by carl wilson

Everybody in da Shanty House


Today's Overtones column is a whiplash tour of recent Brazilian sounds from Caetano Veloso, Arto Lindsay (with a detour into DNA) and baile funk. I'm indebted to Matt Woebot and his idea of Rio funk as "shanty house" and "post-world-music," quoted at length toward the end. The girl from Ipanema comes in for some sassin'. Read it now ...

Getting back at phony Braziliana

Saturday, Nov 13, 2004

If you're making a trashy art-house movie, an easy way to signal which sultry damsel will become the obscure object of desire is always to strike up a little bossa nova when she saunters into frame - ideally Astrud Gilberto singing Girl from Ipanema.

Sure, it reduces Brazil's vast musical vocabulary to one suggestive swish, but that's the kind of shorthand Western pop culture loves to make out of "world music" -- an African choir for pious Third World suffering, the twang of a sitar for heading into the mystic, whole societies ground down to grains of spice.

As technology compresses geography, though, increasingly both sides can play that game. Since American dominance comes with ever-higher stakes, the rest of the world is hijacking ideas with a fervour.

The process comes under scrutiny on the latest album from Caetano Veloso, a giant from the bossa-nova era through his leadership in the sixties upheavals of tropicalia (when rock-influenced innovators were jailed or exiled for offending the military government) to today, when populist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's reform agenda is stymied by foreign debt and internal division. A Foreign Sound is Veloso's first album entirely in English, at once a tribute to and an interrogation of American popular music.

The album begins with Carioca, a piece of phony 1930s Braziliana concocted for the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical comedy Flying Down to Rio, for which the stars never even flew down to Rio. Veloso performs a similar search-and-rescue mission on kitschy old Feelings - originally written by a Brazilian (Morris Albert) passing himself off as an American in Paris.

And he gets his revenge for decades of being called "the Brazilian Bob Dylan" with a rattlingly syncopated cover of It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) that makes Dylan seem merely the American Caetano Veloso: "Even the president of the United States," he sings with a wink, "sometimes must have to stand naked."

The disc's title is lifted from a line in that song: "So don't fear, if you hear/ A foreign sound in your ear." Veloso's gambit here is to remind Western listeners that, to most of the globe's population, Hollywood movies are foreign films and English is a foreign language.

His point is not to vilify English. Many of these are songs he loves. As Veloso told Parisian newspaper Le Monde, "I don't have a simplistic vision of imperialism: Tropicalia aimed to take account of the complexity of things. But, against the logic of winners and losers, dear to American puritans, my preference is to present original human experience."

In another interview, he cautioned: "If one thinks that he can mix anything with anything, he's in danger of getting lost. But nowadays you can't really avoid facing it. Even if you just concentrate yourself in a national, closed, stylistic world, you're just responding to the necessity of recognizing mixtures and the dialogues of styles and cultures. It is the era of comparison, that you can put things side by side and suggest surprising comparisons that will change your way of thinking and feeling."

One of the most surprising dialogues comes with his cover of Detached by the obscure New York "no wave" noise-rock band DNA. From the original's snarl of electric guitar, one-finger bass and yelps, Veloso produces an orchestral arrangement that sounds like an atonal composition by Edgar Varese or Alban Berg.

The twist is that the singer and guitarist of DNA was Veloso's American friend Arto Lindsay, who grew up partly in Brazil as the son of missionary parents. After a brief, firefly flash of notoriety on the early-1980s downtown-Manhattan art scene - available for the first time in its full kinetic glory on a new CD, DNA on DNA - Lindsay followed an artistic path that led him back to Brazil on a sort of quest of personal decolonization.

Since the mid-1990s, he's released a series of superb discs sung in English and Portuguese to a sinewy sine wave of electrified samba, with lyrics of metaphysical, erotic abstraction and a backbeat borrowed from hip-hop and funk, with DNA's spasms of white noise reduced to an occasional accent. He's also become a producer in Brazil, and (along with fellow former art-rock geek, David Byrne) an envoy to northern audiences for many of the country's greatest talents. Yet Veloso cheekily reminds his friend of his least-Brazilian phase.

Meanwhile, on Lindsay's latest album, Salt, I detect a bit of the metallic clatter and streetwise stamp of Brazil's latest wave of stylistic mutation, hailing from the hillside shantytown slums in the north of Rio, the favelas. The latest, rawest example of Brazil getting its own back from American pop culture is favela dance music, known to music mavens by monikers such as carioca funk and funky do morro ("hill funk"). In its native land it's just plain "funk," but it doesn't sound much like the genre an American would identify - it's funk as in sweat, not style.

The current popular phrase is "Rio baile funk," after a new compilation of "favela booty beats" assembled by German music critic and DJ Daniel Haaksman, one of the hottest musical fetish objects of this fall. It offers a taste of the sound heard at the all-night parties or bailes attended by hundreds of thousands of people every weekend in Rio since the 1970s.

These bailes are subject to gang violence, police raids and the kind of middle-class dread that generates urban legends (often reported as fact in the Rio press) of copulating conga lines and underage orgies. Yet it's worth remembering that samba itself, now considered the apex of Brazilian sophistication, was born in the favelas of the previous century and got exactly the same sort of official contempt and harassment.

For years, baile DJs played mostly American soul music, but in the late 1980s, one DJ Marlboro is credited with having introduced Rio to Miami bass - the rump-shaking electro sound of 2 Live Crew and other salacious Florida party bands. What sounded good banging out of the tricked-up car stereos of teens cruising the strip in Miami was even better from the mammoth speaker systems that are the pride of the bailes. Before long, partygoers were adding shouted rap to the beats in Portuguese, along with technically crude samples of samba and other pop hits, accordion, sirens and car horns.

The Miami sound was swiftly eclipsed in American hip-hop, so that over the next decade baile funk became a Brazilian exclusive. Now it's coming full circle: "Favela chic" parties have begun popping up in London and Paris, with the London DJs of Slum Dunk releasing their own Carioca Funk compilation next week. Haaksman has noted the irony of a German collecting a Brazilian sound that appropriates the Miami bass inspired by New York electro that was influenced in turn by German 1970s computer pop like Kraftwerk.

North Americans may have taken to the sound of digital samba from the likes of Bebel Gilberto and Juana Molina. But by comparison, that's merely Girl from Ipanema Goes to Mars. Baile funk doesn't whisper "Come hither." It screams "Shake it!" and shimmies till it shakes off everything, most of all its own beleaguered poverty.

Internet music writer Matthew Ingram, better known as Woebot, positions baile funk in a global phenomenon he calls "shanty house" music, together with the "grime" ( la Dizzee Rascal) of London housing projects, and the twists on hip-hop from South Africa's kwaito and the desi of the South Asian diaspora.

It's "the new strain of post-world-music," he says. "The concept of 'world music' is inextricably intertwined with concepts of the natural, the earthen and the rooted. However, the new wave of global urban music is mercilessly hooligan in its agenda, synthetic by choice and necessity, often produced in a crucible of urban existence, yet more extreme, precarious and violent than that which characterizes the temperature of New York, London, Berlin."

Woebot speculates that this desperate edge will keep pop from assimilating shanty house. And yet earlier this year, a bastardized version of baile funk by hip-hop artists from elsewhere in Brazil, remixed by Fatboy Slim, became the soundtrack to a Nissan SUV commercial; and desi is already all over recent R&B; hits.

As Veloso said, it's an era of "surprising comparisons" - and the ferocity of favela funk makes you wonder if it could become an era of surprising comeuppances. Meanwhile, you may find more than a few "foreign sounds" creeping into your own body English. But they won't be swaying compliantly in the tropical breeze.

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, November 13 at 4:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)



Missed this in November -- thought you might be interested in some grafs from Zizek in the London Review of Books last September:

The explosive growth of slums in the last decades, from Mexico City and other Latin American capitals through Africa to India, China, the Philippines and Indonesia, is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event of our times. The case of Lagos, according to Mike Davis, 'the biggest node in the shanty-town corridor of 70 million people that stretches from Abidjan to Ibadan', is exemplary: no one even knows the size of its population. Davis quotes a UN report: 'Officially it is six million, but most experts estimate it at ten million.' Since, some time very soon, the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural population (this may already have happened), and since slum inhabitants will constitute the greater part of the urban population, we are in no way dealing with a minority phenomenon. We are witnessing the rapid growth of a population outside the control of any state, mostly outside the law, in terrible need of minimal forms of self-organisation. Although these populations are composed of marginalised labourers, former civil servants and ex-peasants, they are not simply a redundant surplus: they are incorporated into the global economy in numerous ways; many of them are informal wage-earners or self-employed entrepreneurs, with no adequate health or social security provision. (The main reason for their rise is the inclusion of the Third World countries in the global economy, with cheap food imports from the First World countries ruining local agriculture.) One should resist the easy temptation to elevate and idealise slum-dwellers into a new revolutionary class. It is nonetheless surprising how far they conform to the old Marxist definition of the proletarian revolutionary subject: they are 'free' in the double meaning of the word, even more than the classical proletariat ('free' from all substantial ties; dwelling in a free space, outside the regulation of the state); they are a large collective, forcibly thrown into a situation where they have to invent some mode of being-together, and simultaneously deprived of support for their traditional ways of life.

The slum-dwellers are the counter-class to the other newly emerging class, the so-called 'symbolic class' (managers, journalists and PR people, academics, artists etc) which is also uprooted and perceives itself as universal (a New York academic has more in common with a Slovene academic than with blacks in Harlem half a mile from his campus). Is this the new axis of class struggle, or is the 'symbolic class' inherently split, so that one can make a wager on the coalition between the slum-dwellers and the 'progressive' part of the symbolic class? The new forms of social awareness that emerge from slum collectives will be the germs of the future and the best hope for a properly 'free world', whether or not it's the one that Garton Ash refers to in his title.

full piece at

Posted by Jordan on February 22, 2005 10:49 AM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson