Two of Brazil’s most original new(er) artists played over the weekend as part of the World Music Festival, and both of them proved they can make use of just about any musical approach. On Saturday Cibelle, a Sao Paulo native who now lives in London, played an intimate set at the HotHouse, meticulously assembling a bricolage of tiny electronic samples and manipulations, along with subtle guitar patterns, to create delicate pop songs that sound like they’re perpetually about to disintegrate. While her drummer conveyed the airy rhythmic sensibility that seems to course through the blood of every Brazilian, Cibelle’s whimsical songs focused on texture and juxtaposition, with her gorgeous, weightless voice holding the tunes together. She used a sampler to turn vocal phrases into rhythmic devices–and construct elaborate harmonies with herself–while her bandmates shifted from playing guitar, delivering synthetic bass tones, and crafting ambient samples.
I was impressed how well Cibelle translated what was essentially a studio album, the recent The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves (Six Degrees), in a live show. But I was also distracted by the way the musicians seemed more like technicians, carefully and exhaustingly shifting gears and switching instruments to make sure every piece of the elaborate puzzle fit into its proper place. It sounded terrific, but that MO prevented the band from ever really behaving like a band. Cibelle’s songs aren’t designed to ride a groove or stretch out—they are painstakingly assembled confections—but I wish there was more to the show than the just singer’s abundant charisma and stage presence.
The previous night fellow Paulista Otto killed it at the Empty Bottle. He’s a big guy, a bit rotund around the middle, and he’s all energy, enthusiasm, and self-confidence; subtlety has little to do with his music, even though his crack band was playing some incredible stuff loaded with infectious polyrhythms. Guitarist Fernando Catatua, who leads Cidadão Instigado, one of Brazil’s best and most ambitious rock bands, was suffering from either food poisoning or some kind of stomach flu; he was apparently violently ill before the show and at one point during the performance he left the stage to vomit in the dressing room. But he came back, and though he played sitting down he contributed some very snazzy lines and solos.
Yet even if Catatua had been unable to perform at all, the band still would have cooked–Otto’s music is rooted in heavy beats. Bassist Rian Batista—who also plays in Cidadão Instigado—keyboardist Daniel Ganjaman (a key member of the Sao Paulo hip-hop collective Instituto), kit drummer Beto Apineia, and percussionists Andre Male and Marcos Axe created imperturbable grooves that effortlessly blended chunks of reggae, Afro-Cuban, and Brazilian rhythms–a perfect platform for Otto’s declamatory singing, which mixes indelible melodies and propulsive phrasing. This weekend only made me more certain that Brazil is the most creative and exciting music center in the world.