Sounds of Brazilian Blackness

Black Rio, Vol. 2: Original Samba Soul 1968-1981
Black Rio, Vol. 2: Original Samba Soul 1968-1981 (Strut Records STRUTO45CD, 2009)

Wah-wah guitars, synthesized string swells, funky bass lines, James Brown-styled grooves and lyrics asserting a message of Black Power are hardly the first things anyone would associate with the music of Brazil. Yet through what came to be known as the Black Rio movement, Brazil’s black population championed music that was loaded with revolutionary soul and funk (which the repressive regimes of the 1970s perceived as not being sufficiently Brazilian) while retaining enough of a samba feel to avoid completely pissing anyone off.

I don’t know if it’s because of my own ignorance or the Black Rio movement not being too very well known beyond Brazil’s borders, but all the artists on Black Rio 2 were entirely new to me. Despite that newness, the music has a familiar glow. Apart from those tracks with a more pronounced samba feel (Claudia’s “Salve, Rainha” and Super Som Lord’s “BR Samba” among them), a lot of this stuff wouldn’t have sounded out of place on American urban FM radio 30 to 40 years ago. Still, though it’s easy to imagine a hot little number like Cry Babies’ “It’s My Thing” filling a dance floor anywhere in the English-speaking world, there are, throughout the disc, amply recurring rhythmic and melodic reminders that these sounds are of Brazilian origin. And they’re going to set straight a lot of people (like me) who thought they were even close to having that country’s musical past all figured out.

A tip of the hat to U.K. Brazilian music expert DJ Cliffy, who compiled these revealing, subversively fun tracks for us all to enjoy.

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