The Brazilian Phenomenon of Beirutando!

By 03 August, 2010

After appearing in Capitu, a television mini-series that aired in Brazil in December 2008, the New York-based indie/folk band Beirut became hugely popular in the country. Their song “Elephant Gun” (from the Lon Gisland EP) was used as the theme of the show, and its romanticised vision seemed to gel with that of the program, which was based on the book Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis.

This love for Beirut culminated in a day of celebrating their music on August 30th 2009, which happened in many cities across Brazil, as well as in Lima, Peru.

Seven bands learned and covered Beirut songs in seven different cities around the country. “My friend from France sent me a link to what’s going on,” Beirut’s Zach Condon told Spinner. “It’s pretty intense. South America was the last place I ever thought of it becoming popular. It’s weird that it caught on and I’m trying to figure out why. What spoke to them that I didn’t realise would?”

The event, as well as the action of covering Beirut, officially became known as Beirutando. Here is a little Q & A about the whole shebang:

Where did the idea come from?

Beirutando appeared in a conversation between two girls from the countryside of São Paulo, Iris and Tainá, concerning good musicians and composers around the world, when Beirut was quoted. Wondering about how many people would know about Beirut here in Brazil and how good would it be if there were bands with the same potential, they had this insight: “We could bring together people who like Beirut and start one band with different personality but that would reach the same musical level”. After spreading this idea through Orkut, a social online network, loads of people joined it and appreciated what became the Beirutando project, born in the late 2008.

What does it means by Beirutando?

Beirutando (the verbalization of Beirut in Portuguese) is an event that proposes in a common day people from all states that participate (currently São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais) would go out and play Beirut’s songs, rehearsed during the year. Not only does Beirutar (To Beirut) mean playing a cover for the all-worshiped band, but also having the will to incorporate a different music and mood into the cities’ dynamics based on Zach Condon’s songs. Doesn’t this playing on the streets thing recall La Blogothèque’s initiative? La Blogothèque inspired us in every way on going to streets to play. Moreover, it made stand out an interesting new approach with acoustic and adapted instruments.

Adapted instruments?

In the lack of a true ukulele in Brazil, we made up this cavacolele, using one cavaquinho with nylon strings and tuned like a ukulele. It sounds like the original but has a pretty Brazilian accent and is reminiscent of the tenor ukuleles available today. Also, there are instruments like the escaleta (melodica) and the cajón (Peruvian instrument) that are not played by Beirut but proved to sound nicely in different occasions. In addition, this atmosphere of intertextuality between different cultures, the collision of distant realities and the feeling of the universal musical repertoire triggered the idea of adapting songs.

Adapting songs?

As a tribute to our own culture, and to the very cultural-synthesis nature of Beirut we started to play some songs in other sorts of rhythms that would revive Brazilian popular music and folklore. That would be a new context and sense for the project and would expand more and more the musical vortex opened by Beirut.

How is it being spread?

The actual meetings have begun in last February, since then many people came not only to play or appreciate but also to register. Material has been released on myspace, youtube and by blog. There is also an account on Twitter with latest news.

Here are a couple of clips of Beirutando in action:

“Postcards from Italy” in Sao Paulo

“Cliquot” in Sao Paulo

And here’s a clip of Beirut’s “Elephant Gun” being used in Capitu:

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