Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Seleção do Gringo, Part 2

The second part of my Blogariddims funk mix enters a crucial moment in Rio's funk culture: the shift from Volt Mix to the tamborzão (big drum). Maga Bo explains the shift from looped Miami bass beats (mostly of DJ Battery Brain's "808 Volt Mix", held aloft by my man Cabide DJ here) to a new riddim, for lack of a better term, built on the Roland 808. It has become the quintessential funk sound, and definitely its prime sonic signifier for the rest of the world. If reggaeton is the boom-ch-boom-chk, funk is the BOOM-bdoom-boom-boom-boom-boom.

Unlike in Jamaican dancehall, which really cycles through the riddim method, tamborzão is pretty much the sound in contemporary funk. (Not that you can't try and draw lines in between, cf MPC's excellent Baile-Dancehall Mixtape.) It's gotten to the point were some younger funkeiros don't even recognize Miami bass loops as funk. The genre's short memory is definitely an unfortunate phenomenon I've encountered. You can buy funk antigo compilation CDs at the Uruguiana market downtown and I saw one "velha guarda" (old guard) funk show advertised that I missed this past summer, but on the whole it's relentlessly fixated on the newest tracks, newest MCs, newest freestyles about what was going on in the neighborhood during the last week.

Bo describes it as "a big dry sound that works really well on a massive sound system in a mostly open air space." He couldn't be more right, as it's the tamborzão that really shakes up the sound system at a baile funk. This is the beat that does it all up in Rio's hills.

Tamborzão Ruling the Nation

6. Pé de Pano Interlude

Keeping with the Blogariddims exclusive vocal drops, Pé de Pano prepares for the tamborzão explosion.

"Se tu quer vim, pode vir, vai ser bem vindo
Tá tudo mundo ligado na Seleção do Gringo
Tu tá ligado quando eu canto eu não me engano
Para quem não me conheçe eu sou o MC Pé de Pano"

(If you wanna come, you can come, you're welcome
Everyone's connected to the Seleção do Gringo
You're hooked up when I sing I don't deceive myself
For those who don't know me, I'm the MC Pé de Pano)

7. Pé de Pano - Ela Tá Querendo

He segues right into his own track, a nice little dancefloor burner. "Eu não posso passar, ela não pode me ver, ela tá querendo aperecer (I can't get through, she can't see me, she's wanting to make an appearance.)" Borrows an upbeat sample from a '90s American dance hit (I forget the name but I feel like it was ubiquitous at the time) at the end.

8. MC Rose (prod. by DJ Byano) - Nov
a Holanda

This came from one of the few pirated CDs I've bought over the years that yielded mp3s of decent quality, which unfortunately means I don't know anything about the artist -- never again came across an MC Rose (or a DJ Byano). But the Nova Holanda favela is one I know something about, having paid a visit to the Complexo da Maré in late July. As a complex, or big group of a favelas, it has some notoriety, the rude awakening that greets visitors coming off the Linha Vermelha highway from the airport and into downtown. It's home to a large concentration of Rio's Angolan population (although I couldn't find much on Masala's behalf) and according to MC Rose, the "bonde pesadão (heaviest gang)."

I like this song's mix between Volt Mix and tamborzão beats, as well as the liberal use of Miami bass samples (Hassan's "Pump Up the Party" especially). It bridges the two riddims well and the production definitely has a sense of funk's roots in it.

9. Unknown - Mangueira Remix

Grabbed this from the many gigabytes of funk I've been besieged with by the mysterious DJ Zezinho. I try to avoid unknown artists as much as possible, but even a little Google Brasil hasn't turned up much. The track is worth slipping in for a minute or two, though, because the refrain "Mangueira: Verde e Rosa" refers to the most famous samba school in Rio, Mangueira, and its colors, green and pink. Funk and samba have always been an interesting comparison in my mind, mostly because despite vast musical differences, they've evolved similarly in Rio. Samba had to take refuge in favelas once criminalized in the early 20th century, as funk did in the '90s, but both in turn became wildly popular. Will funk be parading down the Sambódromo anytime soon? Doubtful. But they're not the exact opposites they might first seem to be.

10. Deise Tigrona - Injeção

I originally had no intention of bringing in this song, embroiled as it is in questionable sampling practices (to my knowledge, early releases with "Bucky Done Gun" didn't credit Deise, but later ones did). Flipping through a CD case that DJ Edgar gave me as a parting gift, however, I took a liking to this version for putting the first word "Quando" through a serious sonic blender that isn't on the other version I've heard, which I guess comes from the Mr Bongo comp.

"Injeção" was pretty popular, from what I understand, and is a great example of funk's playful sexuality. "When I go to the doctor, I feel a little pain / I want him to give me an injection, look how big the doctor's is / the injection hurts when it pierces / it's rough when it enters." You get the idea.

Plus, of course, those horns -- a great segue out of the sample in the previous track and into . . .

11. Unknown / Montagem de Rocky

Another Sou Funk EP track, what they call "Rocky Theme" is basically a monatgem (montage), an instrumental mash-up by a DJ. And there's just no hope of finding the person responsible for this one. Montagens circulate like mad, and while every DJ has his own style, using the same material over and over doesn't lend itself to distinction. For what it's worth, Cabide DJ does claim to be the first DJ to use the horn sample. He told me he found it on a CD of cinema soundtracks and thought it sounded cool. That's all it takes . . . I tried explaining the path that led it to M.I.A. and funk's ensuing American popularity, but it didn't really register.

12. Bonde do Vinho - Labirinto vs. Vem Cá Nenem

Another great example of sampling on the it-sounds-good principle. Bonde do Vinho are something of a funk boy band and the song, which relies heavily on The Clash's "Rock the Casbah," doesn't appear to make any reference to its source material. The song is all about meeting some cute girl at a baile, telling her she's gotta dance with everyone in the band, etc. But "Rock the Casbah" is a universally acknowledged dancefloor hit, so why not bring it into the mix? I don't know who produced the song or where he came across The Clash, but it was definitely a fortuitous combination. That said, it's one of very few instances I know of rock or indie being sampled -- there's a Smiths track floating around that I still haven't heard, but I think it's a rarer phenomenon than otherwise represented.

13. DJ Edgar - Flamengo

I'm still Flumninense de coração, but there just aren't any Flu-themed funk remixes. So it's with a certain sense of futébol treason that I bring in Edgar's remix of the Flamengo anthem. It is undeniably catchy, I admit, and the most common football anthem remix I've heard played live (although I know they exist for Botafogo and Vasco, the other major Rio teams).

14. MC Sapão - Diretoria (Radio Mix)

This track has been hot since since I was there last year, probably earlier.

O natural do Rio é o batidão
A playboyzada e os manos do morrão
Funkeiro é nós com muita disciplina brasília"

(What's natural to Rio is the big beat
For the playboys and the boys from the big hill
Funkeiros are us with lots of discipline Brasília)

15. Beto da Caixa - Blindão

Beto dropped the Blogariddims introduction and now I've got a proper track for him. Blindão, which comes from the word for 'armor', is slang for the code of conduct in the favelas (don't steal, don't snitch, don't take someone's girl, etc). Easily my favorite track from '06, I can't get enough of the half-gunshot sample and the chorus "tenho fé não tem o medo, a gente sempre no blindão (I have faith, not fear, we're always in blindão)."

16. Mr Catra - Vem Todo Mundo (Remix / Bass)

Oh Mr Catra, an endless enigma. He is the closest thing to a star that the movimento funk has, trying very hard to straddle a sense of favela roots (even though he grew up in middle-class Tijuca) with national and international success -- having toured Europe a couple of times. He now lives waaaay out in the Zona Oeste of Rio, a nice new house with a pool and plenty of seclusion. It's sort of like a funk pousada (a pousada is a Brazilian guesthouse, usually located in the countryside or in small coastal towns), with a constant stream of DJs and MCs passing through for their brush with greatness.

That said, most of his itinerary is playing huge clubs -- or his favorite, small brothels -- and continuing to wreck his voice by smoking obscene amounts of marijuana. I interviewed him in '06 and he was smoking blunts from when I arrived until when I left, only stopping to take a break for lunch. I began to think this summer that he may just not be worth the hype, but he's still got some classic tracks. "Vem Todo Mundo" is probably his biggest hit and I really like the 909/handclap combo in the background of this remix, which I got off the album "Proibido Para Menores de 18 Anos" (Prohibited for Minors Under 18).

Even Brian Eno has weighed in: "
Catra is apparently known as the James Brown of the Booty Beats. It's from brazil, of course, and features the dirtiest and most musical laughter I've ever heard on a record."

17. Menor do Chapa - 1969 Vida Louca

Here's one MC I wish I'd had the chance to meet. He looks like a scrawny white guy with glasses, BUT . . . he churns out the most vicious proibidão funk. Singing exclusively for the Comando Vermelho, as in "1969 Vida Louca", which opens with a brief history of the founding of the CV.
At the same time, he's pretty popular with a very high-tech website, a pretty good indication of funk's ascendancy since the days of rough Volt Mix proibidão cuts that had to remain anonymous.

Round 3 Coming Soon: Post-Baile Funk

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Seleção do Gringo, Part 1

I've been a longtime admirer of Blogariddims and its emphasis on dropping serious knowledge jewels in podcast form. So I chomped at the bit when the ringleaders over at The Fear opened it up for a second round.

Unfortunately, I was running on Brazilian time and it all came together past deadline. So grab the mix or better yet the whole series, then take a gander as I try to make some sense of this musical feijoada.

Blogaritmos 28: A Seleção do Gringo

The Beat Diaspora aims to take an ecumenical approach to beats and the cities that inspire them, although over the last year it's largely been usurped by all things carioca. Two consecutive summers of study, research, and volunteer work in Rio de Janeiro have just proved too captivating not to write about. And even if by Northern hype standards I came a year too late to ride the wave of buzz, I was still amazed at how much Rio really does move to the beat of the tamborzão. While there's a small cadre of DJs, MCs, and producers with an eye to the rest of the world (and you'll hear from them at the end), the funk scene doesn't need the rest of the world's attention (nor, for that matter, its crude characterizations, cheap rip-offs, failure to credit artists, and questionable contracts).

In my wanderings around Rio, rolling up to bailes, meeting DJs and MCs, and bartering for pirated CDs, I've amassed quite a bit of tunes. Rather than try to do a "definitive" take on funk, whose inner-workings, trends, ebbs, and flows are still kind of a mystery, I put together a mix of an hour's worth of favorites, roughly divided into funk antigo (old-school) that rides looped Miami bass beats, bangers on the tamborzão (the beat underneath most funk since the late '90s), and a new crop of "pós-baile funk" (post-baile funk), a term coined by Hermano Vianna. Vianna is an anthropologist and music journalist whose book O Mundo Funk Carioca (The Rio Funk World) was the first book-length study of funk waaaaay back in 1988. Granted, it was ahead of its time, but academics (like myself, I must admit) taking their ever-critical eyes to this stuff is going on its 20th anniversary. I don't think I'm in a position to offer any conclusive observations, but it's worth presenting in less sensational terms. Sure, it's wrapped up in the city's complicated and tragic socio-economic-narcotic disparities, and provides an intriguing window into Rio's social relations. But funk has also taken off as national pop music, the tamborzão beat even used for advertising jingles. It's a vast, vast world.

So instead of trying to represent, or re-present, here's my seleção. Selection, literally, but with a more important meaning in Brasil. The seleção is also the national team in a given sport, the proper noun "A Seleção" almost always referring to the national futébol squad. These aren't just any old tracks, but some of my favorites, whether it be for beats, lyrics, samples, community, or an MC or DJ I'm fond of.

As for gringo, that's simple. Rio is a city bringing in millions of tourists a year from the northern hemisphere, and they're all expected to plop down on Copacabana beach and drink caipirinhas. The last place any carioca expects to find gringos is hanging out at bailes funk or, as was the case this summer, actually living in a favela. It's not a term of hostility, just a fact. It's no use trying to act Brazilian, I'll always be the gringo, no matter the circumstances.

Pronto? Vamos.

1. Beto da Caixa Intro / Praia do Leblon

Couldn't resist a few exclusive vocal drops. "Blogaritmos número vinte e oito, é a seleção do gringo, tá ligado? (Blogariddims number twenty-eight, it's the gringo's selection, you understand?)"

c/o Beto da Caixa, one of the MCs I spent the most time with this summer. We hooked up some (digital) dubs for the Liberation Sound System.

And with the generous use of studio time by our main man Sandrinho DJ, who makes an appearance in the mix later on.

Then the soothing sounds of the Atlantic along Leblon beach, a guy hawking cold drinks on a hot Sunday. Everyone congregates here, in theory the beach serves as the city's great democratic space (although that's come under question in recent years). It puts you in the right mood for what comes next.

Part 1: Funk Antigo

2. MCs Júnior e Leonardo - Endereço dos Bailes

Easily my favorite old-school funk hit, "Endereço dos Bailes" (Address of the Bailes) is simple but eloquent.

"No Rio tem mulata e futebol, Cerveja, chopp gelado, muita praia e muito sol, é... Tem muito samba, Fla-Flu no Maracanã, Mas também tem muito funk rolando até de manhã

In Rio there are mulatta chicks [this is a good thing] and soccer
Brews, cold beer, lots of beach and lots of sun
It has lots of samba, Fla-Flu [soccer rivalry] at Maracanã Stadium
But it also has lots of funk rolling through the morning."

After listing all of Rio's tourist attributes, they cinch the quatrain in the fourth line, asserting that funk deserves its place in the city's cultural pantheon. And even at this stage around 1993, they were obviously right, as they go on to rattle off a whole list of bailes that were kicking at the time. Some, like the Clube de Emoções in Rocinha, is still there:

MC Dollares holding it down while the crowd works it out on the dance floor.

The version of this song I got on relatively high-quality mp3 ripped from the Sou Funk EP, which I later discovered was 100% pirated, a pretty rough culture-vulture case. Fortunately, Flamin Hotz Records turned out not to be such bad guys, and I helped them track down which artists we could and pay them back. Júnior and Leonardo were one of them.

Reppin' Sou Funk with Rocinha in the background. In a huge coincidence, the house where they grew up (and where Júnior still lives) backs up to the Instituto Dois Irmãos, where I volunteered these last two summers.

3. MC Mascote - Rocinha e Vidigal

Staying in the Zona Sul (South Side), just behind Leblon Beach is Vidigal, something like a little brother to Rocinha (Rio's largest favela).

The unfortunate juxtaposition of a 5-star Sheraton just below it on the beachfront besides (how guests can sip cocktails and play tennis with this behind them I will never understand), Vidigal is home to the amazing NGO Nós do Morro (Us from the Hill), who interestingly enough trained many of the actors in City of God, which made favelas something of world famous.

MC Mascote, who lives in Rocinha now to my knowledge (although he says he lives in Vidigal in the song), keeps the friendly spirit alive with "Rocinha e Vidigal." With a short "Push It" sample he explains in the chorus, "Quem dança no Vidigal dança na Roça também (Whoever dances in Vidigal dances in Rocinha too)." Kind words for both too: Vidigal is a "morro de valor (worthwhile hill)" and Rocinha "uma comunidade linda, a maior favela da América Latin (a lovely community, the biggest favela in Latin America)." Both of these first two songs are really earnest takes on being proud of your neighborhood, and of course of their blazing bailes funk.

4. Unknown - Morro do Cantagalo Proibidão

Of course, not all songs holding it down for the 'hood are so upbeat. Proibidão (extremely prohibited) is the style of funk that's really raised eyebrows–the songs that big ups the local criminal faction (which is usually paying for the baile anyway), incite them to go to war with one another, and memorialize dead gangsters. Even if you can't understand the lyrics (which mostly talk about the righteousness of the Comando Vermelho, who run the favela of Cantagalo), the gunshots punctuating the track are hard to miss.

No surprise, then, that Paul Sneed, founder of the i2i and a prof at UKansas, would title his study of proibidao "Machine Gun Voices." He makes a brilliant case for the proibidão MC not as another part of the criminal apparatus, but a crucial link between the community and the gangs, speaking from to another in really the only public forum the favelas have. The Comando Vermelho doesn't give press conferences (although I believe they actually did once upon a time). "Rap is CNN for black people," says Chuck D. "Funk is TV Globo for favelados," this anonymous MC might say. It's notoriously hard to find artist names for proibidão by the way, since having your name associated with this stuff can get you in trouble with the authorities (or rival factions, for that matter).

Cantagalo is also the baile da comunidade (free favela party thrown by the local faction) I've visited most, presided over by Rio's finest DJ, Sany Pitbull.

5. Júnior e Leonardo - Rap das Armas

"O meu Brasil é um país tropical
A terra do funk, a terra do carnaval
O meu Rio de Janeiro é um cartão postal
Mas eu vou falar de um problem nacional

My Brasil is a tropical country
The land of funk, the land of Carnival
My Rio de Janeiro is a postcard
But I'm going to speak about a national problem."

I wanted to end the old-school tunes on a peaceful note. Back to my boys Júnior and Leonardo, who had a massively popular hit with "Rap das Armas." They run down a list of heavy weaponry because the difference between an Uzi and an AK-47 is a part of their daily lives.

Here's a recording of them on TV . . . this track was a huge, huge hit. Which made it all the more surprising to hear that later in the '90s, they were so hurting for cash that they had a taxi and drove it in 12-hour shifts each, keeping it on the road 24/7. One hit does not equal success for life. They're on a resurgence, though, planning to tour Europe as part of the release Tropa da Elite, which features "Rap das Armas."

That brings the old school section to an end. Tamborzão bangers coming soon.

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