Victor Davies: Sound Of The Samba

From Victor Davies (Compost, 2001)

Curumin: Sambito

From JapanPopShow (Quannum, 2008)

A few years ago I came across this lovely track by Victor Davies called “Sound Of The Samba” from his self-titled album.. Immediately I was taken away with lovely acoustic instrumentation and mellow vocals. As the track progressed I was transported to a summer block party in Rio de Janeiro with jittery drums and jaunty horns. Since then I have been hooked on samba. You just can’t help but feel good and dance… even if other people ARE watching. It’s musical alcohol; inhibitions just disappear.

Quannum’s upcoming release of Curumin’s sophomore effort, “JapanPopShow,” combines the feel good samba along with touches of afrobeat, hip hop, and even reggae. Curumin not only sings in both English and Portuguese (Brazil’s official language) on the album but also handles most of the instrumentation. Labelmates Blackalicious and Lateef The Truth Speaker drop by on “Kyoto,” with Chief Xcel handling the production while Gift Of Gab and Lateef drop their 16 bars. “Caixa Preta” continues with the hip hop beats as the intro drums sound like Neptunes production.

“Sambito” has a very bouncy feel to it. Accompanied by San Francisco skateboard legend Tommy Guerrero on guitar, the song lyrically references the joy of playing along to the music with friends. My personal favorite track on the album is the seductive love ballad “Misterio Stereo.” With its lovely cavaquinho, a small four-stringed guitar, and hypnotic background instrumentation, it’s one of those songs that just sounds sexy even if you can’t understand the Portuguese that Curumin lulls.

Recently I had a chance to talk to Curumin about his influences, his upcoming appearance at the Brooklyn Music Academy, and what samba means to Brazil:

What does samba music mean for you and your country?

Samba it’s a genre of music that I love, as many others. Of course that is genuine Brazilian music, so I understand very well what it expresses, the soul in it. But you know that, as a paulista, and without music lover parents, I grew up listening to pop music on the radio. Just when I was about 12 or 13 years old, my brother showed me Stevie Wonder and then I fell in love with the afro-American music. And just after that I discovered the afro-Brazilian music. Today I listen to a lot samba. To my country samba it’s everything. It’s the Brazilian soul. It’s most important genre of popular Brazilian music. Samba and Baião.

Name your top 5 Brazilian music influences and speak just a short bit on why they have influenced you.

Oh no! This a hard question in these mp3 days! Because I have about 5000 songs walking with me everyday, anytime, and I lose that sense of top 5 or top 10, whatever. And the relation with that idea of influences changes too. I get more influenced by an album than a song. Can I tell you about 5 great albums that I’ve heard a lot in the last week? Check it out:

– artist: Clementina de Jesus

– album: Vai, Clementina, Vai

Clementina is the real samba singer for me. And in this album she sings deep and strong. The band is very simple, almost just percussion and a trombone. Roots.

– band: Cidadão Instigado

– album: Metodo tufo de experiencias

With Fernando Catatau ahead, the band released this excellent album in 2005. Very progressive, creative and provocative. The love songs are killer!

– artist: Buguinha

– album: Vitrola Adubada

Fresh, and one of the best releases of the year here in Brazil. Buguinha, actually, is a great sound engineer, and made this album in original dub style. Dope.

– artist: Iara Rennó

– album: Macunaima

Based in the book Macunaima, by Mario de Andrade, the album mixes beautiful melodies and roots percussion lines.

– artist: Artur Verocai

– album: Artur Verocai

I discovered this album from a reissue by the Ubiquity label. It’s almost impossible to find the original one here in Brazil. The album has this Minas Geras (a state in Brasil, same of Milton Nascimento) flavor. The arrangements are amazing!

There is such a diverse sound on JapanPopShow, even more so than on your debut album. Expand on how you are able to blend the rhythms of reggae, afrobeat, funk, hip hop, and samba and still have it sound so cohesive.

As I said, mp3s have changed my way of listening to music. I mean, I am used to hearing all the rhythms you’ve said walking to work, taking a bus to the cinema, getting my car to travel, etc. I’m the shuffle guy!

And growing up in São Paulo, I always heard different types of music all the time. I’m not a specialist in any kind of style. I just like, more than the others, the afro-American music (remembering that Brasil, Cuba, Jamaica, Colombia, Uruguai, Mexico are all a part of America too). For me, there’s no frontiers between reggae, funk, samba, salsa, afrobeat, candombe, soul, hip-hop.

Describe how the collaboration came about with Gift Of Gab and Chief Xcel of Blackalicious. I know you met while they were touring Brazil. Is that how you came to Quannum initially?

Blackalicious came to play here in 2004, I guess, and my co-producer, Gustavo Lenza, was their sound engineer. He gave a copy of “Achados e Perdidos” to the guys and they liked it and wanted to put it out.

In 2005, I guess, they released the album “The Craft” and ask me to make a riddim of a song from the album, and I made “Kyoto.”

We started to play that song with a different beat in the shows and we put it in the new album, JapanPopShow. It was very natural to call Blackalicious to guest in the new version.

Who is on your shortlist to work with on future projects?

Buguinha, the guy I recommended in the top 5 influences question; Tommy Guerrero, that is already a partner in some songs, but now we want to make a record together; the guys from Lifesavas; Kamau, a great rapper here in São Paulo…

Wow! It’s hard to make a shortlist!

You’re slated to perform in December at Red Hot + Rio 2 in Brooklyn. What are you looking forward to the most about that show?

I don’t know. They have asked me to sing two songs and for me it’s hard because I am not a crooner or an entertainer. I always get myself thinking “oh my god! What am I gonna do without a drum!? Where do I go if I can walk trough the stage?” Ha!

Anyway, will be great be with Kassim, João Paraiba, Money Mark, Domenico, Moreno, Ceu, making some music.

What does it mean to you for the Brooklyn Academy Of Music to sponsor the Red Hot + Rio event and put you as one of the artists at the forefront of today’s Brazilian music scene?

Oh! I must show that to my parents, to convince that I’m working; that I’m not a tramp, chilling out and partying everyday! Hahaha!

But there’s so much good music being made down here, that it’s hard to put someone in the forefront. At the same time, it’s always good to feel this good reception.

JapanPopShow is being released digitally on October 7, although you can buy it a week earlier on iTunes and receive an exclusive bonus track, while those who prefer something more tangible won’t see it on shelves until November 4. Regardless of what the calendar says, summer doesn’t have to be over. So crack open the windows, grab a Xingu, and jam along with Curumin and friends at your own neighborhood block party.


O’Donel Levy : I Believe In Miracles
taken from the album
Windows on Groove Merchant (1976)

King Harvest : Take It Easy
taken from the album
Dancing In The Moonlight on Perception (1973)

Som Tres : Take It Easy My Brother Charles
taken from their self-titled album on Odeon (1969)

Nilsson : Coconut
taken from the album
Nilsson Schmilsson on RCA (1971)

Van Morrison : It’s All Right
taken from the album
Bang Masters on Epic (1991)
originally recorded for the Bang label in 1967

Today I pulled together a seemingly random bag of tunes that share a certain slinky slowness- the noggin bopping tempo- which fits perfectly to an early Autumn blue sky day with nothing to do but laundry.

I have a few other LPs by O’Donel and I can always count on him for some solid jazz-funk fusion goodness, but when this slow bounce scat-fest came on I too was reminded about the realness of miracles. Keep in mind- O’Donel is on guitar while vocalist Aleta Green is vocalizing the EXACT same line! There’s plenty of other good funky moments on the record, but this track is what I’m needing today.

King Harvest is a group I knew nothing about until now. I picked up the record because I usually like the soul music I find on the Perception label. Definitely not The Fatback Band, this funky-country-soul song still won me over instantly.

This Som Tres record was an easy pick to follow up with, and I’m surprised we haven’t posted it here in the Crate before. Such a classic! And when your name happens to be Charlie, the song feels that much more like it was written specifically for you. I’ve heard a handful of other Brazilian versions of this song- written by Jorge Ben I believe- but this Som Tres take on it has got to be the most true embodiment of the song’s message. Check the rest of the record at Loronix.

Do we ever need an excuse to drop a lil Nilsson into our set? Whether or not this song has been played 2 bazillion times does not seem to affect my love for it. And with the new track by Tyga getting spins in the club and on MTV, I wanted to return to the version that made me realize Bobby McFerrin wasn’t the first vocalist to get crazy nice with the vocal instrumentation and tropical-coco-butter harmonizing. I can also relate to the way the man feels on the cover of this one- sometimes putting on an entire outfit is just too much work, that’s why we have bathrobes.

Last but certainly not least, a song of pure, unbridled catharsis from an album that I can’t seem to take off repeat. There’s a whole story behind the recordings found on this CD (which were never collectively released at once until 1991!), but there’s also the tale of a much younger me, listening to this record by default every other weekend when I stayed at my Dad’s house and came up with another thousand ways to use a stick as a toy. Is Van the most soulful white man ever? Until I’m shown a better example (Bobby Caldwell comes close) he will hold the title.


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Grupo Fantasma : Se Te Mira
taken from the album
Sonidos Gold on Aire Sol (2008)

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 : Fire Dance
taken from
their self-titled album on Disorient (2008)

Potato & Totico : Dilo Como Ye (Antibalas Remix)
taken from the album
Verve Remixed on Verve (2008)

MRR-ADM : B1 Untitled
taken from their
Untitled 10″ EP released without a label (2008)

Karl Hector & The Malcouns : Toure Samar
taken from the album
Sahara Swing on Stones Throw (2008)

Jackson Conti : Sao Paulo Nights
taken from the album
Sujinho on Mochilla (2008)

Chicha Libre : Sonido Amazonico
taken from the album
Sonido Amazonico! on Barbes (2008)

Damn I was missing this place! After moving I was without internet for a full two and a half weeks (which felt like a solid month to a web-junky like myself) and I’ve been itching to put together a post. I have tons of new records and a beautiful new studio/music library to listen in, but no time! This is so far from the summers of yesteryear when the solstice meant “school’s out” followed by three months of blissful skateboard meanderings and rope swings that launched into cool lakes. But I can’t complain too much since my busy-ness is pretty much all music related. Even now, I know I can’t write enough to do this music justice, but I wanted to at least begin to get back on track. So hear this little offering of recent releases that have been filling my ears the past few weeks. I promise to post more very soon and get back to a regular schedule now that I’m reconnected.

One sentence about each song/record:
This Grupo Fantasma record keeps the funky salsa & cumbia kicking with guests like Maceo Parker and Larry Harlow (who plays keys on “Se Te Mira”)- raw, organic, live sounding production makes you feel like the band actually squeezed inside your speakers somehow. Fela’s youngest son, Seun Kuti, brings his dad’s band (minus Tony Allen) back into the spotlight with a record of high energy, uptempo afrobeat that sounds like three Fela albums from the early 70’s rolled into one- catch the live show if you can. Staying on the afrobeat tip, NY’s own Antibalas deliver this solid remix of a rootsy latin classic- check out Chico Mann’s electro re-work of the same song which will hopefully be released soon! MRR-ADM is pretty mysterious to me, but I know it features Malcolm Catto on drums and that it was featured already on another blog that I like. Karl Hector & The Malcouns is the latest work from my favorite crew of funk revivalists Poets Of Rhythm (at least some of the members are involved)- new ethio-afro-funk-soul for fans of Budos Band and the like which has also already been given shine from another blog I like. Jackson Conti is the collab between the prolific blunted-beat maestro Madlib and legendary Brazilian drummer Mamao (of Azymuth glory)- smooth head nod niceness. And finally, Chicha Libre pay homage to the psychedelic cumbia scene of late 60’s Peru with a record that simmers like a bug on a cactus under mid-day desert sun.

Be back soon!

The Original Gumbo Funk

Bob Azzam: Rain, Rain, Go Away, Berimbau and The Last Time
Taken from the album New Sounds on Columbia (1968)

Query: Where in pop music does a bespectacled Lebanese-born Egyptian-Jew who, on a single album, records covers of Alan Toussaint, The Rolling Stones and classic Brazilian standards fit in… Is there a home on the charts for a guy who sings in six languages, borrowing sonic textures from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu and everything in between?

Answer: Yeah. He’s got a home alright. And I’ll tell you exactly where he fits in: right at the damn top.

By the time Bob Azzam recorded these songs, he was already a household name. Kids across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia Minor had been hip to the avuncular Azzam for nearly a decade. He had crashed the musical scene in the late 50’s with his sincerely off-beat hit “Mustapha”–sung in French, Arabic and Italian–about meeting a girl in an Egyptian night club. At one point in the course of that song he claims (in Italian) to adore her like “salsa pommodore” (tomato sauce), which to the fledgling Azzam-o-phile may sound wierd. But considering that other of his hits include a song called “Fais-mois du couscous, cheri”, which translates to “Make Me Couscous, Darling”, the sauce simile might seem so bizarre.

(Imagine Justin Timberlake comparing his broken love with Britney to a crumbled Pop Tart [Ouch. No pun intended.] Damn. Music done changed.)

Azzam would spent most of his adult years living in and touring around Europe preaching his pan-global gospel to legions of multi-ethnic diaspora, European-minded Europeans, and generally curious passers-by. And, to my mind, he must have left his mark on them all: music for the masses; something for everyone.

Anyhow… These selections come from a superb album which reflects in its 30-odd minutes all the wonderfully diverse music stylings of a guy clearly unperturbed by the idea of mixing flavors from around the world into a pungent, zesty stew where bongo meets sitar and fuzz meets flute… Maybe that’s what he meant by “salsa pommodore”–a sauce of his own peculiar and delicious blend. A kind of Azzam-esque Gumbo Funk. Hm.

(As a side note, I think that this music could be categorized as “Exotica”, though I think that would be a bit of a misnomer. The founding principle of Exotica–correct me if I’m wrong–is white man’s (read: colonizer’s) take on foreign (read: colonized) music. So while the Azzam’s stuff bears some sonic resemblance to the iller strains of Exotica, I think he kind of transcends the genre because he is all that he represents.)


Nico Gomez: Aquarela + Samba De Uma Nota So
From Bossa Nova (Omega, 197?)

This was the very last LP I picked up at the Groove Merchant before blowing out of town. I think it’s safe to say that the store has the best Brazilian collections on the West Coast and even though I’m still a babe in the woods about the various genres coming out of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, I certainly got exposed to more good Brazilian there than I would have under other circumstances.

What’s interesting about Nico Gomez is that despite having put out any number of very collectible Latin and Brazilian albums, he wasn’t actually from South America. Born in Amsterdam, Gomez had his mark in Belgium where he lead a series of different bands (and recorded under his own name). His best known outfit were the Chakachas who scored a cult hit in the ’70s with “Jungle Fever” (on Polydor no less) but he also headed up the El Chicles. There are few Belgium composers from that era with a more consistent track record for straight up funky and Latin-flavored tracks.

Bossa Nova contains one of his biggest hits in the genre: “Aquarela,” a slick, mid-tempo dance track. It’s ended up on a bunch of cheap Gomez compilations from the era and it’s hear to hear why with its samba rhythms and those distinctive vocals. Personally though, I kind of prefer Gomez’ take on “One Note Samba (Samba De Uma Nota So)”: it’s such a wonderfully chill song, especially with the interplay between the vibes and piano. Definitely some Sunday afternoon music.


The Calbidos: Barrio Bueno

From Crossfire (Vroomm, 197?). Also available on Extended 12″ (Kudos, 2003).

Toro: Michaela

From 7″ (Scepter, 1975) and Toro (Coco, 1975)

Sophy: Es Lamentable

From Sophy (Velvet, 197?)

“Lados Del Alma” = my weak Spanish translation of “Soul Sides” – if someone can offer a more accurate translation, please feel free to make suggestions. In any case, it’s yet another theme to keep track of (we need some SS Score Cards up in hurr), dedicated to Latin-tinged music. Like European jazz, it’s a genre that I’ve only really been learning much about in the last three or four years but despite my relative ignorance, I’m very much a fan. I’m a sucker for a good boogaloo (and I’ll have to bring some of those to the fore), but I’m an equal opportunity lover of Latin soul, jazz, rock, (of course funk), bossa novas, batucadas, descargas, mambos, guaranchas, etc., etc., etc. There are many, many Latin sub-genres to memorize, covering an immense gamut of Afro-Latin-Cuban-Brazilian influences.

I launch with “Barrio Bueno,” a Latin jazz library record out of Italty. The Cabildos had two albums in the ’70s – Crossfire is actually the inferior one compared with Yuxtaposition (recorded under the name, The Cabildo’s Three) which has nary a flat track. Crossfire is solid, don’t get me wrong, but its “Barrio Bueno” is the main standout. A very laid back, smoky groover, “Barrio Bueno,” sounds like it came off a soundtrack for very hip stoners (this would be a good thing). It’s so good in fact, Kudos Records extended the song and pressed it up on clear vinyl last year.

With Toro…this was a Groove Merchant find – really nice Latin rock album that bears the obvious influence of Santana but doesn’t sound like a clone. Super-producer Harvey Averne (remember Viva Soul?) helms this one (at the Electric Lady Studios no less) and his cross-genre embrace of different styles are well served here and especially for “Michaela,” an excellent Latin soul/rock number which is just one of many great songs off the LP.

And also, Toro just has one of the best logos I’ve ever seen. I want a t-shirt with that on it.

Last, it’s Sophy: only one of the biggest singers in Puerto Rican history which is ironic since I find her singing on this album barely tolerable. No disrespect intended but her voice isn’t particuarly nuanced or dynamic and it also sounds engineered too loudly over the track. This all said, I’m giving her song “Es Lamentable”, off one of her big hit albums on Velvet, a spin because it’s a slick, funky dance number and a female vocal track, thus combining two genres that I get weak in the knees for.


Milton Nascimento: Tudo Que Voce Podia Ser & Saidas E Bandeiras No. 2
From Clube De Esquina (EMI, 1972)

The lovely and talented Julianne Shepherd of Cowboyz and Poodles made mention of this album recently and I was remembering the first time I heard it. Dave Tompkins had brought it back from Sao Paulo two years back. He dropped the needle on “Tudo Que” and I was immediately mesmerized. The song is amazing, probably one of the best Brazilian songs I know yet it doesn’t give you, at all, an indication of what the rest of the album is like. As a double-disc, Clube De Esquina covers a huge range of musical styles and sounds, including what I seem to think are a lot of psychedelic influences (“Saidas” certainly seems to fall into that category, no?).


Emilio Santiago: Bananeira & Brother
From Emilio Santiago (CID, 1975)

I’m not as big of a fan of Brazilian (i.e. samba, bossa, etc.) as I am of Latin soul (i.e. boogaloo, guajira, etc.) but I’m trying to learn more about the former, especially since there’s such a wealth of great Brazilian music. Especially when it comes to more funky and soulful material, I’m always discovering new artists, having already sampled the likes of Jorge Ben and Tim Maia. Santiago is still going strong as an artist today – he’s considered a giant in the genre – but these two songs are from what I’m assuming is his first (or one of his first) albums, a self-titled affair from 1970 which covers songs by Ben, Joao Donato and others. “Bananeira” sounds like it belongs on some blaxploitation soundtrack for a movie set in the favelas of Sao Paulo while “Brother” is an incredibly soulful ode to Jesus that, despite my agnosticism, left me swooning.

By the way, call me crazy, but isn’t Santiago a dead ringer for actor Luiz Guzman on this cover?