A couple of days ago a reader disputed my claim that Tetine was behind the curve, gently calling me a “clueless American crit.” Because the duo hosts a radio show on England’s Resonance station called Slum Dunk and has curated a decent collection of funk carioca, they’ve gotten lots of exposure, which has allowed them to become flavor of the moment. Most funk carioca artists in Rio de Janeiro are from favelas (slums) and thus poor, have scant access to the media, and don’t speak English. Tetine’s take on funk carioca has a relatively high-tech gloss that’s missing from the real Brazilian stuff. That on its own isn’t a good reason to disparage their music; it only takes a pair of ears to realize that they’re ridiculously over-the-top to the point of parody.
What rubs me the wrong way is that while Tetine may be aware of what’s happening in Rio, they’re bandwagon jumpers. Check out earlier Tetine tracks like “She’s Not a Girl Who Misses Much” and “Russian Roulette” and it’s clear that in a previous incarnation not so long ago they were riding a lame musical trend: weak neo-80s synth pop.
I spent a few weeks in Brazil earlier this year, and a fantastic tune called “Ela So Pensa Em Beijar” by MC Leozinho was the ubiquitous summertime hit. (The best way for an American to buy the song is to pick up this strange compilation, a collection of Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho’s fave tunes.) The song grabbed me because it was adapting the beats of funk carioca for pop music, using strummed acoustic guitars, melodic synth patterns, and mildly soulful, sung vocals rather than the usual gruff rapping. Funk Mix, a swell new anthology compiled by DJ Marlboro—the longtime kingpin of Rio’s funk carioca scene and Diplo’s key Brazilian buddy—proves that the sound of the MC Leozinho track was no fluke, but rather a new paradigm. The collection has some straight-up, lean funk carioca: “Satisfação” by Tati Quebra-Barraco (whose mighty “Boladona,” which swiped its primary melody line from Devo’s “Mongoloid,” was another smash in Brazil this year) and “Cria Asa, Periquita” by MC Brio Levby, which nicely samples some yodeling. But most the CD follows the new model, with a distinct R & B twist that betrays R. Kelly’s reach.
It’s not all good, but it’s a fascinating (and perhaps inevitable) commercially oriented mutation of standard funk carioca, whose bares-bones rawness is one of its most appealing characteristics. I’m not about to prognosticate on the future of Brazilian pop music, but this stuff certainly seems more fecund and exciting than the warmed-over slop Tetine was dishing out at the Empty Bottle last week.