Note from BW of Brazil: I guess you could say this under-appreciated period in Brazilian Popular Music is one of my favorites (see here, here and here)! Not only did the 1970s provide some pretty good Brazilian flavored Soul and Funk, the era is also fascinating due to the politics behind the movement’s rise and eventual demise. The release of the Netflix original series The Get Down is the backdrop to today’s story as the rise of Hip Hop music and culture in mid to late 1970s New York would go on to have international impact as inner city black kids emerged out of an era that produced Soul, Funk, Civil Rights, Black Power and eventually the Disco craze. The struggle for black rights in the United States, from its demands during its inception (mid 1950s) to its disappointing fall by the mid to late 1970s provided an amazing soundtrack to the experience of a community seeking recognition of its humanity as well as full citizenship and access to the so-called ‘American Dream’.
Thousands of miles away, in South America’s largest country, another black community was inspired by and themselves in the struggle of their cousins north of the equator as they recognized similar patterns of oppression and second class citizenship in their own situation. The result, which started off as ‘Black Rio’, would eventually spread to other large cities of Brazil where Afro-Brazilians were learning express pride in a blackness that Brazil had taught them to deny and be ashamed of. Photos of the clothing, shoes, afros and especially music tell us that this period in Brazilian history deserves a Netflix series of its own! And while such an idea may be far-fetched (although a documentary on this period has been released), The Get Down inspired a number of old school and new school artists to come together and re-record a classic Funk joint that is remembered as sort of an anthem of a movement that wasn’t allowed to fully materialize. But the video that came out certainly makes any fan of 1970s Brazilian Black Music dream of the possibilities! It’s a true homage to the influence of black American Soul, Funk and Hip Hop consumed and interpreted with Brazil’s own flavor! Check out the video and story for yourselves and then check out a brief history of the rise and fall of the Brazilian Soul and Funk movement!
The Get Down: Netflix launches clip with the national rap singers
“In The Get Down, Ezekiel “Books” Figuero makes his own history while Hip Hop takes its first steps. Around here, we decided to unite the talents that have made and continue to make the history of black Brazilian music.” – Netflix Brasil
To celebrate the success of the original Netflix series The Get Down, the streaming on demand service released a clip with a reinterpretation of the classic Brazilian funk anthem “Mandamentos Black” (black commandments), the 1977 classic recorded by the “James Brown Brasileiro” (Brazilian James Brown) Gerson King Combo.
The old school funk singer recorded his classic along with several Brazilian old school and new school artists such as DJ Zegon, DJ Laudz, singer/actor Tony Tornado (another old school artist often compared to James Brown), rappers Rael, Karol Conka, Thaíde, DJ Hum, passinho dancer Lellêzinha and old school Hip Hop dancer Triunfo. Tropkillaz consisting of DJs André Laudz and Zé Gonzales were responsible for the production of the clip.
With direction and supervision of the Australian Baz Luhrmann, responsible for titles such as Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, the production is the most expensive ever made by the streaming service, with a budget estimated at 120 million dollars.
There are 12 episodes of The Get Down, and the first part of six chapters with an average duration of 60 minutes, debuted on August 12, with the rest projected for release on the platform in the first half of 2017.
Synopsis of The Get Down
The Get Down shows the incredible story of how a New York on the verge of bankruptcy spawned a new form of artistic expression. Set in 1977 New York, this musical drama talks about the rise of the Hip Hop scene and the last days of the disco era – all told according to the life of south Bronx kids armed with spray cans, dance steps and music rhythms that would change their lives and the world forever.
A curiosity about the series is that some real-life figures who were important names in the music scene of the time as DJ Grandmaster Flash, will participate in the series as characters and as producers. There will also be the rivalry between disco and funk clubs as one of the themes to be addressed in the series.
Cast of The Get Down
The cast consists of names like Shameik Moore, Justice Smith, Herizen Guardiola, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Skylan Brooks, Tremaine Brown Jr., Mamoudou Athie, Jimmy Smits and Giancarlo Esposito. Jaden Smith will make a cameo as the graffiti artist “Dizzee”. The duty of musical production and soundtrack of the series was taken on by legendary American rapper Nas.
Note from BW of Brazil: Without a true understanding of the history that led to the making of the video it wouldn’t be possible to understand its significance. In the same way that late 80s/early 90s American Hip Hop paid homage to its ‘godfathers’, so too do new school Brazilian artists who picked up the baton that was passed down from 1970s soul brasileiro (Brazilian Soul) artists and on to 80s/90s pioneers of Brazilian Hip Hop. Reading the story below only reminds us of what could have been had the movement been allowed fully develop. But this couldn’t be allowed to happen because, as we will see, Brazilian authorities feared having a full blown Revolução Negra (black revolution) on their hands. A shame but always remember that past events always lay the groundwork for the future, some of which we are seeing today in a growing militancy among Afro-Brazilians. So let’s take a look at how it all went down and why it had to be stopped.
Black Rio: Accused of being ‘black subversives’, the movement was unarmed and dangerous
By Luciano Marsiglia and Pedro Schprejer
A decade before funk carioca (Rio-based funk) began to crawl, Soul invaded clubs from the city suburbs. It was the time of the sound teams, blacks and the cocotas.
“There was the baile black (black dance) and the dance of the crowd that was into Rock, known as the cocotas. The cocotas went to the Rock dances of the suburbs, had waxed hair, a sort of surfer look, wore pants with their ass cracks showing. Their thing was just fun. But the black dance was more serious, more social, everyone was well dressed, produced. It was a kind of a ritual, there was rehearsed choreography, etc.,” recalls DJ Marlboro. “We went to the dance to listen to music that wasn’t heard anywhere. Some of them, when they were played, the audience roared. There was no internet, it was very difficult to get an imported album. Some songs were gems. I saw a guy trade a Volkswagen Beetle for an imported 45 – I’m not kidding,” he concludes.
The suburbs of Rio heated up to the balanço (swing) of música negra (black music) in 1977. The genre that blended Soul music with Samba earned an unprecedented projection, overflowed and imported ideas: the artists recorded their songs, while the adepts in general saw themselves in the struggle for civil rights in the United States to combat racial prejudice. The scramble of record companies, seeking their share of the black trend, turned black music into a gun about to fire.
Gerson King Combo, circa 1970s
It was in this victorious atmosphere where Gérson King Combo waited in the Magnatas club dressing room for the beginning of what promised to be “the launch of the Black Rio movement.”
The year before, he had led about 30 thousand people to Portelão to dance the music of his album Volume I. As usual, he arrived in his Dodge Dart with velvet seats and mesmerized the audience with an incendiary performance that included musicians from the funk band União Black and a unique assistant for putting on and taking off his “king” cape. This time, however, the assistant wouldn’t work.
“Everything was well organized, everyone seemed united in that black ideal, from the clothing to the positioning of confrontation,” recalls singer/musician Zé Rodrix, who was part of the show. “But four Federal Police police vans arrived and put everyone out with truculence. I didn’t stay to see the end…” The repression of Gerson’s show was not an isolated incident. The organs of repression were concerned about the possible political direction of the movimento black (black movement). In an interview with the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper in December 2001, the executive of Philips Records, André Midani, confirmed the fear of the engagement of black artists. “The military thought, rightly, that if one day the favela (slum neighborhoods) was to politicize itself, militarize itself, there would be social revolution in this country. I don’t know who invented this, but if once there was a problem, it was when someone said I was receiving money from the American black movement to command subversion in the favelas. Then I went through a few bad days,” remembers Phillips record executive André Midani.
The incorporation of black artists into the festivals at the beginning of the decade, had been troubling. And the one who truly experienced bad days was musician Erlon Chaves, who took the stage to play the song “Eu Também Quero Mocotó” along with his band, Banda Veneno, at the FIC (Festival Internacional da Canção /International Song Festival) in 1970. As part of the performance, two blonde girls appeared on stage and the three kissed each other on the mouth. It was enough for Chaves to be arrested and tortured by the DOPS (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social/Department of Political and Social Order).
Interestingly, the same FIC music festival also saw Tony Tornado perform the song “BR-3”. Chaves would even do the arrangements for Ela (1971), the album by popular singer Elis Regina containing the song “Black Is Beautiful”, but he would never again exhibit the same professional confidence. Tornado was also the target of police investigations that feared that he would disseminate a movement similar to the Black Panthers – also weighing in was his dating white actress Arlete Salles.
Gerson King Combo, presented as the “leader of the black movement”, was taken from Santos Dumont Airport to the headquarters of the Federal Police in Praça Mauá. Back from a show in Recife, he had to testify for three hours.
“The movement was never political. I was a paratrooper; I had no notion of the beatings that political prisoners were taking. We wanted to have fun and increase the self-esteem of blacks. In concerts, I recited mandamentos black (black commandments): dance, greet, talk, love, enjoy,” he recalled.
Carlos Dafé, Hyldon
The explosion of the Carioca Soul in the 70s brought together names such as Tim Maia, Tony Tornado, Gerson, Cassiano, Carlos Dafé, Banda Black Rio and many others. The musicians were not the only protagonists of the scene; even more important for the public were sound teams such as Soul Grand Prix, Black Power and the newly created Furacão 2000. There were more than 400 sound teams, which promoted dances frequented by countless young people.
Soulmen Cassiano and Tim Maia
The Bailes da Pesada promoted by radio host DJ Big Boy along with Ademir Lemos on Sundays at Canecão (an indoor arena located in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro), are considered the starting point of the black parties in Rio. Despite being held in the south zone, the dances would attract young people from across the city to dance to the sound of James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power and other names in black music that shared the DJ playlist with Rock and Pop hits. The Sunday best of Canecão, however, would not last long. The owners of the house decided to interrupt them to put on a season of (Brazilian Pop/Rock legend) Roberto Carlos concerts.
Big Boy and Lemos began to promote their party in several clubs in Rio de Janeiro suburbs, always taking a legion of faithful followers. This itinerant logistic was adopted by other teams that emerged in the period. “In general, there wasn’t this thing of attending a specific dance. We kept an eye on the schedule. Wherever our favorite teams were, we would go together,” recalls Sir Dema, organizer/DJ of Soul Baby Soul and Clube do Soul parties and one of the top names in the recent resumption of black music in southeastern cities.
In the 70s, Soul was a novelty here and most records were still imported and difficult to access. As stated by Hermano Vianna in his classic study O Baile Funk Carioca: Festas e Estilos de Vida Metropolitanos (The Carioca Baile Funk: Metropolitan Parties and Life Styles), many of the successes of what was called Soul by Rio DJs actually already belonged to a new style that emerged in the US in the 70s: funk, whose precursor was James Brown.
Seeing the potential of the style, the media began to woo some artists. Globo TV contemplated releasing a program with Tim Maia, Tony Tornado and Gerson King Combo as hosts. Record companies began to invest heavily, launching several artists who were the wave of the movement, especially Banda Black Rio, formed by experienced musicians. The band would go on to play with (MPB icon) Caetano Veloso in his Bicho show and released three official albums, among them the historical Maria Fumaça, even today considered one of the best Brazilian albums of instrumental music.
In 1974, at the release of the album by the Soul Grand Prix team by WEA (label created in Brazil by Midani), a police command raided the Guadalupe Country Club, in Rio de Janeiro. However, the police crackdown had been part of the reality of our funk soul brothers forever. Cabelo black power (afros) and bags of albums were gone through in the search for drugs when they went to the Clube Renascença (Renaissance Club) and Canecão where Bailes de Pesada (dances) put on by Lemos and Big Boy.
União Black – “A Vida”
But then there was no formalized concern of the military. Música negra until the mid-70s went from the swing of singer/musician Bebeto to the easy listening of organist Ed Lincoln, going through Orlandivo, Franco (the latter three, white musicians) and of course, the Samba-Rock of Jorge Ben. Further awareness of the Rio de Janeiro suburbs is what began to bother the enforcement agencies.
Samba-Rock artists Bebeto and Jorge Ben
Primavera black (black spring)
Threat or not, black music promised to be the soundtrack of the end of the ’70s. The dances spread through Rio de Janeiro to the point of the Jornal do Brasil newspaper creating the column “Black Rio”. In São Paulo, Chic Show had begun to organize the parties that would be the embryo of Hip Hip in Palmeiras. The recording industry tried to affiliate itself to the segment, after all this also involved consumption, which could be multiplied if the movement were regionalized in Black São Paulo, Salvador and Belo Horizonte, three capital cities with large black populations….“I believe that this Black Rio is really an extraordinary market!” affirmed Midani at the time.
WEA managed to give shape to their black band after hiring Soul Grand Prix as a producer. First came the group Senzala, with former members of the band Abolição – including sax player Oberdan Magalhães. Then, Banda Black Rio was born, everything that label directors wanted. The 1977 Banda Black Rio debut album Maria Fumaça included arrangements of “Na Baixa do Sapateiro” by composer Ary Barroso and “Baião” by Forro legend Luiz Gonzaga to bring out the green-and-yellow flavor. The band maintained the formula as the musicians on keyboardist/singer Carlos Dafé’s Venha Matar Saudades LP in 1978.
Phonogram had two interpreters of Soul: Tim Maia and Cassiano. Since 1968, Tim had diffused the genre. After the mystical journey of his Racional phase (1), he returned to the secular market. The sound of those renegade albums had been extremely influential in the passage of Soul music to Funk.
Cassiano favored softness in his arrangements, achieving success with the hit “Primavera”. In 1976, he released the Cuban Soul LP and the classic “A Lua e Eu”. Polydor Records had Gérson King Combo and the band União Black, whose album came out in 1977.
CBS came with Robson Jorge, Rosa Maria and Alma Brasileira, formed by musicians of the Mocidade Independente of Padre Miguel. Polydor, in turn, entered the game with singer Hyldon, who earned a following after the release of Na Rua, na Chuva, na Fazenda in 1974 and Continental Records had Don Mita.
The end of the decade also saw “black” hits with Miguel de Deus’s “Black Soul Brothers”, as well as “Nesse Inverno” and “Pensando Nela”, by Tony Bizarro and Don Beto, respectively, both white singers. Beto’s song appeared in the Dona Xepa novela (soap opera) of the time.
Unlike the Tropicália music movement, black artists became subversives by showing pride in their culture and color. They didn’t plan, necessarily, to be linked to armed struggle or, despite the importation of values, the Black Panthers. Gérson said that “at the time of the dictatorship he was a radical without consciousness.” A paratrooper, he saw popular musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil arrested in Realengo (Rio de Janeiro) in 1968, but as he put it, “a soldier’s head is made to obey.”
Banda Black Rio – “Expresso Madureira” (1978)
The musicality was the focal point of that generation and foreign influence emerged as an option to MPB (Brazilian Popular Music), which offered no channels to express themselves. As Ana Maria Bahiana wrote in Jornal da Música, blacks “believed that the Samba had capitulated to whites and was a tourist thing.”
Soul Grand Prix
The figure that perhaps best embodied Brazilian black power was the legendary Dom Filó, creator of the Soul Grand Prix team who identified more strongly with the black power movement, although the references – bell-bottom pants, colorful clothes, afros, etc. – were more aesthetic than political. “Dom Filó was a very politicized and charismatic guy. At that time, 80% of blacks didn’t have any sort of political opinion. When they saw that band of negão (big, black men) dancing together with those clothes and that hair, the military realized that if a leader was born there in the middle it would be some sh*t… for the government. That’s when they began to persecute blacks,” explains Marlboro.
Hyldon – “Rio de Janeiro”
Many artists and owners of teams ended up in DOPS and Black Rio became subversive. “The persecution took away the strength of the movement. The best musical moment of humanity is the música negra of the late 60s to early 80’s,” says DJ Marlboro. “It’s what not even futebol of the Pelé and Garrincha era was. Unfortunately, there was an interruption in the development of música black brasileira (Brazilian black music), because of the dictatorship. But we had Tim Maia and many other amazing talents.”
The Rock dances continued happening the whole time. The cocotas didn’t threaten national security like the Soul guys did.
Tim Maia – “O Caminho do Bem”
Anyway, the crackdown had had a neutralizing effect. “Everyone fell, the black proposal became uncharacteristic and consciousness was lost,” says Zé Rodrix. Already in 1978, much had changed. Tim Maia chose to dive into the clubs with “Sossego” (a suggestive title). Jorge Ben lurched into a more danceable sound and less linked to the poetry of the suburbs on his album A Banda do Zé Pretinho. Don Beto sought Lincoln Olivetti to release Nossa Imaginação disconnected from the movement.
Robson Jorge and Lincoln Olivetti – “Aleluia”
Gérson, after the 1978 follow up Volume II, spent years in limbo before being resuscitated by the Hip Hop generation. His discourse didn’t resist the new rules of the market that, even with the end of AI-5 (2), redirected artists to Disco music, which was considered a genre of easy manipulation and greater sales potential.
It was necessary to follow the “Mandamentos Black”, as the Gerson King Combo 1977 hit said. In addition to music and albums, a whole ideology of black pride and racial consciousness exalted by many of the Soul icons began to arrive in Brazil. In the suburbs of big cities, the identification of young people was almost instantaneous. As noted by political scientist Renato Ortiz, differently from Samba, which became a symbol of Brasil mestiço (mixed race Brazil), many saw Soul as a music made by blacks for blacks.
Born in the south of the United States, the style seemed to reflect the daily life and feelings of many young Brazilians. “When we were 15, they tried to impose the Samba. But Soul freed us from being obliged to following that path. I realized that being a low-income youth didn’t force me to be a peon at Carnival. Soul was liberation from that tradition,” said Dema.
The 1976 Gerson King Combo show in 1976 at the Portelão was to attract 30,000 people and would have been a special night, a celebration of the strength of the movement that had conquered the suburbs and Rio’s south zone of Rio, but police arrived with all truculence, expelling the public, and the Combo concert had to be canceled.
Dancing Days in the Disco Era
1977 film Saturday Night Fever was released as Os Embalos de Sábado à Noite
In the late 70s, a new, even more danceable rhythm, landed hard on the city: it was the beginning of the Disco era. Quickly, the Rock dances adhered to embalos de sábado à noite (Saturday Night Fever) and they started playing hits from the Bee Gees, the Brazilian all-female Disco group the Frenéticas and others. The soul dances still resisted for a while, but blacks also ended up jumping on Disco’s bandwagon – in the United States, several big names in black music has long flirted with the new rhythm in their songs. In 1978, the Tim Maia himself experimented with the new beat on his Tim Maia Disco Club album.
Who knew that the Disco wave and the repression of Soul would eventually approach the cocotas and blacks, mixing everything in the genesis of the scene that would give rise to funk carioca in the late 70s? At least this is the interpretation that Malboro gives the history of the genre that became the biggest representative: “If before there were 300 soul dances and 200 cocotas, at that time they turned into 500 bailes funk (funk dances)! This occurred when Disco blackened, or when black discofied,” concludes DJ.
With the fade of the Black Soul era, in later years, sound teams sought out the sounds of Miami Bass for the seeds of funk carioca, the new school, Rio-based sound. The momentum and the original attitude faded. The (thinking) head of the movement fell asleep and, from the advent of disco, black music directed focus to the hips to “dance well, dance badly, dance non-stop.”
The fascinating story of the Black Rio movement is being documented and for release, in the film Guerapá! (Get up-a, reference to the song Sex Machine, by James Brown) by Mauricio Leal. The director interviewed a number of important figures of the 1970’s Soul scene, such as Funky Santos, Peixinho, PC Capoeira and Francisco Black, among others. In addition, the film will also show present day Soul dances in the Rio suburb, heirs of the “black” tradition. “The bailes are not as full as they used to be, but they’re pretty exciting. Part of the crowd that go there lived in that era and go to meet each other. Everyone knows each other, it’s a kind of secret society of Soul,” says Mauricio.
Check out the lyrics of the classic “Mandamentos Black” below:
“Mandamentos Black” (Black Commandments), Gerson King Combo (1977)
Assume your mind, brother!
And come to a powerful conclusion that blacks don’t want to offend anyone, brother!
What we want is to dance! Dance, dance and enjoy the sound.
I don’t know if I’m making myself clear.
The right thing is to follow the black commandments, which are, baby:
Dance like a black dances!
Love like a black loves!
Walk like a black walks!
Always use the black greeting!
Talk like a black talks!
And I love you, brother !!
Live always in the black wave!
Be proud of being black!
Enjoy the love of another black!
Know, know that the color white, brother is the color of the flag of peace, of purity
And these are the starting points for every good thing, brother!
Divine reason for which I love you too, brother!
I love you brother!!
And I love you brother!!!
- Tim Maia Racional, Volumes 1 and 2 are the fifth studio album by Tim Maia. Released in 1975 by the Seroma label (owned by Tim himself), Racional was marked by the lyrics of devotion to the Cultura Racional (Rational Culture) – a religious-philosophical sect of which Tim had been involved in at the time – and by the sound that made references to the names of American Soul and Funk Such as Barry White, Marvin Gaye and George Clinton.
The album was reissued in CD format in 2006 by Trama Records. In spite of Tim Maia’s dislike of the album and the harsh criticism he received at the time of its release, Racional is regarded as one of the best moments of his career, with remaining original albums being items of high value. The American magazine Rolling Stone, in its list of the 100 greatest discs of Brazilian music, listed the album in 17th position. The re-release of the disc divided opinions with singer-songwriter Hyldon, a former partner of Tim Maia, believing that the re-release is a disrespect to his friend’s memory, since the album was a failure and reneged by the artist himself. Source
2. The Ato Institucional Número Cinco – AI-5 (in English, Institutional Act Number Five) was the fifth of seventeen major decrees issued by the military dictatorship in the years following the 1964 coup d’état in Brazil. Institutional Acts were the highest form of legislation during the military regime, given that, issued on behalf of the “Supreme Command of the Revolution” (the regime’s leadership) they overruled even the Nation’s Constitution, and were enforced without the possibility of judicial review. Source