For anyone pondering the explosion of interest in Brazilian pop -- particularly David Byrne's tireless stumping on behalf of tropicalismo -- last month's concert by Brazilian superstar Caetano Veloso at the Jackie Gleason Theater explained it all. It wasn't just Veloso's ability to meld gorgeously lilting melodies with ferocious blasts of percussion. Or his charming fusion of acoustic folk and propulsive samba. Rather it was Veloso's dancing that provided the revelation. Bedecked in a hideous tweed suit that screamed "math teacher," Veloso unself-consciously launched into a succession of stiff-limbed robotic body pops, hunched-over bunny hops, and overhead arm-swaying. By comparison David Byrne's Stop Making Sense-era hip shaking (oversize white suit and all) seems almost James Brown-caliber. Here then is a performer (if not a genre) that can take gawky white-boy funkiness to unheralded heights, creating something altogether new in the process. For thousands of Caucasoid hipsters across America, whose furious boogying was formerly consigned to bedroom sessions behind closed doors, tropicalismo is license to let the funk out -- in public.
If the image of Byrne and Veloso frugging madly side-by-side is a bit too much to take, keep a safe distance from Onda Sonora, the latest AIDS-benefit compilation CD from the Red Hot + Blue folks. Opening the CD is "Dreamworld: Marco de Canaveses," on which the two singers trade verses amid a rush of lush strings and a galloping groove. Elsewhere Onda Sonora delves into the diverse world of Portuguese-speaking pop, from Angola's Bonga (who collaborates with Carlinhos Brown, Brazil's answer to George Clinton, and chanteuse Marisa Monte), to expat avant-gardist Arto Lindsay and junglist DJ Soulslinger. Where k.d. lang fits into all this remains a bit of a mystery, but her breathy singing atop Antonio Chainho's plucked guitar is engaging enough to stop any nagging ethnicity questions.
One of the common reference points on Onda Sonora, and indeed throughout much of the more exciting strains of Brazilian pop, is the touchstone of African rhythms. It's a source element personified in its purest form by Ilê Aiyê, the leading carnaval bloco of Bahia's carnival celebrations. Using hypnotic chants, beautiful vocal turns, and up to 150 drummers beating out thunderous percussion, the Ilê Aiyê ensemble makes its way to Miami Beach's band shell at the North Shore Community Center (7250 Collins Ave.) for a show on Saturday, August 28. The group's latest album, Ilê Aiyê 25 Anos gives a taste of what that awesome force sounds like, complete with a haunting appearance from singer Milton Nascimento. But it's reportedly nothing compared with the raw power of the band's live show. For more information call 305-672-5202.
Here in Miami it's all too easy to fall into the aesthetic trap of considering the only good Latin dance music to be Cuban. Panamanian jack-of-all-trades Ruben Blades's concert this past week was proof that skilled soneros come wrapped in flags of all colors. If you need further convincing, bring your dancing shoes to the Saturday, August 28, show with El Gran Combo. More than 30 years after its start, the Puerto Rican combo shows no signs of slowing down. El Gran Combo's most famous lead singer, Andy Montañez, may have long since departed for a solo career, but the band's grooves are as deep as ever. Cuban purists may argue that there are better salsa ensembles out there, but if you're standing smack in the middle of the dance floor with El Gran Combo's frontline executing Temptationsesque precision spins, the band's rhythm section working into a slow burn, and its horn section blasting away, you won't believe them. The show is sponsored by the world-music aficionados over at Wendy's (yes, the fast-food joint), but we'll keep our sarcastic urges in check: With the burger-maven's backing, tickets to the concert are a very reasonable ten dollars. The show takes place at the auditorium of the Mahi Shrine Temple (1480 NW North River Dr.). For more information call 305-447-1140. Music starts at 10:00 p.m.
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Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail email@example.com