Monday, July 25, 2011

Embracing the Eclectic: Marcelo D2 Retrospective

Marcelo D2
Credit: Eliseu Cavalcante for
In his preview of Brasil Summerfest and its kickoff Summer Stage event, "Showing Off Eclectic Tastes," Larry Rohter gets to the heart of Marcelo D2's musical essence. "Even more than most hip-hop artists [Marcelo D2] has always had wide-ranging tastes and a curiosity to see what happens when different genres are combined in unexpected ways."

 I've been listening to a few dozen of Marcelo's songs on Grooveshark since I heard Desabafo in Fast Five, I had never seen Marcelo D2 perform live until yesterday at Summer Stage. Only after witnessing in person his mastering of multiple genres and generations of music, do I understand how to approach his work.

Two weeks ago, I sat down with
Marcelo for an interview, the first interview I've ever done for Manhattanlândia, actually. I inevitably brought my own musical bias and preferences to the conversation and, subsequently, to the write-up. In retrospect, I see I neglected to consider his influences and accomplishments in musical genres I generally don't listen to, like punk and hardcore. At his Summer Stage performance, I was able to appreciate for the first time Marcelo's ability to bring together some of the most distinct sounds and assemble them so meaningfully into an unforgettable experience for his audience. 

After Pitty riled up the crowd with her alt-rock-centric repertoire, Marcelo D2 took the stage just as the sun came out in full force, dispelling the rain clouds and bringing the left over dampness to a boil. I couldn't help but think his Black Flag t-shirt was a strategic wardrobe decision (black doesn't show sweat marks). His denim vests with a Ramones patch sewn onto the breast was another nod to his musical influences. But the oppressively hot climate didn't seem to drain Marcelo's energy. He stayed hydrated throughout his performance with a bottomless cup of beer and brought equal enthusiasm to every type of song on the set list, which was all encompassing. 

The women in the audience had plenty of opportunities to dance samba to songs like "Batucada"  and "Á Procura Da Batida Perfeita." From our fancy footwork we naturally transitioned to jumping up and down and throwing our heads and raised hands in the direction of the stage when Marcelo performed hardcore hits like "Arte do Barulho." Throughout, he showcased his intimate knowledge of all types of music and his creativity in combing them, like when he added a few seconds of skat into "Ela disse" and mimed an a capela trombone during "Batucada." These subtleties can be appreciated only as part of a live performance. 

Bebel Gilberto joined Marcelo on stage, for two songs, "Minha Missão" (his) and "Close Your Eyes" (hers). While the pair had recorded "Minha Missão" together for Marcelo's album, Arte Do Barulho, "Close Your Eyes" was adapted for Marcelo especially for Summer Stage. It was so fresh, in fact, that print outs of the just-written lyrics were not-so-subtly secured to the stage in front of the artists before they performed it live for the first time. The two were a joy to watch together. Their dynamic was silly and effortless, just what you'd expect from two friends. 

After Bebel's exit, Marcelo made one last dive back into his arsenal of punk rock songs before paying tribute to his idol and mentor, Bezerra da Silva, with "Semente." When he a covered song by soul and funk master, Tim Maia, Marcelo joked that only the woman were singing and told the men to "have some heart."

Such a wide ranging repertoire is not only an testiment to Marcelo's imagination and innovation as a composer, but undeniably to the talent of his band. His full set included two head-banging guitarists, an expert samba drummer using his full set just as ably for samba as for punk rock, and DJ Nuts presiding over it all from his platform at the back of the stage. Not a single member of the ensemble exited at any point during the show. All were actively participating in the creation of the unique hybrid of sounds that changed with every song. 

In part because of his diverse repertiore, and in part because of his irresistibly mischievous persona, Marcelo D2 knows how to please the crowd. For his final act, Marcelo invited women from the audience up to the stage to dance samba while he performed (and finished his beer). I forget what song he sang, though, because I was so focused on the dynamic unfolding before me. You could tell how excited and incredulous these women were to be up on stage with Marcelo D2, but it was also obvious that Marcelo was enjoying himself just as much, if not more than the women. At one point, he sat down on a speaker with his back to the audience, so he could appreciate a pair of hips squeezed into tight, jean shorts gyrating two feet from his face. Por isso que eu bebo...

Getting to know Marcelo D2 (the music and the man) has been a humbling experience both as a critic and as a fan. I learned that even if I don't love every one of his ingredients, Marcelo is able to mix up musical recipes of new and different flavors that appeal to a wide range of palates. I look forward to following Marcelo as he continues to create the unexpected and exciting.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Samba Like it's Hot!


Half way through my first New York City summer, I'm proud to say I'm surviving just fine. In fact I kind of enjoy the heat and humidity, and the sweating doesn't bother me much. If anything it reminds me of Belém, the city in Northern Brazil where my love affair with the country began. Belém is in Amazonia, where it's hot year round and there are only two seasons: the rainy season and the less rainy season. It's hot and wet, and I love it. 

Going out in this weather is even better. If you are going to dance, you will inevitably perspire, maybe even soak your clothes or smudge your make up. But who cares? It's a sign that you are having fun! 

On Friday, I braved the heat and went to Canal Room with some friends to the Beleza NYC Samba party, where Cesar Vieira and Mistura Perfeita took the stage. I've seen a number of New York based Brazilian bands play, but none have played exclusively Samba. A beer in hand and alternating between samba and just moving my hips when I got tired, I felt as if I were back in Belém at a boteco with my girlfriends listening to samba pagode. 

Samba pagode is a contemporary style of samba popular among young people, but Cesar Viera and Mistura Perfeita play traditional samba, as well. To kick off their second act, some of the percussionists from Mistura Perfeita joined Toca & Alé Alé Drummers on the floor and the MC corralled us all into formation around the bateria. I thought this was a sign that a pair of costumed samba dancers would strut into the room at any moment and give us a show. Instead when the bateria began to play, the MC lead people from the crowd into the middle of the circle one by one. This was becoming a traditional roda de samba. I'd never seen a roda out at a club in New York. This was something I did just in my Samba class, but it was cool to see it somewhere else. In fact, I actually recognized some of the top students from my class shaking it in the middle of the circle! Our teacher, Danielle Lima, would have been so proud.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dreams Come True: an interview with Marcelo D2

Photo credit: Washington Possato

Marcelo tells it like this: I was here in New York two times last summer, at the beginning of Summer Stage and at the end. I saw Public Enemy, which was great. And I saw Gil Scott-Heron, who is a huge influence on me. He's since passed, but at the time of the show he was very old, bem velinho! He was playing up there, and the whole band was very old! They were all friends of his, you know? It was so powerful that I cried. I actually cried. I was so moved. I thought: I want to have done something like this my life, in my career. Making music with my friends, playing at Summer Stage. That's my dream.

And now, Marcelo D2 is about to realize his dream this Sunday at Summer Stage in Central Park. And I got to realize one of my dreams, too: interviewing Marcelo D2, the father of hip hop do samba

Although I was already familiar with Marcelo's music, I still felt the need to pull an all-nighter in preparation for the interview. After six happy hours of intensely watching YouTube videos and studying his lyrics, I developed some of my own ideas and observations about Marcelo's evolution as an artist. I couldn't wait to get answers to all of my questions.

To date, Brazilian rapper, Marcelo D2, has five studio albums to his name, produced between 1998 and 2009. Eu Tiro É Onda (1998), was his first solo project after his rise to fame with punk/rap group, Planet Hemp. But instead of continuing to advocate in his lyrics for the legalization of marijuana, Marcelo, in Eu Tiro, and in his following album, Á Procura Da Batida Perfeita (Searching for the Perfect Beat) (2003), makes strong, consistent statements about family, rootedness, and respect for elders. 

Those themes comes from samba. Samba carries this. Samba and rap seem very similar to me, because they both come from the ghetto. There's something simple about the songs [from these two genres]: malandragem (streetsmarts). But rap is more direct, and samba, more poetic. And I love that about samba, so I like to make rap in that way.

Lodeando - Marcelo D2 and his son Stephan

Together, his first two albums cement what I would think of as Marcelo's brand: hip hop do samba, hip hop with a samba beat. I also associate Marcelo with Á Procura Da Batida Perfeita, the name of his second album, but also his noble pursuit of musical perfection. Marcelo stresses that the learning that comes from this never-ending search is far more important than money or anyone else's definition of success.

Á Procurda Da Batida Perfeita

If anything, there isn't enough Á Procura in Marcelo's third and fourth studio albums. In Meu Samba é Assim (2006) and Arte Do Braulho (2008), Marcelo's lyrics become progressively more materialistic. He raps about fame and fortune rather than about a success defined by his noble search. The song, "Desabafo," on Arte Do Braulho and on the Fast Five soundtrack, is an exception, however, where Marcelo stays true to his original brand of incorporating samba and traditional music into his rap. 

There is something that makes me so happy about making music, making rap, and that is reviving old songs. I have a song called "Desabafo". The singer, Claudia, [with whom I collaborated,] hadn't released anything in 30 years. After our song exploded, she returned to singing and recording. That's my vision: to take Brazilian music and show people how much great stuff there is from the past. There's a saying: "Olhando pro passado mas sem medo do futuro" (Looking into the past without fear of the future). To do something new, but with all due respect to the past. That's what I want to do.

Desabafo/Deixa Eu Dizer - Marcelo D2 and Claudia

When I started listening to the tracks on Marcelo's fifth and most recent studio album, Canta Bezerra da Silva (2009), I have to say I was shocked. Until my late-night interview prep-session, I hadn't heard a single song from this album. The hip hop do samba guy had completely dropped the hip hop to cover songs by the traditional samba composer, Bezerra da Silva. For a little while, Marcelo even ditched his hip hop get-up of a baseball hat and t-shit for the traditional samba look of a fedora and short sleeved button-up. It seemed to me like a complete transformation.

The hip hop people said 'Whoa, what happened to the hip hop (Cadei o hip hop)?' I don’t think the album changed anything, though. I wouldn’t have done a samba album had it not been a tribute to Bezerra. It was a tribute. Just that. It’s not going to be my next path. I did this album only because it was so special for me. Bezerra gave me tips about samba and mixing it with hip hop. He was so important to Á Procura da Batida Perfeita. I wanted to show people the affection I have for him. I have a lot of fans who are kids, and I think it’s cool to show them his influence on me and the respect I have for him.

So what could Marcelo D2 possibly be working on now? In his next album, will he return to the music that jumpstarted his solo career or will he throw his fans another curve ball?

The album I’m working on now is international. I’ve already done so much, always Brazilian music. The next step is to bring more collaborators from outside Brazil to this project. To get these people to sing Brazilian music, too. I think by partnering with more foreign artists, I’ll get to share Brazilian music with an even wider audience. I want to invite some American rappers. There’s a new generation of American rap: Curran$y, Smoke DZAStalleyThe Cool Kids.They are saying such cool things, really contemporary. I love it. And not only rap people. Also Esperanza Spalding and Erika Badu. I want to do a bunch of work with European artists, too. I’ve worked with international artists a few times in the past, but I want to concentrate all of it in this one album. I want it to be an album that has a universal language, that is universally understood. I’ve played in 23 countries. I want this album to arrive in these countries and I want people to see how much they’ve influenced me and my music.

What else should you know?
  • Marcelo hopes to release his next album on November 5th as a 44th birthday present to himself. (My birthday is just two days later, so I'll consider the album a birthday gift to me, too.)
  • He's already wrapped up a collaboration with 
    Ponto de Equilíbrio (two songs and two videos), and the fruit of their labor should drop in the next month.
  • He's also making at least two other videos while he's in New York.
It was such a tease to hear how excited Marcelo is for his new project, when I know I have to wait until November for his full album. But Sunday's Summer Stage performance is only two days away! I am touched to have learned how meaningful this performance will be for Marcelo, less than one year after Gil Scott-Heron, who inspired this Brazilian rapper to perform in Central Park in the first place, passed away. The show is chock full of other mini-milestones, as well. Brazilian rocker, Pitty, will be performing for the first time in New York after her first U.S. show in Miami today. After years of informal jam sessions, Bebel Gilberto will perform with Marecelo D2 for the first time in front of a live audience. And finally, Marcelo's 19 year-old-son, Stephan, will also make an appearance in Sunday's show.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Preview of Brasil Summerfest 2011: July 24-30

Get ready, New York! July 24th marks the kick off to the first annual Brasil Summerfest. Our city's international music scene won't be the same after this week-long celebration of Brazilian beats and rhythms at venues all over Manhattan. 

Brasil Summerfest is the brainchild of Petrit Pula, President/A&R at Nublu Records. Before starting at Nublu five years ago, Petrit knew some about Brazil's musical diversity through his DJing, but working at an international record label exposed Petrit to a wide range of Brazilian music and gave him the opportunity to network with artists. “Brazil is so rich musically,” Petrit explained in an interview. And once he developed this consciousness, he noticed Brazil's absence from the long list of New York's annual music festivals. "There are lots of festivals," Petrit noted, citing week long commemorations of culture like Celebrate México Now, and Festival Sud de France. "Brazil should have one, too."

So a few years ago, he pitched the idea to his friend and colleague Erika Elliott, Artistic Director for New York's ever popular SummerStage program. She wasn't immediately sold, but a trip to a music festival in Recife, changed that. Petrit and Erika, along with other representatives from North American record labels and festivals traveled to the Recife's Feira de Música in 2009. It was Erika’s first trip to Brazil and the deciding factor in her agreeing to join forces with Petrit in realizing his vision back at home. A year and a half later, we are days away from a historic dose of Brazilian creativity.

Petrit reassured me that Brasil Summerfest will be different than Brazilian Day. I personally enjoy this annual celebration of Brazilian independence that draws revelers from New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire onto 6th Ave in Little Brazil, where they proudly raise their voka-filled water bottles in the name of their native land. Still, I see how some people, even those interested in Brazilian culture, might steer clear of that event. Petrit explained that "Brasil Summerfest is more about educating people and getting them to know what [Brazilian Music] is." He give an example from Nublu's club in the East village. "Most of the people who come to Nublu aren’t Brazilian, but now they know what Forró is and keep coming back for more every Wednesday night."

But why only now is a week-long celebration dedicated exclusively to Brazilian music coming to New York? I often think about the fact that a significant  number of Spanish-speaking, Latin pop and hip hop performers, like Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, and Ricky Martin, have achieved wide-spread recognition in North America, but contemporary Brazilian artists from the same musical genres, like Ivete and Claudia Leite, aren't anywhere close to becoming household names.

I asked Petrit if he has any insights into the matter. Like many to whom I've posed this question, he cites language as a barrier. Far fewer North Americans speak Portuguese than speak Spanish. And while the Spanish-speaking artists I mentioned above have numerous English language songs, both of us were hard pressed to think of a English language Brazilian hit. But beyond the obvious, Petrit made an excellent observation. “Any [artist] that would get huge here would have to show the colors of Brazil somehow. Every country in the world has Rock bands." This theory makes sense, and it gives new meaning to the line up he and Erika have put together for Brasil Summerfest.

There's no question that contemporary Brazilian artists who've had relative success in the U.S., like Seu Jorge and Bebel Gilberto, are inspired by the native beats and rhythms of Samba and Bossa Nova. But Brazilian rocker, Pitty, even with a ranking in the top 100 most influential Brazilians, is unknown in North America and touring in the U.S. for the first time ever this month with hip hop artist, Marcelo D2. I'm personally stoked that I'll be part of a crowd welcoming Pitty to one of her first shows in North America. Even if she proves to be a rocker just like the rest, firsts are significant.

If Rock isn't your jam, no worries. Brasil Summerfest is packed with back-to-back shows that will give attendees a thorough sampling of all types of Brazilian aural experiences.  From Forró and Samba-punk, to folkloric and electronic junk, Brasil Summerfest has it all.

Check out Brasil Summerfest's website for complete information on each show and for bios of each artist:

Sunday, July 24: Marcelo D2 with Pitty / Central Park SummerStage / Free
Monday, July 25: Forró in the Dark / City Winery / $10
Tuesday, July 26: Brothers of Brazil / Bowery Electric / $10
Wednesday, July 27: Jorge Continentino's Pifanology with Loop B / Nublu / $10
Thursday, July 28: Davi Vieira's Hip Hop Axe / Nublu / $10
Friday, July 29: DJ NUTS Dance Party / Drom / $10
Saturday, July 30: Percussivo Mundo Novo / S.O.B.s / $10

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wishing I were at Sertanejo Pop Festival 2011

I haven't been to this annual festival of Brazilian pop country music, but I imagine the crowd descending on the city of Belo Horizonte this weekend looks something like this: groups of single young women, groups of single young men, many of whom are decked out in cowboy boots and hats, lots of teen and twenty-something couples eager to be serenaded by lovey-dovey lyrics, and masses of screaming teenage girls completely and totally desperate to see the performance by national heartthrob, Luan Santana

If I were in BH this weekend, I would fit into the first category of attendees, but I'm sweating it out in New York and watching videos of the festival and of my favorite Sertanejo duos on YouTube.

Official Sertanejo Pop Festival 2011 video

I was introduced to Sertanejo music on a  two-hour ferry boat ride in the Amazon, far far away from the Central West and South East origins of this music genre. But I am forever grateful to the two pilots who decided to stick the Bruno e Marrone De Volta aos Bares DVD in the player. At first, I was excited simply because I could understand what the duo was singing. Like much Country music, Sertanjo is often slow and tells a story, and so much of the Brazilian music I had heard up to this point was fast paced pop, rock, and rap whose lyrics didn't even sound like Portuguese to me. But once I started processing Bruno and Marrone's lyrics, I began to pick out the common theme of love, heartbreak, sex, and alcohol, with the occasional horse back ride through the sertão (wilderness). Who would want to listen to music about anything else? While Bruno and Maronne are not playing at Sertanejo Pop Festival, I believe no introduction to Sertanejo is complete with out these two pot-bellied men in tight jeans. Here is one of my favorites: Flashback de nós dois is about a guy inviting an ex to re-live their lust for just one night. Hey, we've all thought about it...

And some songs are more sweet than salty. Amigo Apaixonado, by Sertanejo duo Vitor & Leo is about a guy who professes his love to his best friend. Oh yeah, I may or may not have  thought about doing that, too. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Diogo Nogueira and the Phenomenon of Relative Stardom

I had the ideal concert experience when I saw Diogo Nogueira perform live at Lincoln Center as part of its MidsummerNight Swing series. I stood front row, center, got an autographed CD and took a picture with Diogo! If you are wondering who Diogo Nogueira is, you are part of the reason why I was able to get so close. 

Over the last four years Diogo Nogueira has climbed the ranks of the Brazilian Samaba scene to become a national icon. Admittedly, he had an advantage as the son of Samba artist João Nogeuria, but performing was not part of his original career path. He trained as a professional soccer player, playing two seasons for Cruzeiro, before an knee injury forced him to consider a career change. There is no doubt that his early exposure to music and performing through his father was invaluable to his recent success, but Diogo has been recognized for his talent and accomplishments independent of his dad. 

Diogo Nogueira at Lincoln Center
July, 1 2011
Diogo released his first album, Cidade de Samba, in 2007. In 2008, he composed a Samba enredo for Portela's Carnaval procession that placed the school in the top 5 for the first time in 10 years. His second album, Tô Fazendo a Minha Parte, was awarded a Latin Grammy in 2010 in the category of Best Samba/Pagode. Today, in addition to composing music and touring, Diogo hosts a weekly TV show, Samba na Gamboa, where he interviews and performs with some of the most famous living Samba composers in Brazil. 

If this hasn't convinced you of Diogo's celebrity status, just take my word for it. Diogo Nogeuira is kind of a big deal... in Brazil. Understandably, he hasn't achieved the same widespread recognition in the States as he has in his country of origin. One reason for this could be that, unlike other Latin artists, none of his songs are in English. And there just aren't that enough Portuguese speaking New Yorkers to fill Madison Square Garden's 15,000 seats when Diogo comes to town. The exception is Ivete Sangalo, who last September filled MSG with Brazilians who came to New York from all over the North East and even from Brazil to see her show and attend the Brazilian Day Festival that same weekend. I would love to see Diogo gather a North American following that more closely matches his the size of his Brazilian fan-base, but I admit I'm reluctant to give up my affordable, front row tickets and photo opps with the artist. 

Call me selfish. But you have to admit it's a great feeling to see one of your favorite artists perform 10 feet away from you and to be able to tell him in person after the show that you love his music and that studying his lyrics helped you learn Portuguese. Sitting in the nose bleed section of a stadium and watching the performance on the JumboTron just doesn't compare. 

Lucky for us, two more big name performers are coming to New York this summer. On July 24th, hip hop artist Marcelo D2 and rocker Pitty are playing a FREE show on Central Park's SummerStage. The show will kick off Brasil SummerFest, a full week of Brazilian musical performances all around Manhattan. Even if you aren't so familiar with the music, I suggest you don't pass up this opportunity. Next time these artists come to New York, they could be playing at the Garden.