Cool things from Brazil that aren't the Olympics

· Thursday August 18, 2016

With so much spotlight on the Olympics in Rio and the controversy surrounding it (see: displacement of long standing communities, massive spending without any benefit to the lower social class, the usual Olympics stuff) I thought it would be sweet to put a list of Brazilian things together that I think deserve some more attention. It’s not just Havaianas, Sting in the Amazon and G strings.

Baile Funk

Unless you’ve been living under a rocka as they are known in Brazil, you’ve probably heard about Baile funk, (of Funk Carioca) the hyped, tech sound that’s been on blast from Rio since the 80s. A few artists from the new wave of Carioca funk to start out with if you have time: MC Bin Laden (yep, that’s his name), Diamond, and MC Sofia, a 12 year old, who’s clip for ‘Menina Pretinha’, a super catchy song about (from what I can ascertain) being black, curly haired and proud, is full of super cute kids.

If you want some history on the movement there’s a good doco here or you could listen to the compilation called ‘Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats’, and there’s a good article here on The Fader about Diplo’s first trip to Rio in 2004 who went on to champion and in some people’s opinions (mine) appropriate the sound.


Alex Atala

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Alex Atala, and I don’t like to use this term lightly, is a DUDE. The 48 year old chef is the owner of D.O.M, a fancy as fuck fine dining restaurant in São Paulo. He was featured in the second series of Chef’s Table, and starts the episode talking about tripping on acid and discovering the meaning of life. Besides running one of the best restaurants in the world, Atala is also a founder of ATA, an institute that is trying to redefine the relationship that people have with the food chain, pushing for more respect for the indigenous ingredients (and communities) of the Amazon and biodiversity.

Tropicalia

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No dummies, not the Beck song (though it is a tune) but the movement Tropicalismo as it was/is known in Brazil; the all encompassing arts movement that emerged in response and retaliation to the military rule and oppressive atmosphere of 60s Brazil, the movement was politicised, the music was supremely weird and psychedelic, but could be funky as hell one minute and beautiful the next. Its footprint is more far reaching than you might know, influencing everyone from Madlib to Bowie. Start off by listening to the Soul Jazz compilations Tropicalia and Ou Panis et Circenis here

Kite Fighting

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Ok, so they didn’t invent it, but it’s a big thing in Rio. Kites are cheap, and people don’t have much money in the Favelas, so kite fights are a pass time that even the Funkeros (Baile funk MCs ) get into during the daylight hours. They make simple string kites and then lace the string with crushed up fluorescent light bulbs and wax so they can slice through their opponent’s lines rather than getting tangled. Watch a nice, short doco on the sport made by Guilherme Tensol for Victory Journal here

Coffee

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Depending on which nerds you believe (I say this as I’m referencing a book from my shelf called Uncommon Grounds, The History of Coffee and How It Changed The World), coffee was brought to Brazil by either a Belgian monk or by a Portuguese dude called Palheta. Whilst they are one of the world’s biggest exporters of coffee, a lot of it is poorly processed which leads to less clean, delicious flavours and a lot of it will end up in instant or bad supermarket coffee. The good news is that there is a new crop (like what I did there) of farmers and producers that are looking to increase quality and tastiness, and we are starting to see some of the better roasters offer Brazilian single origins. Reuben Hills
had a delicious single origin called Serra Farm, from Minas Gerais in South Eastern Brazil, that they were roasting last season and should have again soon.

The Cuica

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The Brazilian instrument that sounds like a monkey yelling and a bunch of dogs barking is one of the main sounds of Samba and Carnival. You’d know its sound even if you didn’t know what it’s called. Although I can’t sit down and listen to someone playing one of these (I’ve tried, don’t ask why) it is undeniably a super weird and cool sound. The drum moved from a traditional percussion instrument to a a feature in of lots of jazz and pop stuff in the 70s and 80s, James Brown even put one to use on the tune ‘Nature’. Luckily for you, if you want to listen to two hours of Cuica-laced jams I found a playlist on Spotify by a bloke called Joe Gatto called ‘Cool Cuicas’