Head Spins: Gene de Souza

The DJ behind WDNA's Café Brasil.

It's a Sunday evening at the local studios of WDNA, one of the only true indie radio stations in all of America. It's raining outside, an unholy alliance of torrent and drizzle, but in here there's nothing but sunshine. Brazilian sunshine, that is. As if one were on the beaches of Rio during Carnaval or in the back alleys of a São Paolo favela on any given day of the long, hot year. There's a beat to this sunshine, too, a heady mix of samba, bossa nova, jazz, forro, pop, rock, reggae, and what's known as MPB — música popular brasileira. And it's all just part of the aural arsenal of DJ Gene de Souza.

For seven years, Miami-area listeners have been able to tune in to WDNA every Sunday evening from 6 to 8 for de Souza's swinging audio cocktail called Café Brasil. It's a highball of the best in Brazilian music, be it the old-school '50s bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, or the funk carioca (AKA favela funk or baile funk) that broke off from Miami bass and became the sonic basis for stars such as M.I.A. Most important, the music is spun with a wonder and reverence befitting its history and place in the world. And it's delivered with such cool fervor you can't help but be swayed.

The story of Café Brasil begins like all good stories — that is, organically. In 2001, de Souza was selling insurance in South Florida, and that meant spending a lot of time on the road. To help get him through the interminable days, he tuned in to WDNA, where the jazz can cure just about any ailment known to man, including traffic jams. One day, the station had an open call for a radio personality specializing in Latin jazz. De Souza answered. It didn't matter that he hadn't been behind a radio console since college or that he really wasn't up on Latin jazz. He needed something more for his life, and this looked like it.

Gene de Souza spins the best, from bossa nova to baile funk.
Gene de Souza spins the best, from bossa nova to baile funk.

After a few months of Brazilian-dominated Latin jazz shows, the station decided to give de Souza his own slot. The rest, as they say, is radio history. De Souza used his spot to connect with South Florida's Brazilian contingent as well as with the ever-increasing world music community, helping herald new releases and hype various concerts. And after Laura Quinlan of the renowned Rhythm Foundation asked him to introduce the legendary Caetano Veloso in '02, de Souza joined that organization too. He's now the development director.

These days, de Souza is the go-to cat when it comes to anything involving Brazilian music. When artists such as Milton Nascimento and Gilberto Gil come to town, they stop off and sit for an interview on Café Brasil. As did diva Adriana Calcanhotto, whose recent sold-out concert here will be the basis of an upcoming two-hour special on August 16. And when WPBT airs its Spirit of Brazil special during the upcoming pledge drive, de Souza will host.

But none of this would be possible without de Souza's dedication. Watching him work in the studio is a study in how all good things come to life. Delicately, he cues up a disc, checks the credits, pushes a series of buttons, and then smoothly addresses the audience. "This you're going to love," he says. And by the time de Souza has finished with a bit of the song's backstory, you've already agreed.

There is still such a thing as devotion in this world, even among radio DJs. And with Gene de Souza and his Café Brasil, that devotion is true as the Brazilian sun it comes from and steady as the beat that makes it part of our hearts, no matter where you were born. Tune in.

Gene de Souza's top five Brazilian albums of the past ten years:

1. Moro no Brasil, Farofa Carioca

2. Tribalistas, Tribalistas

3. Papo Macaco, Davi Moraes

4. À Procura da Batida Perfeita, Marcelo D2

5. Lado B, Lado A, O Rappa

 
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