the Brazilian singer,
Carlinhos Brown (Antonio Carlos Santos de Freitas) -- songwriter, bandleader, and percussionist -- has been the most important figure to emerge from Bahia's axé music scene. Brown mixes axé music with funk, embolada, bossa nova, and other styles in idiosyncratic and rhythmically rich tunes that he describes as "Afro-Brazilian popular music without prejudice. In my sound there's space for everything from Noel Rosa to Pintado do Bongô to Villa-Lobos."
Carlinhos was born in 1963 in Salvador and grew up in Candeal, an area in the Brotas neighborhood of Salvador, Bahia. His mother was an evangelical Protestant and his father practiced Candomblé. Brown grew up listening to a wide range of music. He favored Luiz Gonzaga, the Beatles, merengue, Tropicália, Jorge Ben (later known as Benjor), and the Jackson 5, and he also absorbed violeiros in the streets, candomblé music coming from a terreiro near his parents' house, and Gregorian chants echoing out of a Catholic monastery atop a nearby hill.
As a youth, Brown studied with a percussion master named Pintado do Bongô (Osvaldo Alves da Silva), who played with the group Baticum. Carlinhos performed in bars and at parties with Mestre Pintado and -- as he entered his teenage years --with the female vocal group Clara da Lua (White of the Moon) and the rock band Mar Revolto (Stormy Sea). Then came a tour of duty with trios elétricos and work as a studio musician. In the 1980s, he played percussion --claves, congas, agogô, pandeiro, timables, afoxê, and more -- on albums by Luiz Caldas, Moraes Moreira, Maria Bethânia, Caetano Veloso, and others.
Brown achieved his first radio hit with the song "Visão do Cíclope" (Cyclops Vision) co-written with and recorded by Luiz Caldas, who included the song on his Magia album. By the middle of the decade, covers of Carlinhos Brown's tunes were garnering prodigious amounts of radio play on Bahian and northeastern radio stations. He was a part of Caetano Veloso's band in the late 1980s, playing on both Caetano and Estrangeiro. On the latter album, Veloso sang Brown's "Meia-Lua Inteira" (Entire Half Moon), which was used as the theme song for a novela and was a big hit in Brazil. Carlinhos also toured with Djavan, João Gilberto, and João Bosco.
But after getting his foot in the door of the Brazilian recording industry, Brown decided to head back home to Candeal. "Because I had received so much, I had to do something in return," he said. Brown started a percussion school for children, and the most musically talented of his students eventually became the band Vai Quem Vem, which would record on several albums with Carlinhos. One of their first appearances was on "Carro Velho" (Old Car), on the album Os Grãos by the Paralamas do Sucesso.
In 1992, Brown gained his first major exposure as a recording artist. He appeared on Bahia Black: Ritual Beating System, the intriguing group album produced by Bill Laswell that mixed axé music with funk and jazz. The recording largely focused on Carlinhos, featuring five of his songs and teaming him with Olodum and U.S. jazz artists Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock (who had created the landmark Native Dancer album two decades earlier with Milton Nascimento).
Sérgio Mendes's Grammy-winning Brasileiro, released later that same year, also showcased Brown's talent and reached an even wider global audience. Carlinhos and Vai Quem Vem provided the rhythmic underpinnings of Brasileiro, an innovative fusion of Rio samba, Bahian axé music, funk, and MPB. Brown wrote and contributed lead vocals to five of the album's songs, which ranged stylistically across the mixture of baião and samba-reggae in "Magalenha," the ijexá rhythm and pop-jazzy chorus of "Barbaré," and the intertwining of samba-reggae and merengue in "Magano." Another interesting sonic adventure was the Bahian-style rap song "What Is This?" composed and sung by Vai Quem Vem's Carmen Alice, with hip-hop rhythms played on berimbau and surdos (more on the album: Brasileiro Liner Notes).
At this time, the always hyperactive Carlinhos was also in the midst of developing another musical entity -- Timbalada, a group that began with about thirty musicians and grew to include a few hundred. In 1993, Timbalada released their debut album Timbalada, co-produced by Carlinhos and Wesley Rangel. It included several Brown tunes, his arrangements, and waves of surging axé-music rhythms propelled by timbau drums (similar to the pagode tan-tan), surdos, and percussion.
Brown also started to collaborate with Marisa Monte, whose outstanding albums in the mid-1990s featured several of his songs. Monte's Cor de Rosa e Carvão (Rose And Charcoal) in 1994 included "Maria de Verdade" and "Segue o Seco" by Brown and "Na Estrada" written by Brown, Monte, and Nando Reis. A Great Noise, released two years later, included Brown's "Arrepio," "Magamalabares," and "Maraçá," as well as a live version of "Segue o Seco."
In 1996, Carlinhos released his first solo album, Alfagamabetizado, a singular effort that smoothly combines axé-music drumming, northeastern rhythms, 1970s-type funk, bossa nova, and jazz-fusion sonorities. Wally Badarou and Arto Lindsay produced Alfa, which was recorded in Salvador, Paris, and Rio. One can see the progression from Brown's earlier work with Timbalada and the Bahia Black collaboration, but overall Alfa is a distinctive effort that sounds quite unlike anything previously recorded in Bahia, or Brazil for that matter.
The dense rhythms in the Timbalada style shake the earth in tunes like "O Bode" and "Bog La Bag," but Alfa also contains soft ballads, acoustic guitar, cellos, violins, and strange ambient noises. In "Angel's Robot List," Alexandra Theodoropoulou ethereally recites the Greek alphabet while Kouider Berkane idly warms up on violin and dozens of surdos are dragged screeching across a floor. In "Pandeiro-deiro," Brown delivers embolada vocals (that sound like rap to North American ears) atop a driving beat and electric guitar. Brown is joined in "Quixabeira" by Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia, and Caetano Veloso, who add beautiful vocal harmonizing atop a public-domain samba from Bahia's Recôncavo region, performed by a legion of Candeal percussionists and flavored with Maeka Munan's fluid electric guitar. It is the only composition on the album not written by Brown. On Alfa, Carlinhos also handles lead vocals and arrangements and plays guitar and a wide variety of percusssion instruments. It is a remarkable work, with its excellent musicianship, dense yet subtle textures, and smooth melding of axé music and mellow ballads.
Carlinhos Brown has released three solo albums since Alfa. Omelete Man (1999) and Bahia Do Mundo: Mito E Verdade (2001), while not up to the level of Alfa, have many intriguing songs. A recent release is Carlito Marron (2003). The collaborative album Tribalistas (2002) with friends Marisa Monte and Arnaldo Antunes is smooth and compelling, unabashed pop, and a huge commercial success in Brazil.
Samba, Bossa Nova And The Popular Music Of Brazil (Temple University Press,
2nd edition, 1998).
Imagine Joni Mitchell joined forces with David Byrne and Outkasts' Andre 3000 and they all made a CD together. What do you get? A supergroup, for sure. And a real eclectic one. That's exactly what The Tribalistas are, an eclectic supergroup made of three of the current main forces in modern MPB-pop: reigning diva Marisa Monte, Bahia funkmeister Carlinhos Brown and avant-garde poet-rocker Arnaldo Antunes. The resulting CD reaped huge rewards - registering top sales and scooping most awards it had been nominated for - with its perky, playful stance. All three artists seem to be having loads of fun on simple tracks that beautifully integrate each member's qualities and characteristics. The poppish mega-hit "Já Sei Namorar" (watch for a chorus that bears more than a slight resemblance to Sly and The Family Stone's "Family Affair") and the manifesto "Tribalistas" ("The Tribalistas don't want to be right/ don't want to be sure/ have neither reason nor religion / don't get involved in gossip, doctrines or arguments") are great examples of how Arnaldo's wordplay, Marisa's classically trained voice and Carlinhos's up-to-the-minute pop sensibilities combine really well and form a very specific musical entity. An actual family affair is concocted for the lullaby "Anjo da Guarda", which features the voice of Dora Buarque de Hollanda - Brown's daughter and MPB giant Chico Buarque's granddaughter. --J. Emilio Rondeau