Samba Soul Plus
Although it was devoted mostly to the music of samba-rocker Jorge Ben, a restive spirit seemed to haunt the funkiest (and, yes, freshest) concert I attended in 2008. The ghost of Brazilian soul legend Tim Maia — who lives on eMusic mostly in the form of tributes, remixes, and some awesome videos — yelped and grooved through the music of Brazil’s latest crop of heavyweights during “Red Hot + Rio 2: The Next Generation of Samba Soul,” which warmed up the Brooklyn of Academy of Music over two chilly December nights. The shows comprised a live sequel to the similarly titled 1996 AIDS benefit album of bossa nova covers.
The putative godfather of Brazil’s samba soul scene, Tim Maia’s style ranged from the buttery romantic come-ons to outrageous garage-soul. An uncompromising star with a predilection for self-medication, Maia became a beloved and supportive elder samba soul man until his death in 1998. He was represented at BAM by samba-funk artist Curumin, who delivered a simmering version of his hit “Over Again.” But his strut and swagger permeated groove after monster groove throughout the evening.
Brazil’s underappreciated samba-soul scene arose thanks to a unique confluence of events. Between 1968 and 1972, the adventurous and vibrant TropicÃ¡lia racket of Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Tom ZÃ© strummed and sang rock in vivid opposition to the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil at the time. And as America’s black-pride movement caught on during the early seventies, DJs began mixing samba with soul, funk, R&B, jazz, and even Europop. Artists and groups such as Dom Salvador, flutist Bebeto, Banda Black Rio, Miguel de Deus, Copa 7, and the incomparably cool Hammond organist (and space-age pop pioneer) Ed Lincoln learned to swing as smoothly as they funked amid the loose “Black Rio” scene.
Asses moved and heads followed. As musician Ed Motto, Tim Maia’s nephew, has written, to enter the Black Rio scene was “to commit an act of gastronomic exaggeration with a great big portion of feijoada wolfed down in freaky portions and lysergically enriched for the ears to dance to!”
The Black Rio scene’s psychedelic DNA persists in a group of youngish Brazilian musicians born about when it was happening. “Red Hot + Rio 2″ found hip honkies Curumin, CÃ©u, Otto, Bebel Gilberto, and Argentine folkie Jose Gonzalez performing TropicÃ¡lia and samba-soul hits backed by an astounding thirteen-piece band directed by Kassin and Mario Cadato Jr. Money Mark manned the keyboards in a group that included Kassin’s bandmates, Moreno Veloso (Caetano’s son, who also sang a few tunes) and Domenico. The evening’s driving force, though, was drummer JoÃ£o Parahyba. As part of Jorge Ben’s samba-rock backing group, Trio Mocoto, Parahyba was a deeply grooving Afro-experimentalist. Consider him samba soul’s Tony Allen, and don’t miss his jazzy and jungular 2000 album, Kyzumba.
Hip-hop currently supersedes soul as the most easily digestible form of outside musical nutrition for Brazil’s latest crop of cultural cannibals. (In order to create something entirely new, TropicÃ¡lia artists advocated absorbing rather than merely imitating American and European influences.) And hip-hop is no less important an ingredient than samba, bossa nova, rock, and electronica for Sao Paulo’s Curumin (born Luciano Nakata Albuquerque), both of whose albums — 2005′s Achados e Perdidos and 2007′s JapanPopShow — are as inventively eclectic as they are danceably funky.
CÃ©U (born Maria do CÃ©u Whitaker PoÃ§as) emphasized Jorge Ben’s mystical-psychedelic side during her part of the evening. This came naturally, as anyone who’s heard her delightfully trippy 2007 album, titled simply CÃ©u, can attest. She’s a freaky-deaky alternative to Bebel Gilberto who, I must admit, came off as the evening’s least inspired singer.
Everyone knows that Rod Stewart also cannibalized (as it were) Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” for his 1978 hit, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” You could say poetic justice was was dealt when big, bearded Otto (born Otto Maximiliano Pereira de Cordeiro Ferreira) delivered the song from the middle of audience with a saucy swagger. Otto, a riveting performer, has also released some of the best and most adventurous Brazilian albums of the past decade. Start with 2003′s Sem Gravidade (Without Gravity), a gorgeous blend of melodic pop, elegant electronics, and Pernambucan percussion. Then work backward through Condom Black, whose vaguely racist/racey title refers to candomblÃ©, the syncretic Yoruban religion prevalent in northeastern Brazil; his critically acclaimed 1998 debut, Samba Pra Burro; and its 2000 remix, Changez Tout.
If you want to hear real samba soul, start with Six Degrees ‘Samba Soul ’70! compilation. Curumin, CÃ©U, Otto, Kassin, Domenico, and their monomonikered ilk, meanwhile, remains its equally extraordinary inheritors.