UK label Musica Macondo place their focus on contemporary Brazilian and African diaspora on Brasil Novo, an eight track compilation of discovery, snare and tamborim heavy, showcasing both celebrated and unfamiliar artists south of the equator from the cities of Recife, Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
With the aim of presenting and thus preserving these moments in music - some tracks like Dona Celia's O Bar and Toró Instrumental's Dunas never been released before - DJs and co-curators Tahira (Sao Paulo) and Tim Garcia (London) dig deep into the troves, avoiding mainstream Brazilian popular music cliches, and also giving a sense of what fuels their dancefloors and radio sets. It was their joint passion for record collecting, Djing and 'the dance' which not surprisingly, brought these two leading figures within their respective scenes and cities together. The selection also includes tracks by Grupo Bongar, Renata Rosa and women's Afro Bloco, Ilú Obá De Min.
DJ Tahira is a massive Brazilian music fan and has been on a research journey for a number of years, dedicated to the preservation and archiving of music made or influenced by black and indigenous Brazilians. Based out of Sao Paulo he has a particular interest in the history of Samba de Coco, a folkloric musical form that was very popular in, (and probably originated from), the north east of Brazil, by slaves and indiginous people from working class backgrounds who came together, making a rhythmical mesh of sounds dating back hundreds of years and allowing them to carve a unique cultural identity.
Ignored or disregarded as inferior by Brazil's recording industry, there are few existing original recordings of this music from the twentieth century, relying instead on oral tradition and carnivals like those in Recife or Pernambuco. In recent times there has been a flux of contemporary proponents who mix Samba de Coco with other contemporary Brazilian musical forms. Brasil Novo features both the roots, and more divergent fusions.
Perhaps the best example of the Samba De Coco of old is from Dona Celia Coquista or Dona Celia do Coco as some people called her. She was a singer from Pernambuco who released only one album Nasci Com Dois Dentes in 2007 despite being an enormously important proponent of Samba De Coco for many years. She sadly passed 4 years later in 2011. The track O Bar features a plethora of local and native percussion instruments and a call and answer harmony of uplifting choir, a cacophony of positivity.
Other contemporary artists featured, who mix Samba De Coco in their repertoire whilst reinventing Brazilian folkloric music, are Renata Rosa and Grupo Bongar. The former is a female singer, songwriter and rabeca player with roots from the north east of Brazil. Grupo Bongar, well known in Brazil and internationally, combines all manners of Brazilian folk, axé and samba and also runs a centre for percussion aimed at galvanising musicians from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Another all female act on the Brasil Novo line up are Afro Bloco group Ilú Obá De Min, who have been part of Sao Paulo carnaval for many years. As well as making swinging, percussion based tunes, they support the empowerment of black women through workshops and promote all aspects of Afro Brazilian culture. Perhaps the outlier of the album, and one that borrows a sound from that Herbie Hancock electronic jazz era of the ‘80s are the now defunct Toró Instrumental, whose song Dunas is a live version, full of Brazilian percussion, disco-tinged, previously unreleased and is a sure-fire party starter.
In the current cultural impasse that Brazil is experiencing, with artists and musicians experiencing the withdrawal of funding and services and with concerts and clubs yet to get back to pre-pandemic levels, it's never been so important to give visibility to contemporary creativity. This compilation not only gives a needy international platform to new artists, it enables an archive of Afro Brazilian culture that in some cases is disappearing. It’s also a fine example of resistance and positivity, against the odds.