By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Last year's left-field infatuation with the Brazilian tropicalia movement of the late '60s was spurred by a few ace reissues and collections. Most notable was the re-release of the entire Os Mutantes oeuvre, which revealed the extent to which the country's music was able to seamlessly merge South American bossa nova and samba with Western rock and pop music. The other great release was dumped onto the marketplace directly from the vaults of the Universal corporation, which threw together the Tropicalia Essentials compilation, and tossed the resulting album straight into the record bins without any promotion. It's a testament to the beauty and creativity of the music that the collection is fantastic despite the apparent lack of impassioned effort.
But all that music was made 30 years ago. Is there no youth music in Brazil? Of course there is, and it's all over the amazing Caipiríssima, a collection of batucada electrônica (batucada means, literally, "dance percussion group") that documents the messy cross-pollination currently melding the sounds of Brazil with the sounds of electronic dance music.
The worldwide spread of computer-based dance music has temporarily eclipsed indigenous music in many regions the jungle coming out of London, out of Japan and out of Chicago sounds frighteningly similar, in part because of the lightning speed of the Internet and its effect on pasty-faced computer geeks more married to their computer than to the musical language of their neighborhoods. On Caipiríssima, though, you can hear the sound of Brazil loads of lockstep organic percussion designed not for frantic wiggling but for sensual dancing woven into the fabric of the sampling. Brazil is a huge country, though, as big as the U.S.; within Caipiríssima's confines, artists mix not just samba and batucada but other regional dialects: forro de pe-de-serra, mangue beat, maracatu.
The title of DJ Dolores' heavenly batucada jungle workout "Monica No Samba (She Loves Drum n' Cavaco)" says a lot about the music within: It both defiantly dismisses the music for which Brazil is best known, samba, while retaining the flavor of both curious drum & bass and native Brazilian music. Other artists draw from the mangue-beat movement of the early '90s, which had its roots more firmly in rock & roll. Most notable among these is the wonderful Apollo 9 cut "Nao Fique Ai," which messes with everything at once: electro, trip-hop, mangue beat, batucada, samba. It flies around without any sort of center, but at its heart is a solid handle of synthetic handclaps. It'll make your ears spin.
In fact, most of Caipiríssima will make your ears spin, and its success is most apparent because it will appeal both to fans of electronica and of the classic tropicalia sounds: if you're a techno-head, this will pique your interest in the long, luxuriant history of the Brazilian sound; if you're a Brazil nut, it'll draw you closer to the plethora of electronic sounds influenced by the percussive batucada rhythm.
If Caipiríssima has a fault, it's the way it stretches to meet its own criteria. Of the 13 tracks within, three are produced by artists who have long since departed their homeland: Amon Tobin, Arto Lindsay and DJ Soul Slinger (not coincidentally, the three best-known names on the collection). Whereas Lindsay's has a Brazilian feel to it, both Tobin's and Soul Slinger's tracks seem tacked-on. Tobin's cut, however, like most of his stuff, is amazing, and the set would be weaker without it. But that's a minor complaint and one best ignored, because in all, Caipiríssima is nearly flawless and highly recommended.