Various Artists: Desconstrução
The city of São Paulo is a densely populated metropolis and major cultural and financial capital, home to a number of billionaires, major art museums, the largest gay pride parade in the world, an impressive number of universities, a vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, and Brazil’s most infamous political protests of the 21st century.
Desconstrução is an anthology in twelve songs of cutting-edge music made in São Paulo, featuring Thiago França, Metá Metá, Rodrigo Campos, Juçara Marçal, and Vincente Barreto. França and Marçal are also a members of Metá Metá. All are underground musicians.
There is a familiar cosmopolitanism to these songs, as if we were listening to singular variations of the rock of Phil Spector, free jazz, or the psychedelia of countless rock ’n’ roll songs melded to samba, bossa nova, Música Popular Brasileira (MBP), or Tropicália songs. The twelve tracks are long, winding, and layered; they ask us to sit through artful sound or to engage in artful dance.
“Karina,” by Barreto, is easy to sway to, despite the harshness of some of its sounds, and the same can be said about “Cobra Rasteira” by Metá Metá. Juçara Marçal’s singing in Metá Metá for “Cobra Rasteira” will surely move the listener.
All the songs layer experimental instrumentation onto a base of pleasing rhythms. “Abdu,” by Thiago França, is a great example of this: a melding of free jazz and samba produced for 21st-century listening.
Metá Metá considers itself a Candomblé music group (Candomblé is a syncretic religion combining elements from Catholicism and the religious traditions brought to Brazil by enslaved Africans). The song “Obatala” shares its name with the Candomblé deity of the sky, the creator of humans. In the mid-1960s, there was a somewhat famous quarrel between the Tropicália musician Caetano Veloso and music critic José Ramos Tinhorão. Tinhorão claimed that only the samba of the black poor was culturally authentic because of the social unity heard in the music, and that the music Veloso was playing was middle-class alienation. Veloso responded that his music was not the product of alienation but of education in a country with rampant illiteracy rates. Veloso claimed (rightfully) that he remained Brazilian by virtue of being a citizen of the country. According to Metá Metá they were both wrong; the authenticity and personality of Brazilian music, its roots in Candomblé and other Brazilian polytheistic religions, has been kept fairly hidden. They would like for us to dance Candomblé as we listen to their music, and go beyond what we are traditionally accustomed to from samba or Tropicália, bossa nova, or MBP.
Life in São Paulo does not completely define the aesthetic of these musicians, though it has surely deeply influenced it. In a 2011 Red Bull Music Academy lecture in Madrid, Tropicália (founded in São Paulo) artist Tom Zé explained that the aesthetic of his music came from the Arabic influence on the Portuguese-Brazilian culture of his infancy having met the “Aristotelian” world of São Paulo. Many of the musicians on this anthology were not born in São Paulo; it might be the case that their lives before living in São Paulo define their aesthetics much more than life in the vibrant metropolis does. São Paulo is a major city wherein musicians learn to play for large, cosmopolitan crowds. It might be the case that a folk melody or rhythm heard as a child living outside of São Paulo is the inspiration for many of these songs and not the need to satisfy a São Paulo audience. This album is nonetheless a great anthology of music being produced by citizens of São Paulo, despite their origins—intriguing and engaging.
ADOLF ALZUPHAR is a music critic.