an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Turkey Day Takedown
I am writing this to join the growing chorus of bloggers using Blogger who have received takedown notifications in recent weeks. Blogger has deleted posts with links that allegedly have content in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In my case, it was a June post, "Rush It Up" (Google cache link) that pointed to an mp3 of Shaggy's theme song for Euro 2008. I was not hosting the file, merely linking to its presence on the Heatwave blog (where you can still find it).
Other bloggers have received notifications -- or even had posts deleted without receiving notifications -- for tracks that they received from record labels specifically so they could promote it via their blogs! It's a shotgun approach that has Blogger (and its overlord, Google) covering their asses while infringing on the ability of bloggers to publish original content (it's not just an offending link that is removed, but the entire text of the post that went with it).
In the mean time, a friend did some digging on the individual who filed the claim, a one Eric Green. Apparently his main employ is to get illegally shared porn removed from hosting sites. Most of his work is for the adult online industry . . . and yet somehow a handful of music bloggers have fallen into his net. We're like dolphins in the tuna catch here.
If you are so inclined as to ask Mr. Green why my post, or any of the others that Blogger has removed in the last several weeks, here is his contact information:
I will be sending him several e-mails and letters, as well as dropping him a line. And looking for a new place to run my blog. This site's days as a forum for free expression are clearly numbered; expect bloggers to run from Blogger in droves.
Even if it's old news in Brazil, I'm due to provide a refresher on Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad in English). It was directed by José Padilha as the second film in a trio that began with Bus 174, the documentary of a hostage taking on a Rio bus that was captured by national TV to disastrous results. His cinematic vision is to tackle the city's central pressing issues -- violent crime, the drug trade, police corruption and brutality. In Tropa de Elite, he focuses on the BOPE, Rio's equivalent of a SWAT team, that conducts intense operations in favelas -- usually with callous disregard for human life. Shoot first, ask questions later, as it were. Their ostentatiously violent symbol makes that abundantly clear ("It looks like a biker gang in the third reich.")
I first watched it in Rocinha with some 2Bros folks, where the scene portraying BOPE invasions of the favela were eerily similar to real life. We had a pirated copy that had leaked in August 2007, just a week or two before my departure. It had already spread like wildfire, and by the time of its official release in October, it was seen by a reported 11.5 million Brazilians. Not much the copyright police can do about that.
Most interestingly, it was equally popular among all strata of society, but for opposite reasons. Favelados were on the side of the victimized favelados as well as cavalier gangsters, and a friend of a friend was proud to have been an extra as a bandido. The middle and upper classes were taken by protagonist Capitão Nascimento, whose strongarm, torture tactics elicited applause in movie houses.
In a country whose moneyed interests frequently feel that the drug trade can only be reined in by extra-legal measures, Nascimento's take no prisoners attitude made him, as this magazine cover argues, a new national hero.
Padilha cannily rejects any claims that his film endorses either side of the debate. I saw him speak at the Harvard Film Archive last spring, where he maintained the position that the film was a portrayal designed to spark dialogue, not a polemic. In short, he's let the film be a mirror on its viewers' own prejudices and opinions about the power relations in Rio.
I don't think a strong-willed director tackling such challenging subjects should get off so easily. Surely there was some authorial intent. For one, the group that comes off the most negatively in the film are the wealthy college students who patronize the drug trade -- they provide the funds that keep the whole operation going, much to the detriment of folks who live just a few miles away up in the hills (on a longer scale, Colombia is taking the anti-cocaine message to middle-class Europeans).
Those folks, meanwhile, get their fair due of fun for a brief moment at the beginning of the film, with a stellar baile funk scene that tragically ends in a police-gang shootout. It's chopped up by the opening credits, as you can see in this trailer, but the shots come the closest I've seen on screen to a baile funk, or at least one c. 1997.
I say 1997 because that's the setting of the film, not too long after Rocinha brothers Júnior and Leonardo popularized one of the classics of funk carioca, "Rap das Armas," which they sing live in this opening scene. I documented a recent acapella usage and linktubed to a Yo! MTV Raps-esque version during my Rocinha sojourn. The popularity of "Rap das Armas" as the theme song to the film was a real turn of fortunes for Júnior and Leonardo, who I met around the same time in August 2007 just as they were preparing to tour Europe in advance of the film's release there. After skyrocketing to fame in the early '90s, they became increasingly impoverished until they were reduced to driving a taxi cab on 12-hour shifts each, so the car was constantly in rotation. Now they're back in the driver's seat, so to speak, as funk MCs.
This version is from the official Tropa de Elite soundtrack, which amazingly is on sale stateside, as is the DVD. It cycled around some film festivals in the U.S. this year, but I never saw it make much of a splash in wide release. I was convinced it would become the next City of God, a lush but violent film about Rio, set to further fix foreigners' minds that the city is a violent nightmare. I guess I was wrong. But if you don't want to shell out for the official copy, you can see it for yourself with English subtitles.
With such broad appeal, meanwhile, it was only a matter of time before edits/dubs/remixes trickled out of the Brazilian webosphere. In fact, to permit a cross-linguistic pun -- Tropa became a trope, its catch phrases and music trotted out in all manner of remix culture fashion. Below is a sampling of the samples --
Capitão Nascimento viciously berates his wife as his battles in the field increasingly rattle him. He created a new slang term, "Quem manda nessa porra sou eu" (I'm the one who controls this shit), that caught on rapidly, enough to become remixed as a funk track.
Brazilian humor site Kibe Loco has some video remixes cobbling together scenes from the film with tamborzão, crunchy guitar (and in the first, the riff from "Seven Nation Army"), and popular lines from the movie. The stutter-start chopped scenes actually recreate the funk vocal sampling technique with some accuracy.
Every time I leave from Rio, the gate next to mine is always the nightly Rio to Luanda flight on TAAG, the Angolan national airline. The idea of these two cities linked by a direct flight across the southern Atlantic when the airline industry is so dominated by hubs running through major financial or political capitals, especially in the Global North, is extremely alluring. A flight to the U.S. at one gate and Africa next to it also neatly sums up the split influences in Brazil, and especially Brazilian music like funk.
Brasil still on my mind -- stripped down & sped up.
First, there was some percussive ferocity lingering in my inbox, c/o Daniel D'Errico. He plays in Boston's BatukAxé, a drum group led by Bahian Marcus Santos. Up above, they're playing at the "Welcoming New Bostonians" event, holding it down for the constant stream of Brazucas coming to the Bean. (Daniel is the odd one out in the yellow shirt.)
Then wayne&wax tipped me off to Discobelle's most recent Mixin' It Up by DJ Downtown of Helsinki (what is it with the Finns?! tropical living vicariously through funk carioca?) The opening track is a stripped down version of "Rap das Armas", the ever controversial and ever misinterpreted telling-it-like-it-is funk track. This version sounds like the one re-recorded for Tropa de Elite, which I shamefully never blogged about, although you can read up on all the fuss from last year over at the now defunct BOPE Blog.
If it's not one of us, it's another. Following in the fine Finnish tradition of his countryman DJ Rideon, there's another funk carioca blogger (and 2Bros volunteer!) on the loose in Teemuk of Otra Luna, which focuses on "art, design, music and culture from the southern side of the world." His "super classics of funk carioca" series has dug deep this month, with big features on William e Duda and Deize Tigrona.
The latter has apparently gone mundial, collaborating with Lisbon's DJ Manaia for some cross-lusophone batidas.
"Eu sou sobrevivente de uma rave." (I'm the survivor of a rave.)
A tried-n-true funk MC singing over the raviest of rave synths can only make me laugh as I recall Sany DJ's complaint that his pós-baile funk is derided as "rave" at bailes funk.
What I don't understand about this track is why the vocals are so poorly recorded. They sound worse, in fact, than her smash hit "Injeção" (with a dance routine no less -- happy, Lone Wolf?) The raw sound of funk is constantly praised as one of its most endearing features, although that's really a canard w/r/t funk of the last decade or so, with the big commercial sound systems using top notch recording studios. Did DJ Manaia intentionally rough up the vocal mix to make it sound grittier, more like funk to his Portuguese or wider Euro audience? Either way, it just plain sounds bad against those hyper-polished synths. Maybe Deize is simply hoping her vocals survive this rave.
While Anão tackles the ever-popular topic of bling here, I'm more fond of "Sem Floresta." The track's menacing synths, counter-balanced by steel drum hits, reveal not more thug swagger, but the simple declaration, "Eu sei que todo mundo gosta de comer bem" (I know everyone likes to eat well.)
I know the Sampa restaurant scene is hopping, but they really go all out on the roll call: "filé cubana, comida mineira, comida baiana / comida chinesa, comida mexicana, comida japonesa, comida italiana / eu como eu como eu como, eu vou comer de novo"
I eat, I eat, I eat, I'm gonna eat again. Gives new meaning to gangsta grillz. Gangsta churrasco?
p.s. Don't sleep on the other Brazilian hip-hop incarnations. Masala and Maga Bo up on some real deal Brazilian dancehall.
O Cabidão caught an overnight flight to Rio on Saturday, rather gladly saying farewell to the U.S. and returning to "a minha terra, o meu Brasil!" Too cold, volume too low, clubs too small (and my basement not the nicest place to live either, granted). After three weeks as the ad-hoc tour manager of the first non-Marlboro DJ to play for American audiences, I now have a more realistic perspective on the viability of bridging the divide between global ghettotechnicians and their northern fans, at least in the case of funk carioca, really completing the circle from wide-eyed onlooker to direct intervener.
Still, a tour remains an economic proposition, and one that fell fairly flat. It seems that playing the Brazuca circuit (Hyannis, Newark, Bridgeport, Boston, etc.) pays for the plane ticket and is a prerequisite to being able to afford other shows for the knowing gringos. Unfortunately, this means Brazuca crowds will also be driving who gets brought up. Most are not carioca, but from other, poorer states in Brazil, and get their funkeiro fandom from the web, where heartthrobs like Mulher Melancia (the Watermelon Lady) are the top draw. Cabide, in fact, was a relative unknown, so he didn't bring out the Brazilians en masse in New England.
While this tour was a half-and-half proposition, in the future I expect funk DJs and MCs to mostly play for the brasileiros and then, if possible, an interested party like myself, the Boston Bouncers, Xão Productions, or Masala (who had expressed interest, but we had some visa issues) will cobble something together.
The "Batida do Funk" party by Xão at S.O.B.'s was, admittedly, my favorite of the tour. To trot out an old cliche, in the melting pot of New York we were able to find the mixture of gringos in the know, global music aficionados, and plain old Brazilians to make the show a real crossover audience. The addition of Brazilian dancers and a baile funk slideshow by Vincent Rosenblatt of Agência Olhares made for an odd refraction.
Dancers juxtaposed with the image of dancers. A baile funk americano (Cabide repeatedly referred to shows as "bailes") juxtaposed with a baile funk carioca. We were both interviewed for the upcoming film Beyond Ipanema, about Brazilian music in the U.S., whose directors were in the audience. I was unable to tell who was Brazilian and who was American. It's difficult math when a club that serves $10 caipirinhas can't pay the DJ as much as a favela in Rio can, but that's the strange inversion for you. Who mediates, who performs, who speaks (Cabide was mute without English and I was left to translate for film, radio, conversation). He opened for Diplo on the penultimate show of the Mad Decent tour, playing the first set even before some indie band from Brooklyn came on. The headliner later worked in a tamborzão, but he was temporally separated as much as possible from the real performer. Worried about being upstaged the next night, cutting the volume, sucking the life out of the music. Metaphor and fact. Who controls and who performs. The tours are over, but the film will linger.
Last night on the Jersey Turnpike, coming back from a fast&furious Mudd Up! appearance (followed by some Brazilian eats in Newark's Ironbound), Casi G and I played Cabide DJ some Philly and Bmore club. "Maneiro, maneiro," ("cool, cool") he kept saying. When we got back to Philly, Casi hooked him up with the T&A Bmore Breaks. He's been playing around with them on his MPC all day in my basement, so we'll see what he's cooked up for tonight in Bawlmer.
Yes we did. (Now here's what the rappers have to say about it.) And on that musical note, can't stop won't stop w/r/t Cabide DJ's tour. He was sending international chirps all night to Brazil about Obama, now he'll be crashing the NYC airwaves today for some more MPC-banging beats.
Polls close in 15 minutes here in battleground-cum-blue Pennsylvania. No snags over at the local fire station serving as my polling place, just some tired neighbors who were running the show all day. I did read about some supposed Black Panther voter intimidation over in North Philly that was debunked. That said, I was walking to the polling station an hour ago as night had already settled in to see if there were lines (and donate my leftover Halloween candy). Some men on their porch asked me if I had voted as I walked by. I told them yes. They asked me for whom. Come to think of it, I should have told them it was none of their business -- the secret ballot is a right -- but of course the "I voted Obama" sticker, "Barack Obama" in Hebrew button, and Phillies/Obama t-shirt gave it away. Still, what if I had said McCain, or even stuck with my tightlipped response? A white guy in a black neighborhood -- where normally I feel safe -- maybe there is an intimidation factor in neighborhoods and towns that tilt extremely to one side or the other? I gave them some Raisinets and everything was cool.
"The McCain campaign has said they have to win Pennsylvania." -- Anderson Cooper, CNN (T-minus 4 minutes to polls closing)