By Jacob Katel
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Young women in tight hip-huggers and heels line dance with buff boyfriends while the master of ceremonies, wearing a microphone headset, cheers on the DJs in Portuguese. This is Friday, November 16, the first night of South Florida's First Annual Brazilian DJ Festival. At the end of the night, makeshift ballots are passed to the patrons of Papi Chulo's Dance Club in Sunny Isles, who each cast a vote for either DJ Bruno, DJ Luiz, or DJ Fred to decide who deserves to reign as best Brazilian DJ in South Florida.
One late night while sitting at the Papi Chulo's bar, local Brazilian promoter Carlos Salles convinced club owner Daniella Matteo to host the event. A native of Rio de Janeiro, Salles came across skilled Brazilian DJs spinning in nightclubs from the Velvet Lounge in Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach's Samba Room. "There are a lot of talented Brazilian DJs out there who are unknown even to the Brazilian community," says Salles, who last year brought the internationally renowned Brazilian band Ara Ketu to play at the Ramada Hotel in Miami Beach. "I thought a festival would be a good way of giving them some exposure."
Known as funk, Brazilian style hip-hop was born in the slums of Rio and has become a way of life for young people in the favelas, hillside shanty towns, where reality is often more grim than in the U.S. inner city. Like hip-hop culture in the United States, however, Brazilian funk has attracted fans far from the impoverished hood to become a national craze.
From drum and bass to hip-hop, the raw energy of Brazil's urban music has captivated listeners beyond the country's borders and given the South American nation a reputation for throwing the world's wildest parties. With no liquor-license laws or regulations on private parties, just about everything goes. Favela "funk balls" at times turn violent, leading gangsters with AK-47s to guard funksters performing in dilapidated gymnasiums. More official events, such as this year's Skol Beats festival in São Paulo, draw upwards of 5000 ravers from Brazil to Great Britain to hear superstar DJ Marky, considered one of the world's finest, spin drum and bass.
So what do Brazilian DJs in Miami deliver? Thumping tribal techno, trance, jungle, and drum and bass. Many of the DJs participating in the South Florida event began spinning in Brazil's house-party circuit. Some, like DJs Bruno and Victor, moved on to clubs, funk balls, and even hosted radio shows in Brazil. Some DJs will sample homegrown beats like frevo, maracatu, and forro. Others, among them DJ Fabio S., became DJs in South Florida and were influenced by local sounds.
Bruno Curvo, age 23, entered Brazil's club scene at age fifteen and honed his skills at funk balls. "I've always been involved with music," he tells a reporter one night in the Hotel Thunderbird lobby. In his hometown of Teresopolis, DJ Bruno owned a record-and-DJ-equipment store called Audio Sound. He also hosted a Brazilian-funk radio show for the station Impressa no Rio de Janeiro and played clubs between Teresopolis and Rio. Since moving to South Florida from Brazil about five years ago, DJ Bruno has been invited to spin as far afield as Tampa and has been a resident DJ at Fort Lauderdale's Velvet Lounge, Emerald City, and 3299, and at South Miami's Mad Max. "I would say my style is aggressive," says Bruno.
Alessandro Silva, a.k.a. DJ Sandro, also started sampling at an early age. "All my life I've played at house parties," says Silva, who works full-time in Florida as a limo driver. "That's how I became a DJ." Silva practically grew up in the party hall his parents own and operate in Rio de Janeiro. The family business led him to play at other house parties, until DJ Silva hooked up with "the prince of funk," top Brazilian funk producer DJ Marlboro. DJ Sandro became assistant director at the studios where DJ Marlboro continues to churn out stars such as Claudinho and Buchecha. "DJ Marlboro creates the soundtracks for the dramas of Brazil's underclass," observes Silva.
DJ Fabio S. (Fabio Simoes) mixes Brazilian funk and vocals with U.S. freestyle beats, European techno, and global hip-hop, while DJ Victor (Victor Alcantara), a native of Espirito Santos who has been playing at clubs in Guarapani (Brazil's version of Ibiza) every summer for the past fifteen years, spins pop, techno, trance, and drum and bass.
Unlike moody, shy, withdrawn British DJs, Brazil's best -- Marky, Patife, and Mau Mau, to name a few -- are true showmen who put on a spectacle without sacrificing turntable skills. DJ Marky, who ranks up there with Danny Tenaglia, Timo Maas, E2, and Paul Oakenfold, is known for his penchant for visiting the dance floor midset. "He's the best in the world," DJ Victor grins proudly. A 26-year-old lawyer who's been living in South Florida for six months, Victor says Brazilian DJs stand out because "we have feeling. Feeling is something you're born with. It's in your blood."
DJ Fabio S. enjoys interacting with the crowd as well. "Sometimes I get away from the booth, sing with the crowd, play around; that's my style," he says. One of the highlights of his career came during a Brazilian festival in New Jersey where he played music for about 5000 people. "It was off the hook," he says. For DJ Victor an unforgettable moment came while spinning in Vitoria, Brazil, in a gymnasium packed with 4000 revelers who completely surrounded the DJ behind his decks. Suddenly, says DJ Victor, "something went wrong mechanically, and I had to mix manually until the party was over. If I had stopped, they would have swallowed me alive. Brazilians are crazy."