Various Artists: Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats

Various Artists
Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Beats
Essay Recordings

As fans of Black Sabbath and techno know, the connection between initial critical approbation and enduring musical influence is tenuous. To bring in another example, when Miami bass music first exploded in the mid- to late '80s, the genre was almost entirely derided or ignored by pop critics, who dismissed the woofing electro-hip-hop style as brainless, misogynistic robot porn--if they bothered to listen to it at all. I was similarly indifferent or dismissive of Miami bass and its thong-clad offspring until '95, when the not-from-Iowa Quad City DJ's' booty-bass classic "C'Mon N' Ride It (The Train)" chugged up the charts and inspired me to lead a fleet of wildly noninfectious dance trains at various dinner parties, group-therapy sessions, and one (crashed) Mensa conference.

As it turned out, brainless, misogynistic robot porn was the wave of the future. These days, the reverberations of Miami bass can be heard all over: on Lil Jon's crunk and lots of other hip hop and R&B; fused with L'Trimm and J.J. Fad on Fannypack's hip So Stylistic; on commercial and underground dance records; and on some of the singles collected on Rio Baile Funk: Favela Booty Bass, an intoxicating collection of minimalist 21st century party singles from the hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro.

This is not to suggest that the diverse Brazilian singles heard on Rio Baile Funk are merely refashioned and imported Miami bass records. Miami bass did help shape baile funk, as Andy Cumming explains in his lively if too short liner notes to Rio Baile Funk, and as Neil Strauss noted over three years ago in his ahead-of-the-global-curve baile-funk feature in the New York Times ("[the] most popular homegrown street music since samba," wrote Strauss enticingly). But as Michaelangelo Matos wrote in the Seattle Weekly review that got me to track down this German-label CD compiled by Daniel Haaksman, the short cuts on Rio Baile Funk take inspiration from whatever's handy. Dennis DJ's "Cerol Na Mao" samples from Front 242, while his wonderfully adolescent "Jonathan II" uses the same Van Halen snippet heard on Tone Loc's "Wild Thing." Elsewhere, MC Jack E Chocolate's "Pavaroty" seems to touch on DJ Kool, Kermit the Frog, Run-D.M.C.'s "Pied Piper," Lawrence Welk, and the blimpy tenor whose surname resembles the song's title.

While some of the compilation's tunes sample from samba, forro, and other Brazilian styles, none of this stuff sounds quite like anything else I've heard from the region (or anywhere, for that matter). From bossa nova to MPB, Brazil has been known in the States for its harmonically sophisticated, uncommonly supple music. Baile funk is nothing like that. This is raw, bare-bones, hooky but proudly unmelodic stuff, recorded on the cheap with 808 drum machines, early samplers, and dusty computers. You'll hear digital blips and rough edits, amateur vocalists, and a lot of the necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention spirit that characterizes grassroots pop. Like Shanachie's The Indestructible Beat of Soweto or Luaka Bop's Baleza Tropical: Brazil Classics 1, Rio Baile Funk sounds--and feels, really--like a revelation. Whether the music's influence will be as long-lived and pervasive as Miami bass remains to be seen, though given the typical flow of international cultural exchange, that's unlikely. But if Brazil's new samba can retain even half of its ecstatic allure into maturity, we have much to look forward to.

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