Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sounds of two cities, part 1: Meu samba é assim

A rainy saturday night in Rio

Yesterday there was a show of Marcelo D2 at Circo Voador in Lapa. Marcelo is a rare bird: one of the few big rap artists based in Rio de Janeiro - ones that also need to be mentioned include MV Bill and Mr. Catra, who is actually a baile funk star, but has a very wide spectrum of skills and is also highly respected by the hip-hop-scene. But all in all, it could be said that in Brazil, hip-hop is more of a paulista-thing - that is, born and raised in Sao Paulo.

The difference between the cities is also audible in the hip-hop of the local artists. This is a very crude generalization, but carioca hip-hop might be more playful, like the city itself, whereas paulista sound tends to steer towards very minimalistic and dark aesthetics. It's often produced in prisons and the songs are gloomy tales of life in favelas and jails. More on the essential artists like Racionais MCs and 509-E later, for now let's settle for the softer sound of Marcelo.

D2 is a talented artist. His albums are concious of the importance of samba in the Brazilian musical tradition and many songs go to great lengths to integrate samba into hip-hop - and sometimes rather vice-versa. The songs are skillfully composed, with a lush and rich production. D2 is intelligent, his music is intelligent and he draws totally reasonable comparisons between his work and the Brazilian modernist concept of "the cultural antropofagia". And in all honesty, therein lies the dilemma, for me: personally I prefer the grimy old-school sound of the paulista artists and find Marcelo is a bit too smooth for my tastes.

But let's not linger on my personal preference of bleak beats and bleaker tales, when we could rather listen to a few fine tunes from along the D2's career.

A Dead Kennedys T-shirt and a band of 23

Marcelo grew up between the favela and the "asphalt" - wealthier normal districts - and saw most of his childhood friends eventually die in drug-gang violence. Wearing a T-shirt of the legendary American punk-band Dead Kennedys hooked him up with his first group, Planet Hemp, which released a number of succesful albums and toured Europe, Japan and USA. In 1998 Marcelo released his first solo album, Eu Tiro É Onda, and sold over 150,000 copies.

Marcelo D2: Samba de Primeira

When Planet Hemp broke up, Marcelo decided to continue searching his own sound. The result was the album À Procura da Batida Perfeita, released in 2003. The disc collected loads of awards, got Marcelo recognized for his lyrics by the Academia Brasileira de Letras and was released all over the world.

Marcelo D2: Re-Batucada

After the record the artist built up a band of 23 live musicians to "unplug" the hip-hop. This experiment led to the album Acústico MTV, based on the acoustic versions of the songs from the two previous albums. 1967 here is from the first one and A Procura from the second.

Marcelo D2: 1967
Marcelo D2: A Procura da Batida Perfecta

Marcelo's latest album, Meu Samba é Assim - "my samba goes like this", freely translated - was released in 2006. The album featured respected guest performers from both the worlds of samba and hip-hop, and propelled him to tour the mayor arenas all around the world. The hit Gueto is an honest, dance floor-filling banger, whereas Dor de Verdade shows what I ment with D2's work sometimes being more samba than hip-hop.

Marcelo D2: Gueto
Marcelo D2: Dor de Verdade

And as a little bonus to conclude, I cannot resist the urge to post a song by the aforementioned great Mr.Catra. Here's a funny tune that illustrates his versatility, combining baile funkish singing and an amusing hip-hopish beat.

Mr. Catra: Mercenária 2

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