First there was samba and tropicalia. Then there was funk carioca. Now, enter the latest sound making waves from Brazil: tecnobrega.
In some ways, tecnobrega (which translates as “cheesy techno” in Portuguese) isn’t an obvious choice. It originally comes out of a soundsystem culture in the distant and dusty city of Belém, in the far Northern Amazonian state of Pará, and the music’s bouncy electronic beat and ill-advised use of digital synthesizers has the exact sonic profile of ‘90s Swedish pop stars Ace of Base.
Yet something about the sound has recently been capturing the imagination of tastemakers and beat-freaks both in and outside of Brazil. It’s catchy, it’s campy and its omnivorous approach to chewing up international pop music and spitting it out as weird Amazonian dance music leaves nearly endless remix possibilities open.
Now, there’s a new crop of young artists experimenting with tecnobrega and pushing the music into new directions. To find out which names to look out for, check them out below, listed in reverse cheesiness order.
10. BANDA CALYPSO
On the cheesier side of “cheesy techno”, Banda Calypso is a powerhouse of the Para scene. They are made up of guitarist Chimbinha and his wife Joelma, who – according to photographic evidence – rarely seems to wear anything you would typically describe as “clothing”. With their DIY music production, they’ve taken their music nationwide – and they own a plane to prove it. The band’s name is nod to the music’s rhythmic past, deeply influenced by calypso from the relatively nearby Anglo-Caribbean.
9. BANDA DJAVU
Another mega-popular brega duo is Banda Djavu, made up of singer Nadila and producer Junhnho Portugal. Music industry types would be amused to know that the band gives away all five of their albums (creatively titled Album 2011, Album 2010, etc) on their website for free.
In the brega world, there’s nothing unusual about it, however. As featured in the documentary “Good Copy, Bad Copy,” tecno brega has developed a bizarre yet functioning business model in which artists don’t fight against the CD pirates: they work with them to help promote their music. Then again, it makes sense not to care much for intellectual property in a genre that steals, ahem, borrows so freely from international pop music.
8. BANDA AR-15
Rounding out the “why fix it if it ain’t broke” school of tecnobrega on our list is AR-15, with lovely lead singer Rebeka. Their song, “So Pra Recordar” adds some Auto-tuney goodness to their karaoke arrangements, while “Super Pop Faz O S” refers to how fans of aparelhagem group Super Pop make S signs with their hands at parties. Aparelhagens are the futuristic, customized sound systems that make Amazonian parties tremble by levitating and spewing fire during musical climaxes. You know.
7. GABY AMARANTOS
With a nickname like “A Beyonce Do Pará” (roughly “The Beyonce of the Amazon”), how can Gaby Amarantos go wrong? Since she began her brega career in 2000, Amarantos has risen from a humble family in the poor outskirts of Belem to become one of the genre’s biggest stars as the leader of the group Banda Tecno Show. She earned her nickname after appearing on stage one day in Pernambuco in the Yonce’s signatures black leotard and ponytail, and has since milked it by turning out some choice covers, including “Put A Ring On It,” in tecno brega style of course.
In 2011, her fame grew on a national level as tecnobrega spread and found new audiences, to the point where Brazilian Rolling Stone recently listed her upcoming solo debut Treme as one of the most anticipated albums of 2012, alongside Madonna and Paul McCartney. The album includes the song “Xirley” an absolute banger produced by Pernambuco ska artist Ze Cafofinho, accompanied by a glossy music video by Amazonian production company Greenlight Films.
6. DJ CREMOSO
The mysterious DJ Cremoso is the man responsible for the new wave of hipsterfied brega sweeping Brazil these days. The “King of Brega” never DJs in public, and has managed to keep his identity completely secret. All we know is that he is 42 years old, lives somewhere in the state of Pará, and can turn even a thrashy, depressing Nirvana song like “In Bloom” into a bouncy Brazilian dance anthem.
Cremoso was the first to direct tecnobrega’s remix culture towards international rock and indie hits, drawing attention from new audiences that formerly wouldn’t touch brega with a 10-foot pole, the members of Banda UO included (see below).
No track is safe from the Cremoso treatment: Michael Jackson, the xx, Radiohead, and REM have all been victims of his dinky and danceable remixes at one point or another. You can hear them all in this mixtape from dubstep luminary DJ UMB, who once told MTV Iggy that Cremoso was his favorite producer.
5. DJ WALDO SQUASH
Right now, DJ Waldo Squash is the gold standard of tecno brega producers. Mr. Josivaldo de Sousa Pinto, a self-taught DJ who got his start in local radio, has currently got his fingers in lots of pots. He’s produced the beats for Gaby Amarantos’ upcoming album, he’s a member of hybrid-upon-hybrid eletromelody group Gang do Eletro, and it’s easy to see why. His beats might have been born cheesy, but in his hands they’re also smoooove. Check out the Joao Brasil compilation of Josivaldo’s hits over at Ghetto Bassquake.
And just for fun, here’s Waldo DJ’ing while Gaby Amarantos kills it on the mic, showing the cariocas how it’s done in Para.
4. GANG DO ELETRO
This is where things start to get ironically delicious. DJ Waldo Squash is one fourth of Gang do Eletro, a band that combines the unabashed enthusiasm of tecnobrega with the unabashed euphoria of trance and house.
In their Ibiza-fied “Diabinhas Digitais,” (“Little Digital Devils”), carimbo rhythms trade beats with dubstep glitch. To go with it, the trio of vocalist/dancers have invented a new glowstick-trance-cowboy-two-step, which you can check out in their performance from a showcase last year.
One of the latest and greatest producers to appear on the brega scene is Jaloo,bringing a level of detail and production quality to his remixes that is unprecedented in the genre. Jaloo is from tecno brega’s home state of Pará, but his aesthetic has more in common with ironic gender-bending Banda UÓ than old school cheeseballs like Banda Calypso. The subjects of his remixes range from high-brow targets like Bjork and Brazilian indie up-and-comer Lucas Santtana to mainstream pop fare a la Rihanna and Robyn.
But the over-arching theme on his Soundcloud page is tecno brega makeovers of gay pop culture touchstones, including songs by Grace Jones, George Michael, Kylie Minogue, and Dona Summer (specifically, the 1977 disco super-anthem “I Feel Free”). Take one look at his promo pic dressed up as a bloodstained native Amazonian throwing up gang signs and you get the full picture: an artist using tecno brega to glibly play with ideas of sex, race and place.
2. DANIEL PEIXOTO
A former model, a current gay icon, and a future Brazilian Madonna, it’s no wonder that Daniel Peixoto won our Artist of the Week Contest this past June. His sound self-described as “electro-brega-industrial-pop-punk-tropical,” takes his geographic location as his starting point, but jumps into the stratosphere. His debut album Shine is a tour of all the dance freakout that Brazil has to offer. But tecnobrega is close to his heart.
1. BANDA UO
Banda UO in 2012, ya heard? Lots of other people already have, so you better get into this starting now. The trio from Goiania of Davi, Mateus and Candy Mel have used the dancey, Casio tunes of tecnobrega as a raw material with which they are building the most cutting-edge pop we’re hearing out of Brazil.
True to the copyright-confounding roots of tecnobrega, every last one of their songs is a rendition of an international hit. But they span the genres, from the tween hip hop of Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair, ” which they spun into the raunchy distortion of “Shake de Amor,” to Two Door Cinema Club’s indie hit of the minute “Something Good Can Work.” For that cover, Banda UO took the tecno out of the brega, and produced a tear-jerking romantic ballad, gorgeous soap operatic music video included.
And these Brazilian MTV Music Award winners have more up their sleeve. Hyped by Diplo, and produced by baile funk redux-ers Bonde do Role, their upcoming debut album promises to be more of the same — meaning nothing like what we’ve ever heard before.
Featured Image: Jaloo, Courtesy of Jaloo.