Afropop Contributor Sam Backer sits down (digitally at least) with the DJ Mais um Gringo, the mysterious founder of the Mais um Discos label.
Sam: Hey. It’s nice to finally get a chance to talk with you. To start with, I just wanted to say that I’ve really loved the EPs [from the Mais Um Discos digital download series] that you’ve been putting out.
Mais Um Gringo: Oh, cool. Thanks man.
S: No problem! You actually turned me on to techno-brega, which is really amazing music. Actually, we played some on a show about international dance trends that aired recently.
M: Oh did you? Is that on soundcloud? Is that spring 2012 dance party?
S: Yes it is.
M: That sounds good. That’s the kind of title I’m interested in- I’ll have to check that out. I’m glad you liked it! One more convert to the cause is definitely necessary. Do you know Gaby Amarantos?
S: That was probably the track I liked best off of the EP.
M: She’s kind of taking it in more of a pop direction. She’s actually becoming a massive star in Brazil. It’s amazing- Brazil’s such a big country, so most of the music comes from it’s central regions- like Minis Gerais, Sao Paulo, or Rio- and often these kind of satellite states like the Amazon have music, and it’s big in the Amazon, but it doesn’t leave that region. It just stays there. And it’s partly because the country’s so big, you know- to fly from Belem in the Amazon to go down to Sao Paolo is six or seven hours. It’s like crossing Europe! But now Gaby has got this record deal with Som Livre, [a major Brazilian label] which is owned by O Globo [Organizações Globo, the largest media conglomeration in South America]. And O Globo owns the biggest TV station in Brazil, so they’ve taken her record, and they’re putting her on TV all the time.
S: Her new music video is great.
M: Like I said before, she changed slightly. It’s less raw then it once was, more polished, and she’s making it more of a live thing. But it’s important that someone does that, and puts this music on the map in Brazil- so Brazilians can hear it! There was actually loads of other great stuff that got left off that EP as well. I had this huge list of tracks to license, but it’s impossible to get a hold of anyone. And even though I had my friends in Belem trying to make contact, people just don’t return calls. I don’t know whether they can’t be bothered or they don’t understand it, but they’re just kind of local.
S: Can you give me some background on the label’s history? How did you get started on this project of bringing out all these enormously varied styles of Brazilian music?
M: Well- I used to work with label Far Out Records, which is based in London. They mostly release stuff like Brazilian jazz and Bossa Nova. They have people like Marcos Valle or Joyce. They’re more old-school, but because it’s based in London, they also had all a lot electronic remixes from people like 4Hero and Bugs in the Attic. I worked there about six years ago, running the label with the label owner. And that was my introduction- I liked the early Joyce records and Marcos Valle. I was into that sort of Bossa/Jazz style of Brazilian music. And through hearing Gilberto Gill, I got into Os Mutantes and Tropicalia, and that stuff really blew my mind because it was really Brazilian, but also very international. And I love that kind of mashing up of sounds and influences. And I was thinking that there must be some more current bands influenced by the Tropicalistas. So I started looking for a compilation of new Brazilian sounds that weren’t Bossa or Samba, because I wanted to hear the new psychedelic music and the new electronic music. But there weren’t any comps. So I thought- well, maybe it’s time to make one.
So I started doing research, and I began to find things on Myspace- just going through and finding one act that I liked, and then looking at their friends, and then finding out about another act- you know, just making contact with people. And people started to say, “If you like my stuff, you should check out my friend blah blah blah.” And I slowly started to get this mental list of tracks that could make a compilation. And then I got invited to travel to Brazil by BM&A, which promotes Brazilian music around the world. So I thought, “Okay, well, if I’m going to go to brazil...” and planned a longer trip around that, going to Sao Paolo, going to Belem in the Amazon, going to Recife in the northeast. I started emailing people and saying, “I’m coming to Brazil...” I went for about a month in December 2010, and there happened to be a couple of huge music fairs during that time, when the whole Brazilian music industry converges, and I just heard so much stuff, and came back with so many CD’s of all kinds of different styles.
When I got home, I started to pull together my favorite tracks, and I ended up with around 40 tracks of all different styles. And these formed the basis of the first album I did on the label- “Nova Musica Brasiliera.” My aim was not to focus on Samba or Bossa Nova, but on genres that weren’t being picked up over here, like rock, and folk, and music with dub and electronic influences. Kind of left-field acts and artists. But things that still sounded distinctly Brazilian. I heard a lot of rock bands that could easily have been from England or America, and I wasn’t really interested in that.
I looked for people who were taking the roots from where they’re from, and doing something fresh with it. Because we obviously live in a global world now; things like Youtube give us access to the entire world’s music. So I think what excites me is people who combine all this stuff out there in the world with stuff from where they’re from to make something completely fresh.
S: So you were almost looking for the spiritual, if not the musical, descendents of the Tropicalistas? I guess thing that made Tropicalia so amazing is- you know there’s that story that Os Mutantes were just trying to play Beatles covers but failed spectacularly. That sense of people being unable to take in their influences without transforming them.
M: Yeah. That kind of thing- trying to do something new combining the roots of Brazil with an international influence. Now, I’m not an artist so I don’t really know, but I imagine that the artists I like are the ones who have an insatiable quest to hear new sounds and new things, you know, who are on a search for new sounds to take influence from. And these are the artists that I put on the compilation I did, which was released in 2010 in the UK and 2011 in Europe.
After that, I released Lucas Santtana’s album, “Sem Nostalgia,” which was the first artist signing to the label. He’s Brazilian but very international- his music, he doesn’t really describe it as Brazilian. He has a Brazilian influence in there, but he’s also influenced by dub and…
S: So he’s Brazil based?
M: Yeah. He’s based in Rio. His album, “Sem Nostalgia,” is just voice and guitar. A lot of Brazilian artists feel this need to do a classic voice and guitar record- it’s almost seen as sort of rite of passage. It’s just something that you have to do. Everyone has to try and make their own voice and guitar record, like Joao Gilberto, like all the Brazilian greats. But he did this in a way where he took the guitar, took his voice, but used samplers and processors and filters, and also incorporated ambient sounds- birds singing and crickets chirping and things like that. And he filtered everything, processed everything, and made this amazing record, which is just voice guitar and ambient sounds, but which has all these layers and moods. It’s really unlike any other record with just voice and guitars that I’ve ever heard.
S: I didn’t realize that. It definitely doesn’t sound like it was only made with voice and guitars.
M: Lucas is amazing. He set himself this target, this task to do, and built a whole album around it.
S: Did you meet him during that Brazilian trip?
M: When I first went to Brazil in December 2009, someone gave me a copy of his album, and when I came back to the UK and listened to it, I was blown away. And I thought that after the first compilation was finished, it had got to be the first artist record. I mean, I couldn’t believe that no one had picked up on it before. It’s one of those albums that you hear sometimes- the music was fantastic, it had this fantastic concept behind it, and this incredibly creative guy. And I was like, “This record is perfect.” It embodies what my label is about. So I got in touch with him and we released it in Europe. And it’s done really well. He just came and did a ten date tour of Europe, and he had a sold out show in Paris, for six or seven hundred people.
S: That’s great. So, after you released the Nova Musica Brasiliera compilation, the response was good?
M: We released it in the UK, and it got really good reviews. A lot of the broadsheet newspapers reviewed it, not just the music press. Because I think that for a lot of people, it was a really fresh outlook on Brazil. It’s so simple, just to portray the new styles of Brazil, and the press loved it because it was this window on a brazil that people kind of knew- they knew that there was this music out there, but no one had presented it before. So yeah- we got really good feedback in the broadsheets and music magazines, and Gilles Peterson made it his music compilation of the year. It also ended up getting a lot of radio play-and some of that was on “alternative” shows in the UK, not just your kind of world music shows. I think it shone a light on an aspect of contemporary alternative Brazil that hadn’t really been seen before.
S: One of the things I love about the record, and I think its something that you’ve said before elsewhere, is that one of the big differences between this compilation and other compilations, for instance, the Soul Jazz Baile Funk compilations, is that it covers such a broad reach of music. It’s not one scene from one city- it’s really an enormous undertaking.
B: Some people have said that it’s more of a snapshot then a compilation. Because it goes all over the place thematically. But then, I quite like that- I lots of different styles of music, and I wanted to present all of it. I wanted a picture of contemporary Brazil, so I had to go from the south to the north, I had to have everything in there. That was the whole point- if I had focused on just one area, it wouldn’t have been a snapshot of Brazil. I wanted to show just how diverse the country is musically. And I hope I achieved that.
S: Can you tell me a little bit about the new EP series?
B: Well, I’m now in this position where I hear a lot of new stuff from Brazil, and I still had loads of tracks left over after I released the compilation. So I thought, wow- maybe I could do some kind of download series where I just do small, six track EP’s, and go a bit deeper into different styles, different sort of genres in Brazil. So I thought I could do a new Tropicalia one, with some of the more psychedelic pop bands. And I really wanted to do a Techno-Brega one, and a Mangue folk one, because there are a lot of really interesting folk artists from the northeast, specially in Recife. And I have some other ones forthcoming as well. I’m going to do a hip-hop EP with Rodrigo Brandão, from Mamelo Sound System, who is one of the most important, influential figures for that music in Brazil. He is one of the guys who has promoted, and has been influential in helping to create an independent hip-hop scene in Sao Paulo and Brazil. So, he compiled six tracks of fresh hip-hop and beats from Brazil.
I’m also doing a release with DJ Dolores. He was part of the Mangue-beat movement from Recife in the 90’s. He is one of the most influential and really just key electronic artists in Brazil. He hasn’t released an album in a while though, so this is kind of his comeback EP. It’s six new remixes that he’s done under this new project he’s calling Stank. So that’s coming out as well. And I’m going to do a Sao Paulo underground release- something of a more avant-garde nature. The aim was to try and do one a month, and I got up to March, but I’ve kind of slipped back slightly.
S: As someone in England who is so hooked into this music, do you see this label as almost a kind of cultural education? Or do you just think that this is all music that everyone should hear.
M: No, not really. The education thing is kind of a bit… I’m just trying to show a different side really, just to show people what’s happening in Brazil now. I mean it’s all music that I like- really, its quite subjective. And that’s what has kind of surprised me- that other people like this music too. Because essentially it’s just loads of tracks that I like. I mean, I did try to go across the country and show different styles but mostly it’s just nice to be able to share the music with other people.
S: You’re releasing an album with Toumani Diabate, right?
M: Yeah! If you had told me that our second artist album would feature Toumani Diabate two years ago, I would have laughed. Because he’s probably- he is one of the most important musicians in Africa, in the world now. He’s done this amazing record with Arnaldo Antunes and Edgard Scandurra. Do you know Arnaldo?
S: I youtubed some of his stuff when I saw him mentioned on your site, but not before that.
M: Someone once described him as the Brazilian David Byrne, which is kind of a nice. He was in this really important Brazilian rock band called Titas from the 80’s, a kind of new wave band. He left them when he thought that their sound was becoming too commercial. He was also poet at the same time, and he went back to doing underground, alternative poetry. Then I think he did some kind of more visual poetry. And now he is this sort of cult figure in Sao Paulo especially- he collaborates with people like Marisa Monte, who is this very well respected brazilian pop star, and he also collaborates with underground punk bands. He just wants to work with people who do new things and create new stuff.
He played in this festival with Toumani, this festival called Back to Black which happens in Rio and is also happening in London this year. The festival paired them together, and then Toumani invited Arnaldo and Edgar, who is a guitarist, to record with him in Mali, which I believe they did last summer. So Arnaldo went over with songs, and just jammed with Toumani and his son and some other musicians who play as part as Toumani’s group, and they made this wonderful record that fuses this Brazilian music that’s sort of MPB, sort of pop, with west African roots. It really doesn’t sound like any other record that I’ve ever heard. Arnaldo has this really nice way of singing, it’s almost a bit mechanical, which works really well with the that sort of lush, Malian sound- it’s a good counterpoint to the Kora.
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S: The track I heard worked really well. I was impressed. How did you get involved in this? Did they contact you?
M: I met them at this big Brazilian festival in Belguim last year. I was there to DJ. And I met Arnaldo, who was playing this festival with Edgar, and I met their manager afterwards, and we were just talking. And they said “oh yeah, we’ve done this record with Toumani Diabate.” And I was like, “Wow. Cool. That sounds amazing. Send me a copy, I definitely want to hear it.” So we got to talking, and they liked what I was saying, and then we just did the deal to release it this summer. It was cool. Kind of surprising. Because Toumani is a legend. They’re doing a live show in London at the end June, and it should be interesting to see how it works live. There are plans to tour it in Europe at the end of this year. And I think they want to go to the states next year. So I’ll keep you posted.
S: Okay- final question. You’ve told us something about your plans for the download series. But do you have future plans beyond that? Or are you kind of taking things as they come?
M: I just want to release more quality albums. I’m doing an album with this guy Siba. Siba is this kind of mestre from northeastern Brazil. He did a lot of really amazing revival folk albums with musicians from the northeast playing folk rhythms, but in a kind of contemporary way, just keeping this folk music alive. And now he’s done this strange sort of rock record, which combines rock with northeastern folk rhythms. But he’s also influenced by things like Congotronics, and- there are all these subtle influences in there. So when I say rock, it’s not like a rock “RAWWHKKK” record, it’s much less obvious.
He’s an incredible poet as well, so we’ve got his lyrics translated. Because they’re just wonderful, these little stories in the music about people being on canoes and canoes having leaks and being circled by sharks. When you understand the lyrics, it really adds to the music, and it creates these wonderful stories. And we’re gonna release that in August.
And then the new Lucas Santtana CD is going to come out in September. Which is incredible. And then we are doing a free Lucas Santtana remix album, which has got like 10 remixes: JD Twich from Optimo, who are from Scotland. Deerhoof- John [Dieterich] from Deerhoof has done a remix. Burnt Friedman, who is an electronic producer from Berlin, has done a remix. Lucas’s music just lends itself to that sort of collaboration really well. And that’s because although Lucas is a Brazilian artist, he’s not really a world music artist. He’s a contemporary artist of interest. So- I’ve been trying to push him out there, and get the attention of some of the people who are into electronic and acoustic music but who might not listen to something that’s in Portuguese by doing these collaborations. So we are doing this remix album next month.
S: I think that’s a really cool idea. That there is a big difference between being a world music artist and a contemporary artist of interest. And I think that could probably apply to a lot of the music you’ve been putting out.
M: Like I said, we live in the modern world, where you can hear basically all the music within reason. You can hear music that’s being produced in other parts of the world almost instantly. You just put it on youtube and then you can hear it. So I think most of my favorite artists are people who get inspired by hearing new things and new music. Obviously, in the world we live in now, that could come from anywhere. I respect traditional musicians- you need to keep traditional styles alive of course- but you also have to have musicians who are being adventurous and fusing the new styles they hear with the styles from where they’re from.
With Lucas, he’s massively into technology and electronics. And I think that as new technology develops and new software is developed, he wants to explore it, and use it to push his music in new ways. And I like that as well. It’s like John Peel said- “I just want to hear something I haven’t heard before.” And that’s kind of true. I just want to hear something I haven’t heard before.
S: Well- thank you so much. And thank you so much for the music you’ve been putting out. It’s turned me out to a lot of amazing stuff. Good luck with everything, and be sure to keep in touch!