Soul Music and Funk would seem to hold a natural appeal for Brazilians, particularly with the strong mix of African-American culture and politics... But while several artists staked out their turf in the early '70s, soul music was slow to penetrate into the Brazilian mainstream. A few artists mixed funk with samba, while most preferred to keep the styles separate; still others delved miserably into disco and soft-pop soul. In the 1980s, new pop styles such as axe and sambalanco blurred these stylistic differences almost beyond meaning, as soul, reggae, soca and Afro-Brazilian percussion blended into one big party style. Later still, rap music came to Brazil, and now hip-hop, trip-hop and electronica are all integral parts of a funk-and-soul tinged musical landscape.
The earliest, classic Brazilian soul albums are hard to come by, particularly in the US, so this survey is fairly limited. Along with the albums I review below, I've also listed several albums that I've only heard of -- hopefully in the future I'll be able to track these discs down and can also offer my opinions about them. If you have some favorite albums or artists that you think should be added to this list, feel free to write me and suggest them as well...
Eduardo Araujo "A Onda E Boogaloo" (Odeon, 1969)
Wow... this is pretty cool. Singer Eduardo Araujo strikes me as an artist who was kind of constantly in search of a "new sound" to latch onto. He was one of the early jovem guarda '60s teenie-bopper rockers, and got a little wiggier in the '70s... This 1969 pop-soul album is a transitional record, but one that shows he could have done quite well pursuing a career in Brazilian soul music... He had a much stronger sense of American-style phrasing and a stronger band than many of the self-styled "Black Rio" artists such as Cassiano and Hylton who took up the mantle in the 1970s. His secret weapon was Brazilian funk pioneer Tim Maia, who was about to bust out on his own as a solo artist on the Philips label. Maia wrote punchy new arrangements for the numerous cover tunes on here, which range from Smokey Robinson's "Same Old Song" to Arthur Conley's "Funky Street," and for whatever reason this album avoids most of the clumsiness or self-consciousness that many similar imitations of American pop frequently suffer from. Together, Araujo and Maia really "got" the magical mix of rock and soul sensibility that late '60s soul singers such as Sam & Dave or Wilson Pickett created up North. This is an unusually strong album for the style... definitely recommended!
Eduardo Araujo "Pelos Caminhos Do Rock" (RCA-Brasil, 1975)
An odd, offkilter mix of soul music, Santana-esque salsa-tinged hard rock and jittery stadium rock ala Rita Lee. It's easy to piece out the influence of Brazilian soulsters such as Tim Maia... Araujo even gets all worked up and shouts his way through several songs. Not the most blistering stuff ever, but interesting in the context of Brazilian rock and soul at the time... (A recent CD reissue, perversely, couples this with an incredibly wimpy pop album by Os Incriveis... I scanned the credits and couldn't see any connection, so go figure.)
Bahia Black "Ritual Beating System" (Island/Axiom, 1992)
An ambitious and stunningly realized album, bringing together the percussive talents of the Olodum collective, Carlinhos Brown and several North American jazz and funk artists such as Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrell, Wayne Shorter, and Henry Threadgill. This marks one of the high points of Bill Laswell's career as a multi-directional producer, creating a blend of funk, jazz, avant-jazz, art-rock and Afro-Brazilian pop that is actually more successful than most Brazilian fusion projects. Challenging, but also highly listenable.
Banda Black Rio "Best Of Banda Black Rio" (Universal Sound, 1996)
Tight, formulaic disco-funk from the late-'70s. There's an undercurrent of samba, curling around the edges, but mainly this has more to do with James Brown and Earth, Wind & Fire than it does with the hometown Brazilian vibe. I can see the appeal that this mostly-instrumental album might have for a '70s kitsch fan, but it didn't float my boat... This collection draws all but one track from their first two LPs, and is deceptively tilted towards hyperactive disco tunes. For a more easy-going, more soulful version of their sound, check out the 1980 album, Saci Perere.
Banda Black Rio "Maria Fumaca" (Warner, 1977)
Banda Black Rio "Gafieira Universal" (RCA, 1978)
Banda Black Rio "Saci Perere" (BMG, 1980)
For a break from the hyperactive disco monotony of their first two albums, try this one. It's a softer, more soulful sound... wa-a-a-a-a-a-ay into the sleek horn arrangements and falsetto vocals of Earth, Wind and Fire, or The Commodores. Sure, it's silly, but it's way more interesting than the jittery, rigid material of their earlier work. Maurice White would've been proud... This also has a more pronounced samba feel to it than the stuff on the Best Of collection above.
Jorge Ben "Africa Brasil" (Philips, 1976/CD reissue: 1998)
Jorge Ben "Africa Brasil" (Philips-Japan, 1998)
In a word -- WOW. Probably the best funk album ever recorded in Brazil, and certainly a high point in Ben's career... really, really amazing. Features the often-anthologized "Umbabarauma" and "Xica da Silva," but also a whole slew of other great tracks, such as the James Brown/Sly Stone inspired "Hermes Tresmegisto Escriveu" and other groove-heavy wonders. A couple of songs are too shrill -- less disco flirtations than just plain old pop-funk gone jittery. One such track is an unfortunate remake of "Taj Mahal," the song Rod Stewart stole the melody to "If You Think I'm Sexy" from... Nevertheless, this is a masterpiece, one of the best Brazilian albums of the '70s, and certainly the jewel in the crown for the Brazilian funk scene. HIGHLY recommended.
Tony Bizarro "Nesse Inverno" (CBS, 1971)
Like Tim Maia, Bizarro didn't really have a terribly strong (or disciplined) voice, but he's heartfelt and these songs are very well produced and fairly funky, a cut or two above other records from the same era. This isn't really my cup of tea, but anyone looking into the style should check this guy out. Previously impossible to track down, this 1970s disc was recently reissued on CD, and is relatively easy to find now.
Carlinhos Brown "Alfagamabetizado" (Metro Blue, 1996)
As the main songwriter of the band Timbalada, Carlinhos Brown has set himself up as a sort of a Afro-Bahian Bootsy Collins, and is one of the most successful modern funksters in Brazil today. This record has surprisingly successful mix of styles, and the kind of cross-culturally pollinated work that's been getting Carlinhos Brown a lot of attention over the past few years. This was his first solo album -- recorded after his work with Timbalada, with production by Wally Badarou and Arto Lindsay, and the usual requisite guest appearances by Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania, and Marisa Monte... Brown works through a range of styles in this musical blend -- from modern funk grooves to string-laden ballads -- and the production by Lindsay and Badarou ties things nicely together. Titles include "Covered Saints", "Comunidade-Lobos", "O Bode", "Bog La Bag", "Angel's Robot List", and "Zanza".
Cassiano "Colecao" (Universal/Dubas, 2000)
Thin, somewhat wobbly soul ballads. Soft-soul pioneer Cassiano's three albums (listed below) were spread out over three different record companies, so it's a pretty neat trick how the Universal-distributed Dubas label was able to collect and reissue the material on a single CD, which draws liberally from all three records. Compiled by modern Braz-soulster Ed Motta, this best-of is probably a pretty good representation of Cassiano's strengths and weaknesses. I thought this was pretty cheesy, and with rather ricketty arrangements... I'm sure many people find Cassiano's fragile voice to be delicate and emotionally vulnerable, I simply thought it was thin and limited, and close enough to Lionel Richie for the hackles on my neck to bristle up. Historically important , but the material doesn't move me.
Cassiano "Imagem E Som" (RCA Victor, 1971)
Brazil's soul equivalent of Os Mutantes' mimickry of American and British psychedelic rock. Of the Cassiano stuff I've heard, this album seems to have the strongest material... Cassiano was a Northeasterner who grew up in Rio, breaking into the music business as a member of the band Os Diagonais (see below). This album echoes the Jackson Five's pop-soul bounciness, with a dash of Philly goopiness thrown in for good measure. Musically, the album falters around his weak vocals, although it's still pretty interesting... particularly in the solid, professional arrangements. Worth checking out.
Cassiano "Apresentamos Nosso Cassiano" (Odeon, 1973)
Cassiano "Cuban Soul - 18 Kilates" (Polydor, 1976)
Settling firmly into the lavish, over-the-top orchestral-pop sound of the Philly Soul scene, Cassiano's vocals are more restrained and more palatable on this album, which may be his finest effort overall. This includes "Hoje E Natal," the song chosen as the title track of a Brazilian soul collection curated by Arto Lindsay (see below). It's one of many songs co-written with Paulo Zdanowski, who co-wrote all the material on this album. I'm not personally into this super-sugary style -- whether it's sung in English or Portuguese -- but I could easily see how fans of classic soul might want to hear this Brazilian
Chico Cesar "Beleza Mano" (PolyGram/MZA, 1997)
As one of the most important artists in a new generation of Brazilian rockers, Chico Cesar has incorporated a healthy dose of funk into the mix, though sometimes with iffy results. The first few tracks on this album are brilliant, and you think to yourself, "hey... alright!!" But on the fifth track, "Onde Estara O Meu Amor", there's this irritating addition of a soprano sax (yikes!), and it's all downhill from there. Even with the wide variety of styles and influences, this disc goes from vigor to torpid predicability, and more's the pity. There are plenty of interesting, nuanced ideas... Cesar has a lot of presence, but it quickly gets buried in glossy, over-stylized production.
Gerson King Combo "Gerson King Combo" (Polydor, 1977)
No foolin'... This is one of the few old Brazilian funk albums that actually lives up to the hype. It's awesome. Too bad it's so damn hard to track down a copy!! Anyway, Gerson King Combo (which is his full stage name; long story...) was once part of Wilson Simonal's band, and was a major force on the Rio soul scene. He had a seriously hot band, which owed a huge debt to fellow Polydor label-mate, James Brown. Up in the States, Brown's disciples such as Bootsy Collins took JB's hard-driving rhythms and transfomed them into something even more modern and funkier... which is also what Combo did, down in the steamy nightclubs of the Black Rio scene. I'm not exactly sure why he took a fade after only two albums, but it's a shame, since this disc really was first-rate. Hopefully the folks at Universal Music will get a clue and rush this one out into print for a US and European audience. It'd sell like wildfire.
Gerson King Combo "Gerson King Combo, Vol. II" (Polydor, 1978)
A disappointing followup to his cool debut. Here, GKC is under the spell of Barry White, rather than JB and Bootsy. But he doesn't quite have the silken sleaziness to carry off the whole "hey, babeh..." routine. The album is indulgent, but not deliriously, deliciously indulgent, as were the Parliament/Funkadelic albums that, perhaps, he was hoping to emulate. Funk fans will probably want to check this out anyway (especially since it's finally back in print), but I found it rather tedious.
Gerson King Combo "Mensageiro Da Paz" (WEA, 2002)
Copa 7 "O Som Do Copa 7" (Top Tape, 1979)
One of the sleeker bands from the "Black Rio" soul movement, Copa 7 were looser than the better-known Banda Black Rio and funkier than most of the soul singers that dominated the '70s scene. They were also more identifiably building from a samba background, but layering it with tight horn and keyboard arrangements, similar to Earth Wind and Fire. The Copa 7 took their name from an earlier jazz band led by J.T. Meirelles, although as far as I know there were no direct links between the two groups. Either way, this is a pretty cool record! [Recently reissued by What Music in the UK.]
Copa 7 "O Som Do Copa 7, v.2" (Top Tape, 1980)
A fine follow-up to their first album, maybe a bit tougher and more muscular, but still drenched in solid, funky rhythms and sharp, American-style funk and R&B. These guys really were several steps ahead of most of their competition. [Reissued by What Music.] Recommended!
Carlos Dafe "Pra Que Vou Recordar" (Warner, 1977)
Carlos Dafe "Venha Matar Saudades" (Warner, 1978)
Carlos Dafe "Malandro Dengoso" (Warner, 1979)
The cover art is cool, but the album is surprisingly lame. This is a set of adequately-produced but unexciting samba-soul from a highly regarded 'Seventies scenester... The arrangements are uniformly static and flat, while Dafe's voice is remarkably limited and unexpressive. I don't get it. Then again, I suppose this does help put some of Gilberto Gil's middle-period work, and Djavan's early albums into a wider context. One things that's noteworthy, though, is that Dafe wrote or co-wrote all the songs on here, withthe lone exception of a revamped version of Ary Barroso's "Folhas Mortas." One of the originals was written along with fellow "Black Rio" soulster Dom Mita...
Carlos Dafe "De Repete" (RCA, 1983)
Blehh. A later outing by this soul singer, and not one to my liking. Synthy soft-soul of the early '80s Lionel Richie variety -- thankfully Dafe wasn't as sobby a singer, but the music is still too commercialized and controlled.
Carlos Dafe "Seu Jeito De Olhar" (1998)
Os Diagonais "Os Diagonais" (RCA, 1971)
Early, jittery Brazilian soul (that actually isn't so much more jittery than similar pop entries up in the United States...) This is the lone album by this band, who included soul crooner Cassiano, and later backed him on his earlier albums (reviewed above). Guitarist Hyldon Souza was also a member of the band; see reviews of his solo work below.
Daude "Daude" (Tinder/Natasha, 1996)
Poppy soul music from Bahia, featuring smoothed-out, funky-drummered versions of songs by Carlinhos Brown, Caetano Veloso, and Jorge Ben. Gilberto Gil's guitarist, Celso Fonseca, plays throughout and provides several songs. When I first heard this album, I thought it was really cool hearing a Soul II Soul style mix em portuguese... But revisiting this album, I find it hasn't held up that well; now it sounds jittery and a little forced. One of the more compelling moments is her version of "Objeto Nao Identificao", a tropicalia era favorite of Gal Costa's.
Daude "Daude II" (Natasha, 1997)
Daude "Neguinha Te Amo" (RealWorld, 2003)
A disappointing follow-up to her slinky debut... Daude's funky side is engulfed by a light, frothy, slightly dancey pop sensibility. It's a pretty lightweight mix of hiphop-tronica and Brazilian-style pop, easy on the ears and full of positive lyrics about being black, female and Brazilian... But there's a treble-heavy perkiness that can be a bit grating. That being said, by the end of the album I was mostly on board with what she was doing. It's worth checking out, though you might also find it a bit too prefab.
Hyldon "Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda" (Polydor, 1975)
Pretty nice, fairly spacy stuff, as much acoustic-fusion noodling as soft-soul... But a nice album nonetheless... Hyldon Sousa was on the scene for several years before he put out his own solo stuff, mostly contributing as a songwriter for other people's albums. This is a sweet record, sort of what you hoped Djavan would sound like, if he hadn't gotten so Sting-ed out. Worth checking out.
Hyldon "Deus, A Natureza E A Musica" (Polydor, 1976)
Hyldon "Nossa Historia De Amor" (CBS, 1977)
Hyldon's artistic successes at Polydor don't seem to have extended over to his later gig on CBS... The high regard which Hyldon is now held in seems a bit odd, considering how thin his sound actually seems. To begin with, he doesn't have the greatest voice, and the arrangements are as much acoustic folk-rock as they are Philly soul... He does get funky on a couple of numbers, but on the whole this is not a very rhythmic album. That being said, this disc does kind of grow on you after a few listens - his songs are kind of catchy - and it's definitely worth checking out. Guest artists include fellow soulsters Ed Lincoln and Tony Bizarro; Waltel Branco leads the string and orchestral arrangements, light as they are, and forro whiz-kid Dominguinhos plays accordian on one track.
Hyldon "O Vendedor Do Sonhos" (Trama, 2003)
Hyldon "Deus, A Natureza E A Musica" (Trama, 2004)
Lady Zu "A Noite Vai Chegar" (Philips, 1977)
Lady Zu "Femea Brasileira" (Philips, 1979)
Lady Zu "Number One" (Abril, 2002)
Other Brazilian Styles
Main Brazil Index