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Brazil Classics, Vol. 7: What's Happening In Pernambuco? - New Sounds of The Brazilian Northeast
Luaka Bop

Rating: 7.6/10 ?

January 25, 2007
For most people, world music must be taken at face value because, frankly, even music freaks sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the backstory of each country and its many musical subgenres and trends.

Not that this is something bad, but in the case of Luaka Bop's latest compilation, What's Happening In Pernambuco?: New Sounds of The Brazilian Northeast, relativity and trust of selection play just as big of roles as general enjoyment. In the case of David Bryne's ethno-curious label, past releases show that it can be trusted to represent a culture or style in which listeners might otherwise have no idea. A notable example was the deep quality and likeability of recent compilation World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love's a Real Thing-The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa. What's Happening has a similar, although more contemporary, feel.

On the Luaka Bop website and included within this album's artwork, excellent descriptive words and phrases are used, and shouldn't be wasted - hybrid, infectious, cosmopolitan, cutting edge, local, global, youth to celebrate, electronic roots music. Anyone who has taken an anthropology course or simply watched a PBS special on Brazil surely realizes that the country is extremely polarized between modern and traditional, North and South American cultures. Luaka Bop's website succinctly describes the compilations sounds as being a "pumping vein straight out of the Brazilian northeast city of Recife in the Northeast state of Pernambuco."

While I know nothing about Recife or Pernambuco - whether or not they are youth-oriented, crime-stricken, resort-laden, or whatnot - I, like many other music lovers, have a general idea for what "Brazilian" music usually sounds like. Styles like Tropicalia or Bossa Nova come to mind. Musicians such as Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Sergio Mendes are also always close at hand too. But What's Happening in Pernambuco? is just as removed from all these longstanding identities as Gen Y'ers are from their Baby Boomer p'rents. There are obvious similarities to an outsider's eye, but the inner workings are much different.

Early tracks from Eddie ("Pode Me Chamar") and Siba ("Vale Do Juca") are reminiscent of classic bossa nova of old - emphasized vocal harmonies, acoustic guitar clave rhythms, and subtle but profound percussive sounds. The one big difference that stands clear is how crisp the recordings and especially the drum kits of these two tracks sound.

With the album's third cut, the 'new sound' devide begins to emerge. During Otto's "Bob" a digibass sound sets the stage for lead singer (perhaps Otto) to rap his way through a few stanzas in a style that is almost Damian Marley-ish, in a Latin sort of way. When the live drum 'n' bass style drums kick in, it is clear that the old conventions of Brazilian music will have to make way for new blends of world sound. In "Cabidela" Mombojo brings hip-hop flavor (record scratches, hip-hop styled drum beat) and melds it with full organs and slow Gilberto-style crooning. Mundo Livre S/A is similar to The Brazilian Girls except with thin drum programming and a male on vocals.

Much of the time with What's Happening In Pernambuco?: New Sounds of The Brazilian Northeast, the new Brazilian sound finds old styles fitted with new effects and unconventional instruments, but still aimed at the same old Bossa Nova, Tropicalia blueprint. It is good to exercise new ideas, and here we find tradition just as strong and infectious as when it was first exposed to our ears.

Reviewed by Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other reviews by Josh Zanger



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