old friends such as Gongon (Trupe Chá de Boldo) and Cuca Ferreira (Bixiga 70/ Atønito) amongst others. I prefer the first half, it’s calm poetry and minimalist arrangements works more to my taste. Juraça Marçal sings on “Pequena arvore” which is a splendid opener, the soft patter of the synth bassline with jazzy piano chords while Marçal really stretches her great voice. Not that there’s anything wrong with the 2nd half, it can be just as intriguing as the first. On “Pequena Arvore”, with Bruna Lucchesi adding vocals, the band builds on the arrangement, fully expanding its five minutes.

Arrigo Barnabé – Arrigo visita Itamar (Atração)

Barnabé was one the main proponents of the Vanguarda Paulistana movement, a scene from the ’80s that not only created idiosyncratic experimental pop music but also broke away from the controlling major labels, allowing artists to release their own work, publish alternative media, and manage their careers independently. On this release he interprets the work of his partner in the movement, the legendary Itamar Assumpção, someone who was in equal parts influenced by sambista Cartola, Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis, looking at the songs from their own partnership and also the interpretations that Itamar made of other composers throughout his career. To achieve this, Barnabé brought in the Banda Isca de Policia, who always accompanied Itamar Assumpção, and on this project are called Trisca. These recordings are part of the celebrations of 45 years of the creation of the legendary Teatro Lira Paulistana in São Paulo, a theatre where the artists of the movement all gathered and described as the CBGBs of the scene. Assumpção always stood out for his otherworldliness, but add the eccentricity of Barnabé and you get weird art-rock music, almost Beefheartian in its abstraction, with samba rhythms, all superbly played while Barnabé’s deep growling voice cites Assumpção’s corrosive and biting lyrics, which frankly are an integral part of understanding his wit and poetry. 

Vitor Marsula – Faca e Foice (problemas dos outros)

This is a great EP of acoustic instruments and drones. The opening track is a version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”, a 17th century Irish poem translated by Frank O’Connor and recorded by artists such as Dead Can Dance, Sinead O’Connor and Scullion. It’s a melancholy piece with vocals from American multi-artist Eden Trembles. The title track, “Faca e Foice” (scythe and sickle), uses the concept of rituals of harvest and passage, with heavily treated Buddhist monk chanting and bell-ringing. “Nash Raga” is a longer track that piles on the drones so that the melodies play off each other and can be heard seeping through the cracks. There’s also three remixes by the heavy electronics producer Votú, with versions that range from metallic techno brutalism to minimalist uncomfortable noise and vocal distortions.

Various Artists- Folk Poetry, Song and Rhythm in Northeastern Brazil (Death is not the end)

This was originally broadcast on NTS Radio in 2019 but is available digitally on Bandcamp or as a cassette. It’s a mixtape-style collection of field recordings of caipira guitar and improvised “duelling” poetry of the repente, embolada and aboio styles that originate from North of Brazil, specifically in the border of Pernambuco and Paraíba, although when they moved down south accordion was added. Repente in fact means “all of a sudden” hence the improvised to-ing and fro-ing of the alternating verses. At times there’s just a pandeiro accompanying the voices, while in others you can hear the scraping rabeca violin. It’s a delightful hour of folk music that is still played and sung by the troubadours in the hinterlands of the country. 

Various Artists – Não Wave Revisited (Man Recordings)

This EP contains remixes/re-edits from the Não Wave: Brazilian Post Punk 1982 – 1988 compilation from 2005. In the interests of transparency, I was heavily involved in the process of putting the collection together (hey, it was my idea) and thus have an obvious love for the project which for me was a perfect time capsule of a fascinating and often overlooked musical moment and movement in Brazilian rock music history. There’s the Glimmers’ remix of “Agentss”, the single that sparked the movement, maybe the “Spiral Scratch” of the Brazilian post-punk scene, and is a great slowed-down droning interpretation. Highlight for me would be Munk’s version of “Eu Sou o Rio” by Black Future, the only representation from Rio on the collection, and a complete anomaly as no one in Rio was doing anything similar at the time, even though the record industry was heavily based in Rio during the ’80s. And finally Black Future are currently being re-evaluated at the moment as they are the focus of a new documentary just being released.

Lau Ro – Cabana (Far Out)

Does the world need another sensitive non-binary take on bossa nova, it certainly seems so as this is a charming example from Far Out who have been releasing excellent Brazilian music in the last few years. Born in São Paulo but living in Brighton, the young singer and composer is originally from the cult psychedelic outfit Wax Machine. This is their solo album which has a much more tranquil bossa vibe, recorded in the shed at the bottom of the garden, hence the name Cabana. Singing in English and Portuguese, this is a balmy offering of melancholic dreamy samba, ambient folk, a little fuzzy tropicalia wrapped in warm MPB. Lau Ro’s delicate and quiet voice mixes with the sounds of nature on “Assim”, a rooster crowing in the background. There are small touches of brass and strings and there’s quite a few moments when it does all get quite trippy, “Casinha” for example. If you had a decent summer in the UK, this would be a perfect accompaniment.

Henrique Iwao & Mário Del Nunzio Without the Beatles (Seminal Records)

Seminal records specialise in electro-acoustic, improvised and noise recordings. This is a bizarre conceptual piece based on Beatles recordings played on two grand pianos where each composition could be a play on a translation of a song title or improvised imitations. The first track “Adeus, Hola”, for example, is based on the idea of answering (or not, preferably) the cellphone, where vibrating phones were placed on the strings inside the piano to produce beautiful deep sounds. “Patati, Patatá” is a version of “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da” but focusing on the mistakes made during the edit and completely changing its arrangement and time signatures to create something that sounds like a Kurt Weill gothic cabaret. If you like Cagean conceptual ideas in music then this is an interesting listen.

Dimitriesque – Exercísio de Melancolia (DJ Cröw Records)

This project is Gabriel Crow, an experimental artist and producer from Fortaleza, Ceará. He runs the DJ Cröw Records netlabel and the “Quasi Gente” project. This experimental ambient project was created as an angry response to “savage social Darwinism”, though it begins with two tracks that use gentle post-rock guitars and long drawn out synth chords akin to ’90s Labradford, for example, while interesting sung vocals can be heard flitting around in the background. However, by track 3, “Agua Estagnada Aqui”, there’s glitch and guitar noise that creates a kind of ambient black metal.

Weedevil – Profane Smoke Ritual (Sel-released)

A São Paulo doom metal band that are pretty much the sum of their influences, Black Sabbath and Acid King stoner-occult rock, but they do have a fine heavy skull-crunching sound with female vocals that is well worth supporting. I mean, you know what you’re getting with titles like “Serenade of Baphomet”. Though I do particularly recommend the title track that has a great head-nodding drum intro with a techno-like gnarly bass effect, which I wish they had made more use of before piling on the crashing chord attack. An interesting collection of dope-infused heaviness.

Also of interest

Rogério Skylab – “Rainha do Mar” (Self-released)

A meeting of two singular talents in Rio de Janeiro as cult rocker Skylab teams up with post-internet electronics wizard Cadu Tenório to create a series of singles, releasing one track a month, until the album is officially released. When the album is released I intend to write in full, but I’ll leave this ode to Iemanjá as a taster.

Silibrina – Sonambulando (Self-released)

Superbly played contemporary fusion jazz, in the style of Snarky Puppy, but with classic Brazilian rhythms such as frevo, maracatu and baião, using traditional percussion instruments with names like the caracaxá, ganzá, timbal, alfaia, gonguê and of course the pandeiro. The arrangements alone are well worth your time.

Votú – “Child Light” (Self-released)

Curious about this producer after listening to the Vitor Marsula release (see above), I found this Coil-like piece of disturbing electronics. Much of the other tracks are driven by a heavy kick drum but this has a singular dense atmosphere.

Pedro Pedrosa – Passo o Ponto (Self-released)

If all of this experimentation and abstraction is getting a bit much for you, you could do worse than dip into this collection of light-hearted ukulele-led MPB.

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