In the midst of the global youth counter-cultural rebellion of the late 1960’s, Brazilian musicians looked to the U.S. and Europe for inspiration while living under a pro-West military dictatorship. They merged rock, jazz, and soul music with their own African-influenced popular musics to create a rebellious and internationally celebrated sound. However, what in hindsight may seem like an obvious connection at the time, engagement with contemporary African artists such as Fela Kuti was limited.
Yet as common knowledge goes, there are always exceptions. In the 1970’s Gilberto Gil and in the 1990’s Nação Zumbi both took inspiration from afrobeat. However perhaps the most surprising example of Brazilian engagement with the sound predates Fela himself! In 1957, Orquestra Afro-Brasileiro released the song “Liberdade,” which has amazing similarities with Fela’s “Shenshema.” Their whole album “Obaluaye!” is a surprising mixture of jazzy arrangements and African rhythms that by that time was very innovative as African percussion was considered to be “barbaric” (piano and saxophone were “civilized” instruments.) Although, the song of Orquestra Afro-Brasileiro is missing the typical drum beat of Tony Allen, it has more African percussion than is common to Afro-Brazilian music styles such as afoxé, jongo, maracatú, samba, etc.
Fast forward to the 21st century and an African consciousness growing alongside the many contemporary social movements along wth the afrobeat resurgence popping around the world has reached Brazil. Now, well-known artists like MPB singer Vanessa da Mata, rapper Criolo, or Céu use elements from afrobeat in their music, as well as many of the less internationally known Brazilian groups and artists. With Bixiga 70 and the Abayomy Afrobeat Orchestra Brazil developing full afrobeat bands, at least two groups have dedicated themselves to play afrobeat at full power.
Check out the following mix for a full taste of the Brazilian take on the sound, and read up on each artist in the track by track breakdown below:
(1) André Abujamra – Origem — André Abujamra is multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer and actor. In the 80’s he founded the experimental Pop Rock band Os Mulheres Negras and later played with Karnak. Despite of his solo projects he composes and arranges TV, movie and theater soundtracks. His music is always a mixture of different styles, which can be heard in this track also containing elements of Balkan and Irish popular musics.
(2) BNegão & Os Seletores De Frequência – Bass Do Tambô — Bernardo Santos is famous after he became part of Planet Hemp, one of the pioneering Brazilian rap bands. In 2001 he left Planet Hemp to start his solo project with the Seletores de Frequência. Fusing rap, hardcore, dub and funk in his music, the lyrics of BNegão add a social criticism reminiscent of afrobeat originator Fela Kuti. In 2008 they launched their second Album Sintoniza Lá.
(3) A Roda – 26 — This band from Pernambuco state was one of the first ones to fuse afrobeat with musical influences of Northeastern Brazil on their album La Estructura from 2010.
(4) Afroelectro – Padinho — Afroelectro creates its sonorous identity by revisiting the African continent through direct contact with musicians from there, and from living in the big metropolis of São Paulo where music from Brazil and the rest of the world clashes. Brazilian culture is mostly found in the lyrics and chants as Capoeira, Candomblé and other traditional elements are put into the mix.
(5) The Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra was founded especially for Fela Kuti day in Rio in 2011. Abayomy means “happy meeting” in Yoruba, and the first meeting was obviously so happy that the band members decided to continue with the project. They include a Brazilian geniality with bright musical sounds, combined with the driving strength and hypnotic grooves of afrobeat. Apart from their own compositions rooted in Afro-Brazilian tradition, they play cover versions of afrobeat classics and reinterpretations of Brazilian songs.
(6) Bixiga 70 – Tema Di Malaika — The name of of this group from São Paulo originates from the district that has been cradle of Samba in this city and the street number where their studio is. They also reference the name of Fela Kuti’s band with the 70 added at the end. In 2013 they released their second self-titled album.
(7) Rodrigo Campos – Sou de Salvador — Some of the most talented musicians from São Paulo, such as Kiko Dinucci, M. Takara, and Thiago França play on Rodrigo Campos’ Bahia Fantástica album. With “Sou de Salvador”, he shows a rather Bahian approach to afrobeat.
(8) Lucas Santtana – Músico — Since his first album in 2000, Lucas Santtana has been inventing new fusions and mixtures of Brazilian music with different music styles and sounds. Here he hops on the afrobeat revival train with a song that features orchestral strings and his individual guitar style.
(9) Pipo Pegoraro – Sofia — On a trajectory to construct different views on music, from the interpretation side to recording, Pipo Pegoraro comes up with an afrobeat influenced tune on his second solo album.
(10) Tonho Crocco – Abre-Alas (O Carro Destemido) — Tonho Crocco from Porto Alegre in Southern Brazil shows off his soulful vocals by referencing the colorful opening chorus of the samba schools on the first song off his Teto Solar EP.
(11) Rabujah – O Que Meu Samba Tem — This song contains a more funk and rock flavor which combines perfectly with an afrobeat attitude and Rabujah’s epic timbre.
(12) André Sampaio & Os Afro Mandinga – Bumaye — André Sampaio is as talented guitar player from one of Brazil’s best reggae bands, Ponto de Equlíbrio. On his solo project he shows West African influences culled from his research on the music, as well as from his trips to Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso, and his collaborations with artists from there.
(13) Anelis – Sonhando — Normally existing between rap, downtempo and Brazilian influences, Anelis samples Fela Kuti’s “Mr. Grammarticalogylisationalism Is the Boss” on this song by Karina Buhr .