Friday, March 20, 2009

Brazilian Popular Music: Major Label CD and DVD Bestsellers of 2008

These days, the bestselling Brazilian music artists seem to have more in common with Nashville than they do with Rio de Janeiro. Música sertaneja (Brazil's own country music) and inspirational Christian music dominated the top ten CDs of 2008, and accounted for the top four positions, and seven of the top ten, according to O Globo newspaper. The Catholic priest Padre Fábio de Melo took the number-one spot with his Vida (Life) album, while Padre Marcelo Rossi disappointed slightly by taking the second and sixth positions with Paz sim, violência não 1 (Peace Yes, Violence No). Rossi was number one in both 2006 and 2007. Sertanejo duo Victor and Leo grabbed the third and fourth positions. Two other "country" artists -- the duo Zezé di Camargo & Luciano and solo singer Leonardo -- placed seventh and tenth, respectively.

Música sertaneja* is especially popular in Brazil’s South, Southeast, and Central regions, in the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás, and Paraná. It surged in national popularity and became the single biggest category in terms of Brazilian record sales in the ‘90s. Its popularity in Brazil can be compared to that of country music in the United States, often appealing to those who have, came from, or desire a rural lifestyle and its traditional values. Sertaneja is a pop-music version of música caipira, the rural folk music that includes idioms like toada, moda de viola, cana-verde, and catira. From the 1960s on, música sertaneja became more urbanized, as rural migrants moved to big cities. Sertaneja musicians started to incorporate musical influences from Bolivia, Paraguay, Mexico, and Nashville. 

Axé-music queen Ivete Sangalo had the fifth bestselling CD, Multishow ao vivo no Maracaña; Roberto Carlos and Caetano Veloso took eighth place with their Jobim tribute E a música de Tom Jobim; and MPB vocalist Ana Carolina was in the ninth position with Multishow ao vivo -- Dois quartos. The Carlos-Veloso sales reflect the remarkable popularity of romantic crooner Roberto Carlos, who is by most accounts the bestselling Brazilian recording artist of all times, and whose career dates back to his Jovem Guarda days in the 1960s.

According to O Globo, Brazilian music sales grew 5% in 2008 compared with the previous year, which perhaps indicates some type of bottom has been reached in the steep slide of CD sales. The market is now approximately 30% of what it was at the end of the '90s, according to the article. Leonardo Lichote's article did not specify its source for the sales, but they undoubtedly came from the music trade organization ABPD (Associação Brasileira de Produtores de Disco). The ABPD's statistics come from the sales of its members, the major labels of Brazil such as Sony, Universal, Warner, EMI, Disney and Som Livre. It doesn't include the sales of Brazilian independent labels, and therefore excludes popular artists like Banda Calypso from its rankings.
In terms of DVD sales, the top ten titles were released by Padre Rossi, Ivete Sangalo, Ana Carolina, Marisa Monte, Victor and Leo, Claudia Leitte, Xuxa, Amy Winehouse, Roberto Carlos & Caetano Veloso, and Alexandres Pires. Interestingly, the two top-ten lists show a Brazilian market that is more nationalistic than ever before, with only one foreigner (Winehouse) making either list.

copyright Chris McGowan, 2009
*música sertaneja description is from The Brazilian Sound, copyright McGowan-Pessanha, 2008.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Journalist-Director José Emilio Rondeau on Brazilian Rock'n'Roll: Past & Present

Tropicalista band Os Mutantes

Brazilian rock and roll has a long and interesting history, and journalist-filmmaker José Emilio Rondeau was part of it during some of its most exciting times, from the '70s underground rock scene during the darkest days of Brazil's military dictatorship to the '80s breakthrough of now-legendary bands like Legião Urbana and the Paralamas do Sucesso. Rondeau has written about rock, cinema and culture over the last thirty years for publications such as O Globo, Jornal do Brasil, Folha de São Paulo, Rolling Stone, Veja, Bizz, and Set. In the 1980s, he also produced albums for Brazilian rock groups Legião Urbana and Picassos Falsos, and wrote and directed videoclips for those bands as well as Paralamas do Sucesso, Lobão, Kid Abelha, Plebe Rude, Paulo Ricardo e RPM. He lived in Los Angeles from 1987 to 2004, where he worked as an international correspondent and television producer for TV Globo. In 2006, he directed the feature film 1972, a rock’n’roll romantic comedy, which had a soundtrack full of period Brazilian rock, including obscure bands such as A Bolha. He is also the author, along with Nelio Rodrigues, of the book Sexo, Drogas e Rolling Stones (Sex, Drugs and the Rolling Stones, 2008). José Emilio writes a blog in Portuguese about international rock and pop called RONDEAUblog. For The Brazilian Sound, I asked Zé some broad questions about the history of his country’s rock’n’roll. –Chris McGowan

Chris: What did Tropicália mean for you? What was exciting about the songs for you?
J. Emilio: It was as if the Beatles had finally pollinated Brazilian pop music – which I was always hoping would happen. It was sophisticated, thrilling, imaginative, surprising, sometimes breath-taking pop music – and it rocked, even if sometimes in a totally un-rock and roll way! It was adventurous Brazilian pop that I would not be ashamed of – as opposed to the TV and radio pop idols of the time and to the copy bands that were sprouting all over the place. It was the music of the younger generations, and so fresh that, at that point, Bossa Nova, initially considered a revolution, immediately became “careta” [square] in comparison, even though it was one inspiration for Tropicália.
Chris: Why do you think there was the 1990s global interest in the Mutantes?
J. Emilio: Again, I bring the Beatles into the discussion – sorry. Had the Mutantes happened in an English-speaking country, they would have been cherished worldwide since day one – even if they sometimes tried too hard to sound like the Beatles. When the rest of the world caught up with them, thirty something years after their peak, everybody was much more open to non-English singing bands, and it was an epiphany. Their music was way ahead of their time, but, also, a perfect representation of their time: bold, different from anything else, their own. That’s why their best music is eternal – just like the Beatles’.

Chris: Do you still consider Renato Russo (leader of Legião Urbana, photo on left) and Arnaldo Baptista (of the Mutantes) the two biggest talents in Brazilian rock history? If so, why?
J. Emilio: Absolutely. Both were trailblazers – Arnaldo, during the heady 60’s Tropicalist surge: Renato, at the forefront of Brazil’s punk rock explosion – and both were unique in that they expanded Brazil’s pop-rock frontiers, lyrically and musically, in ways that no one else ever achieved. To this day. The difference being that Renato became something else, something more in the “pop prophet” vein that, to me, overshadowed his musicmaking. 
Chris: What was the significance of Raul Seixas for you?
J. Emilio: I was never into Raul Seixas – he sounded cheesy, contrived and plastic to me. He bought into his own pop prophet myth way too soon and way too much. But he helped bring rock, topicality and revolutionary ideas into the mainstream. He totally escaped me, though. 
Chris: Do you think Cazuza has merit beyond being a popular lyricist?
J. Emilio: Not really, other than the fact that he combined rock and roll attitude with MPB. And in my opinion – although I may be wrong - much of Cazuza’s work has to credited to Ezequiel Neves’ guidance, influence and nurturing, as producer, friend (and father/mother/older brother figure) and editor. 
Chris: What is your opinion of Cassia Eller?
J. Emilio: She had a rock and roll attitude – and the most unusual voice - that she used to interpret MPB, quite similar to what Cazuza did.
Chris: On MPB-FM, they play Cassia Eller, Cazuza and Renata Russo over and over and over. I believe they are the most played artists on that station, along with Lenine. Why such an intense continued interest in the works of those three deceased artists?
J. Emilio: They all died young, and at the top of their game – which always helps.
Chris: What do you think of the work of Lenine?
J. Emilio: He makes sophisticated, progressive, folk-tinged MPB with worldwide appeal – and has one of the most distinctive voices. And he’s smart. 
Chris: Is there any current Brazilian rock that interests you, and if so why?
J. Emilio: Not really. Like most everywhere else, everybody seems to want to sound like everybody else. There are exceptions, though: Pato Fu has a clear identity and has evolved into a strong, solid band. Same can be said about Mundo Livre S.A.. But neither should be considered a new band: they have a long career behind them. I have to think a little more about up and coming names, because nothing exceptional really pops up in my mind right now. Plus, I am way out of the loop, as far as new blood is considered. 
Chris: What do you think of Brazilian music in this decade? Is it dead, boring, exciting, innovative? Do you see any trends?
J. Emilio: Hype, soap opera exposure and jabá [payola] still rule, with average talent like Ana Carolina, Seu Jorge, Jorge Vercilo and Los Hermanos – and their respective and numerous imitators - dominating the market and taking up most spaces. But even though the big Southeast market still sets the pace and trends, several regional artists and styles surface in different parts of the country and operate on a local, self-contained manner, completely independent of and oblivious to the Southeast.  
Chris: You featured A Bolha in your movie 1972. What do you like about them? Why didn't they achieve a big career?
J. Emilio: I have a deep personal connection with this band: theirs was the very first all-out, real-deal, balls-to-the-walls, bona-fide rock show I ever saw. They normally played tons of covers – Stones, Humble Pie, Grand Funk – but plenty of original material, too – most of it very strong, and had this humongous stage gear, with piles of Marshall amps, and incredible stage presence. They were incredible, live – and they had bass player Arnaldo Brandão, a true rock star if there ever was one.
Chris: Why didn’t they take off and achieve a big career?
J. Emilio: Well, when they made the transition from bailes to shows/concerts, they remained in the underground – which was a cool thing to do, but a detah sentence, too. At the time, there was no infra-structure for a rock band to survive on its terms –minor label support, if you had the luck of having signed with anyone, no media support (other than the underground press, like Rolling Stone), basically no radio exposure, forget about TV (other than the odd festival – and A Bolha took the Melhor Interpretação prize in the 1972 Festival Internacional da Canção for a song penned by Geraldinho Carneiro and Eduardo Souto Neto, the progressive and heavy ”18.30.”
Only when the 80’s arrived did rock bands have a support system, so to speak – and by then bands like A Bolha – and Made in Brazil, and Soma, and Os Lobos, and countless others – had vanished or their members had split to form 80’s-sounding combos. For instance, Renato Ladeira, a founding Bolha member – with his older brother César – went on to form Herva Doce, a new wavish quartet whose big hit (and it was a big hit) was a ditty called "Amante Profissional."

© Chris McGowan 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bahia's Blocos Afro & Afoxés: Changes in Salvador's Carnaval

Gilberto Gil with the Filhos de Ghandi afoxé during Carnaval in 2009.

Every year, an estimated two million celebrants crowd Salvador’s narrow streets to dance, sing, and party to the music of the blocos afro, afoxés, and trios elétricos. For research for the revised, third edition of The Brazilian Sound, I asked two experts in the area for their opinions about the contemporary Carnaval scene in Bahia. Linda Yudin is a dance ethnologist, co-director of the Viver Brasil dance company in Los Angeles, and a teacher of Brazilian dance at Santa Monica College. I also interviewed her for the first edition of the book. Kirk Brundage is an L.A.-based percussionist and music teacher who has played with Olodum during Carnaval. He directs the Music of Brazil Ensemble in the department of ethnomusicology at UCLA.
--Chris McGowan

Chris: What is the current scene like in Bahia regarding participation in, and interest in, the blocos afro and afoxés?
Linda: There are only a handful of blocos afro and afoxé groups participating. Olodum, Ilê Aiyê, Muzenza, Malê de Balê, Filhos de Gandhi, Cortejo Afro. And although they are the remaining groups that have survived since the early 1980s, with the exception of Cortejo Afro which was founded in 1997, their participation is strong and [they] continue to have large community participation. The communities are greatly interested in their bloco afros and afoxés. I am not so sure that there is such a great interest from the general public and that is unfortunate. The challenge that each group faces is financial. These groups just don't get the financial backing from corporations and or from the municipal tourist organization, Emtursa, or the state run tourist organization, Bahiatursa, that they deserve. The trio elétricos continue to have strong financial support.

Olodum performing in Salvador's Pelourinho historic square.

Kirk: I would tend to agree with Linda. The number of major blocos has not changed in recent years. The 'flagship' organizations still have the same status. Additionally however, during Carnaval there are a number of lesser known organizations that do participate, in some cases, as neighborhood spin-offs of the major ones. There are also other organizations that serve kids, just like the mirim [children’s] groups of Ilê and Olodum. Finances are a serious issue. For this reason, this year Olodum cut its size in half (4,000 to 2,000 foliao [participants] and, 200 drummers to 100 - I was extremely fortunate to have made the cut!. Also, I heard a rumor that next year some groups might go down to 60 drummers equipped with wireless mics. The function of both the blocos and afoxés remains the same as before: to continually assert the cultural presence, relevance and vitality of the Afro-descendants (their local audience). While the afoxés are not political, the blocos are, due to their concerns with resistência cultural [cultural resistance] issues such racism, education, employment, etc. Yet at the same time, the blocos wish to reach an international audience that may or may not share, understand, or be interested in their fight. And it is this international consumer that the government is also interested in.

Chris: What has changed over the last ten years?
Kirk: I think the biggest change has been with size and the commercialization of Carnaval. 2005 saw Bahian Carnaval enter into the Guinness book as the largest street party in the world. The number of participating groups and tourists has increased greatly; more restoration work is being done in the historical district; more restaurants are opening; more hotels have internet. Bahiatursa is even considering adding a third location in Cidade Baixa to address the issue with space.

Chris: How has the music changed?
Kirk: Musically speaking the blocos themselves have evolved tremendously from the early days. Each has developed its own unique sound and style in terms of beats, breaks, instrumentation and influences. One can easily identify the major groups based on these characteristics. Many new beats have been created, or adapted, along with a dizzying number of 'drum breaks'. Experimentation, creativity and innovation are hallmarks of the genre. Players of all groups are always devising new beats and breaks and instruments. However on the other hand, the blocos have become like the new generation of quilombos or early terreiros in that they are today’s purveyors of (their) tradition. There is now a certain level of 'standardization'; Ilê still does not use electric instruments, nor have the other groups radically altered their overall orchestration/sound. There exists now, a huge vocabulary of rhythms and instruments that any self-respecting professional percussionist must know. Of late, the most movement has been in Axé Music, as it has absorbed the complete lexicon of the blocos, mixed it with Caribbean and North American influences and distilled it down into a sophisticated blend - minus the political component.

Chris: Has there been a permanent alteration in Salvador's culture because of the original rise of the blocos afro & return of the afoxés?
Linda: I think that the the blocos afro and afoxés permanently marked Salvador's culture with a contemporary music and dance form that has been recognized world wide and that honors its African roots, yet fluidly blends the influences of other music forms from around the world. Bahian musicians and dancers too have much more access and chances to interface with other styles of great music that have come to Bahia because of international summer music festivals, tourists coming to Bahia to study Afro-Brazilian culture (and they too bring their own cultural traditions to share), and of course the internet has allowed for complete access to the world.
Kirk: Yes, because what was once shunned, or even illegal, is now mainstream. Originally, [Filhos de] Gandhi members were afraid to parade those first years because of police repression, but today they are celebrated for their message. Before Ilê, no one presented African-oriented themes in the street, now it is commonplace. Their Beleza Negra [Black Beauty] festival celebrates this question of black aesthetics, and its value/contribution to society. The 'samba reggae' movement has therefore been much more than a mere beat. Its repercussions (pun intended) have impacted fashion, food, dance, language, and political consciousness locally and internationally.

Chris: Any other comments?
Linda: The blocos afro, the afoxés and [independent percussion] groups like Timbalada were responsible for putting contemporary Bahia on the cultural world map in my opinion. Axé!

This discussion took place in May, 2007. The revised, 3rd edition of The Brazilian Sound is available on and worldwide.

© Chris McGowan 2009.