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December 11, 2008

Rio Rocks Brooklyn at the Red Hot + Rio 2 Benefit Show

by John Oseid

Last week I witnessed a bunch of rambunctious Brazilians tear up Brooklyn. Nobody called the cops; it was a musical melée confined to BAM, downtown Brooklyn's great Beaux Arts theater-turned-progressive art house. By the middle of the Red Hot + Rio 2 show, beach balls were flying around the hall and musicians and fans alike were cramming the aisles. Fire codes were broken, for sure.

Red Hot + Rio 2: The Next Generation of Samba Soul lived up to its billing. New Yorkers were treated to a handful of young Brazilian artists they've had few chances to hear before. The show was a follow-up to the hugely successful Red, Hot + Rio, an acclaimed 1996 album and series of AIDS benefit performances built around Tom Jobim's bossa nova tunes. This year's crew performed mostly seventies soulful samba/funk/rock classics by Jorge Ben Jor and the late Tim Maia. Proceeds from the show go toward the New York-based BrazilFoundation, which works on health issues and community and cultural development in Brazil. Check out the site for how to make a contribution.

Daughter of bossa nova mastermind João Gilberto and the best known of the Red Hot artists, Bebel Gilberto dedicated the show to "songs of our heroes." Playing before a backdrop of trippy, hypnotic videos, a seventeen-member band with a killer horn section was backed by veteran drummer João Parahyba. Singers came out for two or three song sets, and collaborated at times.

The audience was taken with the charming banter of Curumin, a skinny Japanese-Brazilian samba-hop artist who bopped around the stage singing "Take It Easy My Brother Charles" and "Xica da Silva," a Ben Jor composition from a famous telenovela of the same name. Nouveau-hippie CéU has recently built herself quite a reputation in the States. After singing a few solo tunes, she was joined by Moreno Veloso, son of the legendary Caetano, on Tim Maia's sweet reggae/soul "Imunização Racional (Que Beleza)." But it was a scruffy guy named Otto who nearly stole the show. I had never heard of the Pernambuco-born percussionist-turned-singer, and in a hoodie and rumpled jeans, the bearded Otto looked to me like an anti-globalist who just got out of bed. By the time he was on to the classic Jorge Ben Jor composition "Taj Mahal," he was peeling off layers and running up and down aisles. All hands in the air, the house rocked to a very familiar refrain: Watch the video clip above of Jorge Ben Jor himself performing his song and you'll learn from where Rod Stewart "borrowed" "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy."

Considering that samba soul, like many great modern Brazilian music movements, has syncretic links to America, the finale was a real coup. The crowed turned around to the sounds of samba drums from the foyer and went to its feet as a dozen or so joyous teenagers drummed down the aisles and up the stage. The Brazilian stars paid their respects as well and then it was lights out. The group was called Harlem Samba. Who knew?

More music
* Curumin's new album Japan Pop Show is brilliant. I'm loving the songs "Compacto" and the spacy, funky "Caixa Preta."
* Here's a wonderful 1981 clip of Jorge Ben Jor and Tim Maia on stage. Maia sounds like he was groomed in Motown.
* Ben Jor wrote one of my favorite Brazilian songs ever; "Umbabarauma" is a paean to a soccer goalie and I first heard it on David Byrne's 1989 collection Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical. Here's a graphic art clip of the song.
* Here's more Ben Jor live on stage.

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