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Guerrilla Sound

Guerrilla Sound

While in the U.S. payroll costs to employers are 9% over the cost of
salaries, in Brazil theses expenses can represent as much as 102%. A new law approved by
the Brazilian Congress deals with temporary labor and the lower costs that come with it.
Employers are understandably happy, but employees are much less enthusiastic. There is a
new reality in the country and workers will need to learn the politics of direct
negotiation without the State’s paternalistic blessings.
By Brazzil Magazine

Critics always like to pigeonhole new artists, label them, put them in a certain place
in their own heads. They prefer handy, easy-to-manipulate categories; a lot of change
makes them work harder to understand what an artist is doing. So some reviewers are going
to be annoyed with the arrival of a new legion of subversives at our pop shores and at the
way their music weaves together elements as diverse as Scottish bagpipes, Hare Krishna
chant, and quotes from tunes like "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

Some may be appalled by the seemingly random use of vocal samples from a Tuvan throat
singer, a Spanish sailor, and a Brazilian street vendor. A few may search in vain for a
concept behind the inclusion of recited poetry merged with dissimilar, even nonsense
languages. Others will simply not get past the incessant blending of African and Brazilian
rhythms, let alone the wacky sounds that permeate the CD’s. These connoisseurs will have
to prepare themselves for musical insubordination, nonetheless, because Karnak refuses to
fit easily into any category.

Over the past six years, this group from São Paulo has been creating music on their
own terms and for a new audience. They are original, but at the same time openly
plagiarize. They can play on solidly like a German orchestra of the Third Reich and then
seamlessly spill into a swinging xaxado. Commandeering technology, they have
innovated a daring sound mix that leader André Abujamra asserts is not "World
Music."

Karnak’s originality came by chance and intuition, not through a premeditated course of
research conducted to fill in some musical category. According to Abujamra, "All
associations were musically intuitive." This music truly has no label. It is a
structured chaos of Brazilian regional rhythms synthesized with what Abujamra conceives as
Arabic, Egyptian, Jamaican, and Russian influences. It is pop music with a spectrum of
experience broader than MPB (Brazilian Popular Music). Karnak’s first CD seems like an
inspired musical journey that begins in Egypt, passes through Persia, and on to Russia,
but which remains rooted in the jack-hammer rhythms of the Brazilian Northeast. Karnak
will shock stylistic purists, but is perfect for those who have been waiting and are ready
for everything—at the same time.

Surprisingly, Brazilian reviewers designated Karnak’s first CD as one of the fifteen
most important recordings in the past 30 years (see table below). Hagamenon Brito,
reviewer for Correio da Bahia, Salvador, calls the work, "The best global-pop
already produced in the land of the jungle. So much swing and so many incongruous
elements, had they been badly sewn together, would have created a pretentious
Frankenstein. But with ingenuity, and without recording in Los Angeles or London, André
Abujamra has concocted the Devil."

The production techniques involved in making their first CD required that each member
of Karnak record his part separately. Artists as distinct as Lulu Santos, Chico César,
and Tom Zé were pooled by Abujamra and combined with elements as unrelated as a banda
de pífanos (Northeastern fife band), Bulgarian marimbas, high-pitched African
singing, invented and exotic languages, and the works of outstanding Brazilian poets to
erect what at times appears to be more like a great pop charade than a consistent musical
work. During the six months it took to record and edit, there were no group rehearsals.
The entire work, all production and arrangements, was edited on a Macintosh Quadra by
Abujamra. The other musicians had no idea of what the final product would sound like.

Self-titled, Karnak’s first CD is experimental, hard to classify, and misunderstood by
many. Humor abounds, but the music is serious in terms of Abujamra’s passion for
self-exploration and can be approached philosophically. His compositions are elaborately
conceived intuitive songs that are assimilated easily by listeners; translations are
secondary. Yet the intricate strands of Abujamra’s musical tapestry reveal themselves only
with repeated listenings.

Despite the public’s confusion, Karnak sold close to fifteen thousand copies of the
CD—a reasonable number for a first CD on an independent label—and earned great
praise from the critics. The Art Critics Association of São Paulo cited Karnak as the
Best Band of 1995. MTV Brazil awarded the group Revelation of the Year (1996) for the
video "Comendo Uva na Chuva" (Eating Grape in the Rain) and the Gold Clip for
the video of "Alma Não Tem Cor" (Soul Has No Color), which was nominated in
three categories: Best Clip of the Year, Best Pop Clip, and Best Direction. The "Alma
Não Tem Cor" video also won the Best Director award at the MTV’s "Video Music
Brasil" in 1997.

Originally released in 1995 on the Tinitus label in Brazil, Karnak’s first CD has just
been released in the United States on Tinder Records and coincides with the release of
their second CD, Universo Umbigo (Universe Navel), on the Velas label in Brazil.
With this second CD, Karnak’s sales estimate has doubled. According to Karnak’s leader,
producer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, the title of the new CD refers to one’s
need to be the center of attention. But he goes on to say, "That hat fits me as well
as it fits many other people. Last year I was very tough on myself with some personal
problems and felt that only I had difficulties. Acknowledging the whole world has problems
was good for me."

As with the first CD, Karnak invited a battalion of musicians to participate on Universo
Umbigo. Abujamra’s father, Antônio, reads the poem "Os Três Mal-Amados"
(Three Badly-Loved) by the great Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto on the tune
"Num Pode Ser" (Can’t Be). His three year old son, José, sings the introduction
on "Como Nascem as Crianças" (How The Children Are Born). The fine band from
Minas Gerais Pato Fu is responsible for the music, lyrics, and recording of "Rapaz Eu
Vi" (Man, I Saw). And "Boiadeiro" (Cowboy), features the haunting voice of
rising star Mônica Salmaso with all percussion played by the great Northern band Mestre
Ambrósio.

From the simplest refrain of an embolada (musical form from Brazil’s Northeast)
to the most symphonic passage, Abujamra’s compositions are seamless and coherent works
that explore philosophy through comedy. His uncanny ability to capture life on tape and
mix musical references seems to stem from his extensive traveling and his work with the
"experimental music" duo Os Mulheres Negras (The Black Women) that he formed
with Maurício Pereira in the 1980s.

The duo dissolved after eight years, and André played briefly with the band Vexame
(Shame), producing their first CD for Sony Music. But needing a change of perspective and
very short of cash, he joined a theater group that was leaving for Spain. From Spain, it
was only a short jump to Greece and Africa. Keeping a musical focus as he traveled,
Abujamra recorded ambient noise and street sounds on a cheap Walkman. These
"samples" were embryonic in the development of his concept of Karnak.

Abujamra’s dream of Karnak is sustained by JOB sound studios where he creates
advertising jingles. His roster of clients include the soft drink company Antarctica;
Brazil’s oil company, Petrobrás; the newspaper Folha de São Paulo; and
actor-director Carla Camurati. In 1996 he produced the CD Tem Mas Acabou (All But
Finished) for the group Pato Fu and a new, still-untitled CD for Tom Zé. Abujamra has
composed (and won several awards) for his musical scores for the theater.

The sound tracks for the feature films Carlota Joaquina, by Carla Camurati and Os
Matadores (The Killers) by Beto Brant were written by André, and he won the Kikito
award (1) for his sound track to the film As Rosas Não Calam (Roses Aren’t
Silent). Additionally, Abujamra is responsible for sound on all programs for Telecurso
2000, an educational series sponsored by the Roberto Marinho Foundation, and he worked
on the sound track for the children’s program Castelo Ratimbum for TV Cultura. The
film Sábado (Saturday) by Ugo Georgetti marked Abujamra’s film debut as an actor.

A gregarious personality, André Abujamra composes, produces, arranges, and defines the
theatrical posture and stage attire of the Karnak musicians. All fine players,
individually and collectively, these musicians are filled with a turbulent enthusiasm and
play with an effective "point" that is rare in young artists. Even more
surprising is the way they channel this energy into an expression that touches so many
sources. Recently I had the immense pleasure of talking with André Abujamra and Lulu
Camargo, Karnak’s keyboard player, about intuition and change.

Brazzil—Is Abujamra a Brazilian name?

André—My last name is from my grandparents, from Beirut, Lebanon. Here in
Brazil, most people are the great-grandchildren of people from other countries. São Paulo
is like a megalopolis. We have many cultures here, Japanese, Italian… There is a mixing
of cultures, of music, and of food. From childhood we are exposed to different people and
cultures.

Brazzil—Where did you guys meet?

Lulu—We went to the same college of music back in 1985. We were in different
classes, but André used to give me a ride home in his Volkswagen bug after school.

Brazzil—Which college?

Lulu—FAAM—Faculdade de Artes Alcântara Machado. We were both going for
the Composition/Conducting major.

Brazzil—Lulu, you also attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. Was
it a positive experience?

Lulu—Yes, I didn’t learn much about music there, but it helped me to have a
professional attitude toward composition, and I met some very good friends there.

Brazzil—André, you play bass and guitar, but it seems like your main
instrument is the Macintosh Quadra.

André—It’s no longer a Quadra. Now it’s a Power PC. Yes, I can play many
instruments, but I’m not a musician. I’m a musical architect.

Brazzil—You approach composition through the computer?

André—Well, around ’88 or ’89, I bought an Atari computer. I studied, and
then I started preparing sound tracks for theater works and the cinema. I love to make
music on the computer. I use technology to assist the realization of my ideas. You know,
I’ve done this now for a long time, so I’m getting better and better at it. I believe you
have to understand the technology. You don’t have to be a purist.

Brazzil—What is "tecno-porco " ?

André—Well, I love technology, right? Here in Brazil it is very difficult to
keep up with the latest technology. When I was a teenager, I started a duo called Os
Mulheres Negras (Black Women). We were together for almost eight years. But I didn’t have
money to buy state-of-the-art technology. So I bought very low-profile equipment and tried
to use that like a professional. Using that system like a professional was "tecno-porco."
Porco means pig.

Brazzil—Tell me a little about JOB.

André—JOB is my… is my… Well, here in Brazil everybody’s very poor, you
understand, and we have to work at many things to reach our dreams. Karnak is my dream, my
Utopia. So I have a job. JOB is the name of my work, my recording/production studio. I
work with publicity, with TV. You know, the networks. I make money writing sound tracks
for movies and sound tracks for advertising, TV advertising and musical scores for theater
productions. I want some day to live just because Karnak exists, but it’s going to be… I
don’t know how long it will take.

Brazzil—What is the title of the new Tom Zé CD that you produced at
JOB?

André—I don’t know yet. They haven’t told me. The album was recorded two
years ago, and only now is David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label going to mix it in New York. So I
don’t know. Maybe it will be released by April.

Brazzil—I understand you wrote the jingle for Antarctica guaraná in
their campaign against Coca-Cola.

André—How do you know that?!

Brazzil—(Laughter) That’s my job.

André—Well, it’s a very nice job.

Brazzil—Lulu, you’ve also written and produced several scores for
theater, film, and television. What are your plans while you wait for Karnak to catch
fire?

Lulu—I’ll be producing a couple of local bands in the first semester. The
scene is hot right now, lots of good bands coming out. There is a new sense of
"Brazilianity," a feeling of being national without being nationalist, that we
can play pop, rap, funk, rock, and it will still be Brazilian music. And that we can play
samba, forró, maracatu, and be very, very universal. The Brazilian music
scene is probably the richest in the world right now. We are passing through a very good
period. So that’s where I want to be working and creating.

Brazzil—Which composers have influenced your music?

André—Prokofiev,… ah,.. Hermeto Pascoal,…. and… You’re an American,
right?… hmmmm… Spike Jones.

Brazzil—Incredible! I definitely hear Hermeto, but I should have guessed
Spike Jones. What about you, Lulu?

Lulu—Well, as a teenager, growing up in São Paulo, the least Brazilian of the
Brazilian cities, I listened mostly to rock bands and classical music. I really wasn’t
into Brazilian music, and I didn’t buy any MPB albums. I spent some time listening to all
the Beatles’ albums at first, lots of progressive rock, The Police, Talking Heads, The Who
(Pete Townshend is probably my favorite songwriter), and punk rock, especially The (Sex)
Pistols and The Ramones. It really bugged me that I couldn’t truly enjoy MPB and be a
"real" Brazilian in that sense. Outside of pop music, I have always been a
classical music lover.

Debussy, Stravinsky, Copland, and Beethoven were always on my turntable. But sometime
back in 1982 or ’83, I went to a chamber concert of minimal music where I heard Reich’s
"Piano Phase," and it made clear in my head what I wanted from music. I think
that minimal composers like Glass, Reich, Adams, and more recently Louis Andriessen are my
"gurus" when I think of composition. Still, I was influenced more by particular
pieces of music than by individual composers.

Brazzil—Tell me a little about Louis Andriessen.

Lulu—In 1993, I went to Poland for the first time, to attend the Composers’
Seminar on film music. I attended lectures by several European composers. I was really
impressed by Louis Andriessen’s music and also by his nature. It was always nice to hear
what he had to say about music and life. But what really struck me was his attitude, that
music should concern life, that composers shouldn’t go for musical perfection, but for
living better lives as human beings. Music should not be more important than humanity.

Last year, I was in Amsterdam visiting Peter Van Onna, composer and disciple of Louis,
and I had the opportunity to sit and watch one of Andriessen’s classes. He is a very nice
old man. He started the meeting with the statement, "I think I finally enjoy writing
music again," and then went on talking about the freshness of listening to (I think
it was) "Danse Macabre," such a naive piece of music, and so on…

He is considered the most important Dutch composer. For me he is the top European
composer today. His music is similar, but different from American minimalism. American
minimalism has a tendency to be perceived as "easy listening," while listening
to Andriessen would be a little more like chewing sandpaper.

Brazzil—Can you explain for our readers the process of sampling from the
initial recorded sound to application in a Karnak tune—maybe using the Tuvan throat
singers in "Comendo Uva na Chuva" as an example?

Lulu—There’s no rule. André has a strong position of making everything
intuitive, leaving a lot of space to chance. We were recording the first demo of
"Comendo Uva," and a friend of mine had showed me a recording of the throat
singer. I took it to the studio and played it for the band as a novelty. André
immediately said, "Let’s put this in the mix!" I wanted to check for tempo
relations and process it with a pitch-changing device, but André took the tape and hit
play at a certain time in the song—and it did fit, rhythm and pitch! We argued,
André saying that it was due to some kind of cosmic harmony, and I (the eternal skeptic)
said it was the beauty of pure chance. We were both amazed. Afterward we dumped that audio
into the S-770 sampler, so I could use it live.

André—We work with our intuition. Karnak is not a "World Music"
group. We don’t research the music from Tuvinskaya or Arabic music or the music from
Tibet. I pick the samples because I like the sound of Tuvan throat singing, and I like the
sound of the Nigerian language. I put them in my music for tone color. I don’t do this
because I want to say, "Hey, I went to Nigeria and I know this guy." I write
music intuitively.

Brazzil—How long did it take to create "Comendo Uva Na Chuva"?
It sounds very complicated.

André—No, no, it’s not very complicated. I can drive my Macintosh very well.
It’s not complicated once I have the idea.

Brazzil—Is "Comendo Uva na Chuva" your biggest hit so far?

Lulu—It’s our second biggest hit. Lyrics are pretty much nonsense, but the
video earned us our first hit at MTV, the Best New Band award in 1996.

Brazzil—Would you say it’s reggae?

André—Yes, it’s a reggae, but the guitar in reggae music most of the time is
on the up-beat, right?

Brazzil—Right.

André—But in Karnak’s reggae music it’s on the first and the third beat
(sings). It’s inverted reggae.

Brazzil—Inverted reggae, Yeah! (Laughter) I like that. Which track on
the first CD was the most complicated to mix?

André—It was "Cala a Boca, Menina."

Brazzil—Really?

André—Yes, because there were too many instruments and too much crazy stuff.
I want to make the last track on Karnak’s records the strangest, so I made many, many,
many . . . many channels. It was very difficult. Tom Zé is singing "Cala a Boca,
Menina."

Lulu—This is one of my favorites. Lots of overdubs and a powerful guitar
solo, finishing with an endless saxophone loop.

Brazzil—"Cala a Boca, Menina" doesn’t appear on the Tinder CD.

André—I know. All the music on the Tinder CD is my music. "Cala a Boca,
Menina" is Dorival Caymmi’s tune.

Brazzil—Lulu, how was it working on the first Karnak CD?

Lulu—My involvement in the first CD was strange. I had been playing with
André for three years, so a lot of the arrangements were created during rehearsals. When
it came to recording, I gathered with André and pretty much showed him the keyboard
grooves I did on stage, recorded a lot of MIDI material, and then left him and Luiz Macedo
free to cut and paste my parts to fit the songs. At that time I was going to make a trip
to Russia for a composition seminar in St. Petersburg. The trip lasted three months,
traveling to Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Macedonia where I met composers and
musicologists as well as people from radio and the studios. When I returned, the CD was
already mixed. In a way, I skipped most of the hardworking bits of the process.

Brazzil—André, why do you sing in totally invented dialects of Arabic,
Italian, Russian, and African as well as the Karnakian tongue, Davadara?

André—I like inventing languages, not because of what the words mean, but
because of the sounds themselves. Sometimes I sing a kind of gibberish that sounds like an
ordered language with a grammar. Maybe someday some linguist will understand my need to
make these sounds. I’m not too concerned with what they are saying, but I am concerned
with what feelings are conveyed to people who don’t speak Portuguese or English or Arabic.
When you hear "Alma Não Tem Cor," you may not know what I’m talking about, but
you feel what I’m talking about.

Lulu—What can I say? I still don’t know what "Ai, Ai, Ai, Ai, Ai, Ai,
Ai" is about…

Brazzil—Yeah, but it’s got some great flute playing!

André—Yes, very nice flauta. Marcos is a very nice musician. He’s a
good friend who plays both flute and keyboards very well, and he also produces advertising
jingles.

Lulu—I used to play in a funk band with Marcos in 1993, two keyboardists in
the line-up; that’s how we met. And when I traveled to Russia in 1994, we called him to
substitute for me in a few concerts.

Brazzil—André, are you also fond of inventing new rhythmic dialects?

André—Yes, for example, "Martim Parangola" is a mix of music from
the Northeast of Brazil with the bass playing salsa and a little funk. "O Mundo"
is a fusion of the rhythms from Morocco and Egypt. The reggae that is pinned to that
Northeastern groove you hear on "Alma Não Tem Cor" is maxixe with a
reggae bass line. And "Balança a Pança" is rock’n roll baião.

Brazzil—Fantastic concept! Tell me more about these tunes.

Lulu—Actually, "Martim Parangola" predates Karnak. It’s originally
from the "Mulheres Negras" repertoire. "O Mundo" was the first tune we
ever rehearsed. I still remember all of us squeezed into a small rehearsal room (actually
Carneiro’s living room) playing that song, six years ago. I always thought it would be our
biggest hit, but it wasn’t. "Alma Não Tem Cor" has opened our concerts for the
past five years. Full of energy. The video received the Best Director award at MTV’s
"Video Music Brasil" in 1997. "Balança a Pança" happened
accidentally one day when we went to a rehearsal and half the band didn’t show up. The
rest of us started jamming, and this song was born. I used to play the accordion on this
song, but the accordion was a little out of tune, so I gave it up. I play organ now.

Brazzil—What about the groove on "Vim Que Venha"?

André—We have here in Brazil a very special kind of music from the Northeast.
It is somehow related to the music from the Northwest of Africa. What you hear in
"Vim Que Venha" is a mixing of the Brazilian Northeastern repente and
music from the Northwest of Africa. Very fast, you know… (sings). It’s called repente.
The tune talks about birth and death.

Lulu—Recently someone interpreted it as an anti-abortion song, but I
wouldn’t go that far.

Brazzil—I’m entranced listening to Chico César. Are you close?

André—Yes, Chico is a very good friend of mine. Now he’s very famous in
Brazil, and I can’t talk with him because he is so busy. But we are very, very good
friends, and I like his work very much. You know he sings "Alma Não Tem Cor" on
his first CD, Aos Vivos.

Brazzil—Yes. That’s an incredible disc. When I got it, I played it
non-stop for days. How did you come up with the idea for "Espinho na Roseira"?
It has some of the disc’s most interesting texturing.

Lulu—The tune is based on Drummond’s poem, a song about loving and being
loved. Built on top of a Northeastern folk sample, it is the typical Karnak’s mantra
sound.

Brazzil—A friend of mine called it "Acid Forró."

André—It’s a fusion of baião and xote.

Brazzil—I’ve noticed that you like throwing a little poetry into
Karnak’s musical stew.

André—Oh yes! My dad has a very good voice. Every time I make a record I
include my dad reciting some poetry. I love his voice, so he recites poems for me. He
loves Fernando Pessoa (2).

Brazzil—Your father is an actor and director?

André—Yes, a very famous actor here in Brazil and theater director. His name
is Antônio Abujamra. Very famous here.

Brazzil—Has he had much influence on your work?

André—Yes, because life is very hard here in Brazil. When you want to do
something artistic, be an actor, poet, or musician, parents always try to discourage you.
They say, "Oh, you will need money." But my dad was already a very good director
and actor, so he said, "If you want to, you can do whatever you want. Life is yours,
spoil it." He helped me make the decision to be a musician and artist.

Brazzil—How has his influence helped with the Karnak videos?

André—I directed "Comendo Uva na Chuva."

Brazzil—Is there one ultimate concept that guides Karnak?

André—There is. Pop music without restrictions. No limits. People who want to
make a difference in life have to believe in the Utopia of their ideas. Sometimes what is
on the horizon may not appear to be Utopia. But Karnak is getting bigger than I thought it
was going to be, and I’m happy. I never thought I would have to practice my English to
speak with people from the United States. When I created Karnak, people here in Brazil
told me, "You are crazy, man. You are making a very big band and a very strange
band." And I said, "Well, this is my dream, right?"

And with Karnak my dream became a reality. We’ve been together for six years and
everybody here in Brazil likes us. Tinder records likes us, and we are in the United
States. And it’s very hard to be in the United States. I plan to take Karnak to Europe and
to the United States to show others my Utopia. Here in Brazil, Karnak is playing almost
every city with the new show, Universo Umbigo.

Brazzil—Was there a shift in musical direction for Karnak on the new CD?

Lulu—I don’t think so. The Karnak spirit is the same: information overload,
simple and direct lyrics, beauty disguised in chaos, and the old silly jokes. We’re still
the same. We just learned how to play better and to record better. The biggest change is
that while the first CD sounded a lot like a conceptual collage, this one is more like a
real band playing. I really hope we do a live album next.

André—There are a few differences. On the first CD, I put all the
instruments into the Macintosh and did architectural stuff. With the new album, I did
everything in the Macintosh, but the drums and percussion. I didn’t edit these parts, I
just recorded them. And I recorded them last, after I recorded everything else. This gives
the music a more live quality. I love the first album, but I think it’s too perfect. I
wanted to make the second one a little uglier. Uglier in the sense that I wanted to make
it more human.

Brazzil—For me "O Mundo Muda" (The World Changes) is the most
beautiful song on Universo Umbigo, as far as pure songwriting goes, especially the
way the percussion parts emphasize Marcos Bowie’s voice. What a mix!

André—Yes. We’re using Asian percussion instruments and mixing in French rap
and a little Arabian poetry sung by our belly dancer, Zuzu Biscaro.

Brazzil—I can’t place it, but at the end of the b-section on "Céu com
Pé no Chão" (Heaven With Feet on the Ground) the cello quotes an orchestral work I
know I’ve heard somewhere.

Lulu—Beautiful song, recorded only with some of our good friends. The cello
is playing a small phrase from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije.

André—Aside from the nice fretless bass playing by Pixinga you can also
hear sections of João Donato and Paulo Cesar Pinheiro’s poem "Terremoto"
(Earthquake).

Brazzil—What’s the story with "Inalabama"? It means In
Alabama, right?

Lulu—You got it! It’s a country tune with no defined lyrics that tells the
tale of a man who, in 1813, goes from Siberia to Alabama and meets the Devil. Sounds like
something you would hear in a Muppet TV show. I love it!

André—It’s sung in Davadara, Karnak’s language. The song starts with Zé
Victor Castiel making a false Karnakian orthodox prayer, has João Gordo as a special
guest singing in German and Catalan, and finishes with the death of a Bulgarian keyboard
player. Tuco Marcondes plays the country guitar licks.

Brazzil—Man, the lyrics in "Candelara" are pretty
hard-hitting.

Lulu—"Candelara" does have some pretty heavy lyrics about violence
against homeless children in Brazil. It’s fast and tense, getting very close to what could
be called a Northern Brazilian techno.

André—This is the first song Karnak ever recorded, but this is a more
unsettling version with a Darth Vader-like introduction.

Brazzil—How did you decide on using Monica Salmaso? Her Afro-Sambas
CD with Paulo Bellinati is exceptional. But what’s with all the distortion?

Lulu—We did a project with an orchestra called Representative Artists of São
Paulo. Karnak played orchestral versions of "Alma Não Tem Cor," which I
orchestrated; "Eu Tô Voando," orchestrated by André; and "O Mundo,"
by Macedo. I was very pleased with the results, it being the first time I ever wrote for a
full symphony orchestra. Monica and several other artists were on this project, and the
whole band fell in love with her instantly. Not only is her voice wonderful, she is really
gorgeous! Later André invited her to record the main vocals on "Boiadeiro." I
was a little pissed off because in the end he processed her beautiful voice with a lot of
distortion.

Brazzil—Is Karnak really a working band or do the musicians get called
just for recording?

Lulu—There is a band. The original members of the first line-up rehearsed for
almost one year, once or twice a week. During those rehearsals, we also talked about
various subjects, changed arrangements, improvised music and theater, had fights, and told
each other stories. Shaped by André’s leadership and ideas, I think that the Karnak sound
was defined in that year, before the first time we hit the stage.

Brazzil—How many musicians are there "really" in the band?

André (joking)—Karnak is a mutant band. Sometimes we have nine people and a
dog. Sometimes we have twelve people and a girl and a dog, sometimes a belly dancer.

Lulu—As I see it, Karnak is made of a basic core of six musicians, some
other friends that come and go, and eventual guests. We’ve made concerts with anything
from six to fifteen people on stage. One thing that’s worth mentioning is that through the
years, some people left the band, some people joined, some people rejoined after a while,
some friends sometimes drop by and play along. Karnak is becoming not so much of a band,
but a little community. Sounds a little hippie, I know.

Brazzil—I was sorry to hear that Luiz Macedo is the "former"
guitar player. It seems that he contributed a lot to the first CD—playing and
arranging. Who replaced him and why?

Lulu—If Karnak were a boat, one could say that Luiz was the second in command.
I don’t think he was replaced. Mano Bap is now playing guitar and singing, but the whole
relationship among instruments and musicians has changed a lot. The reasons why he left
the band are still not clear to me. Anyway, I think sometimes everybody needs a change.
Luiz currently is the owner of Jukebox Studio and recording label. We still work together
a lot, and he still is a very good friend of the band.

Brazzil—Who is Cecília Bernardes? Man, what a gorgeous voice!

André -Yes, Cecília Bernardes is the wife of my manager. I’ve known her a long
time, and I love her voice.

Brazzil—How are live performances and studio recordings with Karnak
different from your experiences with other bands?

Lulu—Karnak is unique for me. To begin with, the sound check is always hell!
We like to play with perfect stage monitoring (like every band, I guess), but when it
comes to a band with fifteen musicians, including two drum sets, and prerecorded
samples… whew! Because I’m in charge of a lot of samples, prerecorded material, and
sequencers, playing live with Karnak can be really bureaucratic and stressing. But most of
the time, when the stage is working fine, and we have a good monitor technician, we go
into level of energy that is uncommon when playing with other bands. On the other hand,
under André’s strong leadership, recording is always a fast, straightforward,
no-complication process. We often go for the first take, the first idea.

Brazzil—Artists have always drawn inspiration from legends, folklore,
the mystical, perhaps because these things come from the roots of our imagination. André,
Do you have a fascination with mysticism or numerology?

André—Yes, I really like… Well, first of all, I’m very interested in all of
the world’s religions. I believe in everything I’ve heard about spiritual things. I
believe in all religions, and I don’t believe in all religions. It is something that is
very difficult to explain.

Lulu—He’s into anything that’s mystical and esoteric.

André—But I think that all religions go to the same place. They want to go
to God. I like to make music that asks about the things we don’t know. But I don’t wave
this like a flag. I don’t think this is what’s most important in my music. I see this as a
way to understand the movement of the world, not to change it.

Brazzil—Besides being a band Karnak is also theater. Is the black
clothing connected with anything mystical?

André—Oh, no! On the first album everybody wore black clothes. And on the new
album everybody is wearing white clothes. And on the next album everybody is going to have
blue clothes. And the next one just green (laughter). I’m just kidding… I’m sorry.

Brazzil—You guys have received a lot of awards. Are there any I may not
know about?

Lulu—Not that I remember. But come to think of it, we did play soccer at MTV’s
Rock’n Gol championship in 1997. We didn’t win anything; actually we lost the first and
only game 14 X 1. So, if there were a "Worst Soccer Playing Band" award, it
would be ours.

Brazzil—Seriously?! What happened?

Lulu—Ok, so we were invited to play, and nobody in the band can play soccer.
But we went just for the fun. The big mistake was that we decided to have a practice game
a few days earlier against some friends. We were so out of shape that when it came time
for the real game, we all had terrible muscular aches. Kuki, for instance, hurt himself
really badly while warming up. The team was André in the front. He actually knows how to
play well, but is too fat to do anything. Mano and Carneiro in the middle field. They’re
okay. They just play awfully. Me and Serginho in the defense line. We were beyond the
frontiers of the unknown. The worst players in the universe, I’d say. Lloyd was the goal
keeper. He is a good player, but he decided not to show it that afternoon. We were
scheduled to play against Senhor Banana / Resist Control, a mixed team of two reggae bands
from Curitiba, mostly kids ranging from 18 to 23 years old. And you know that Karnak is a
"more experienced" band… The game was broadcasted, with commentary by three
very funny comedians.

In a game of thirty minutes we lost 14 x 1; that’s about one goal every two minutes.
But it was fun. We’re all good friends. The best part of it was afterward we got to hang
out with the other bands and have some beers.

Brazzil—Thank you guys very much.

Lulu—A pleasure.

André—You’re welcome… Sorry about my English.

Brazzil—You speak very well.

André—Thanks, it’s very bad, I know that. Thank you.

Critics Are Saying

Zeca Camargo from Rede Globo:

"Finally a release for the unsurmountable position that Brazilian Rock assumed in
the ’90s. Tropicália without an ideology, Secos e Molhados without make-up, Tempos
Modernos without marijuana. And everything with good humor."

Okky de Souza of Veja:

"With a first disc of extraordinary creativity, the group released a radical, yet
viable offering of world music."

TOP 15

The 15 most important releases of MPB from the past 30 years in order of importance as
judged by music critics and reviewers from all over Brazil in the survey conducted last
year by São Paulo’s daily Jornal da Tarde.
Album Artist Year

1st Place
Tropicália ou Panis et Circensis Caetano, Gil, and others 1968

2nd Place
Acabou Chorare Novos Baianos 1972

3rd Place
Fa-Tal—Gal a Todo Vapor Gal Costa 1971

4th Place
Expresso 2222 Gilberto Gil 1972

5th Place
Tim Maia Tim Maia 1970
Amoroso João Gilberto 1977
Pérola Negra Luiz Melodia 1973

6th Place
Karnak Karnak 1995
Construção Chico Buarque 1971
Transa Caetano Veloso 1972
A Tábua de Esmeralda Jorge Ben 1974
Os Mutantes Os Mutantes 1968
Jóia Caetano Veloso 1975
Elis & Tom Elis Regina and Tom Jobim 1974
Legião Urbana Legião Urbana 1985

 


Vim Que Venha

André Abujamra, Sérgio Bartolo,
Hugo Hori, and Eduardo Bid

E quando morre a gente chora né
E quando nasce a gente ri né
Mas quem nasce chora
E quem morre ri
Bahia é terra de dois
É terra de dois irmão
Governador na Bahia é Cosme e São Damião
Quem tem que vim que venha
Quem tem que ir que vá
E a morte veio e chegou bem de repente
Prá mostrá prá toda gente que a morte também vem 
Foi de bazuca, tiro, atropelamento, de carroça,
De jumento, de lambreta, fusca e trem
Ninguém espera, ninguém fica esperando
Só porque é pernambucano não acha que vai sofrer
O homem gordo, o homem magro,o homem alto,
O homem baixo, o homem feio também nascem prá morrer
Conheço um cara que comeu manga com leite,
Foi picado por serpente conseguiu sobreviver
E aquele outro pisou numa taturana, teve morte instantânea
Não dá nem prá entender
Quem tem que vir que venha
Quem tem que ir que vá
E quando morre a gente fica chorando
E quando nasce a gente ri
Mas quem nasce chora e quem morre sorri


Come What Comes

 

And when we die, people cry, right?
And when we’re born, people laugh, right?
But the one who is born cries
And the one who dies, laughs
Bahia is a land of two
It is a land of two brothers
The Governor of Bahia is Cosme and Saint Damião (3)
The one who has to come, should come
The one who has to go, should go
Death arrived suddenly
To show everybody that Death always comes
It was by a bazooka, a shot, run over, by a cart,
By a donkey, by a motorcycle, a Volkswagen and a train
Nobody waits, nobody stays waiting
A man from Pernambuco believes that he is not going to suffer
The fat man, the slender man, and the tall man
The short man, the ugly man were also born to die
I know a guy that ate mango and milk, (4)
He was bitten by a snake, and he survived
And that other one that stepped on a fire caterpillar, died instantly
We can’t understand
The one who has to come, should come
The one who has to go, should go
And when we die, people start crying
And when we’re born, people laugh
But the one who is born cries, and the one who dies smiles

 

Comendo Uva na Chuva

André Abujamra

Comendo uva na chuva
Cada água que cai do meu rosto
É uma chuva que ainda não parou
Cada água que cai lá de cima
É a lágrima de alguém que brigou
Será que um dia a gente vai parar de briga
Será que um dia a gente vai parar de brigar
Cada raio que cai lá de cima
É uma luz no meio da escuridão
Cada tapa que recebo no rosto
É a chicotada de um furacão
A gente se sente
A gente se sente diferente
A gente se mente
A gente se mente diferente
A gente semente
Semente plantadinha no chão
A gente na mente
Na mente e no coração
I’m not from this world
I came from Atlantis

Eating Grape in the Rain

 

Eating grape in the rain
Every drop of water that falls on my face
It is a rain that still hasn’t stopped
Every drop of water that falls from above
Is like a tear from someone who fought
I wish that one day we will stop fighting
I wish that one day we will stop fighting
Every lightning that strikes from up there
Is a light amidst the darkness
Every slap that I receive on my face
Is the whip of a hurricane
People feel sorry
People feel different
People lie
People lie differently
People plant seeds
Seeds planted on the ground
People in the mind
In the mind and in the heart
I’m not from this world
I came from Atlantis

 

Espinho na Roseira 

André Abujamra

Tem espinho na roseira
Cuidado vai cortar a mão
Pedro Alcântara do
Nascimento amava Rosa Albuquerque Damião
Pedro Alcântara amava Rosa, mas a Rosa não amava ele não
Rosa Albuquerque amava Jorge, amava Jorge Benedito de Jesus
E o Benedito, Bendito Jorge, amava Lina que é casada com João
E o João, João sem dente, amava Carla, Carla da cintura fina
E a Carla, linda menina, amava Antônio Violeiro do Sertão
E o sertão vai virar mar
E o mar vai virar sertão
E o Antônio, cabra da peste, amava Júlia que era filha de Odete
E a Odete amava Pedro, que amava Rosa que era prima de Drumond
E o Drumond era casado com Maria que era filha de Sofia, mãe de Onofre e de José
E o José era casado com Nazira que era filha de Jandira, concubina de Mané
E o Mané tinha 17 filhos, 10 homens e 6 meninas, e um que ia resolver
E o rapaz tava já na adolescência tinha brinco na orelha e salto alto prá crescer
E o Rodolfo que já era desquitado era homem mal amado não queria mais viver
E encontrou Maria Paula de Arruda que lhe deu muita ajuda fez seu coração nascer
E são essas histórias de amor
Que acontecem todo dia sim senhor

Thorns in the Rosebush

 

There are thorns in the rosebush
Careful you’re going to cut your hand
Pedro Alcântara do
Nascimento loved Rosa Albuquerque Damião
Pedro Alcântara loved Rosa, but Rosa did not love him
Rosa Albuquerque loved Jorge, loved Jorge Benedito de Jesus
And Benedito, blessed Jorge, loved Lina who is married to João
And João, João without teeth, loved Carla, Carla of the thin waist
And Carla, beautiful girl, loved Antônio Violeiro do Sertão
And the backlands will become a sea
And the sea will become backlands
And Antônio, son of a gun, loved Júlia who was the daughter of Odete
And Odete loved Pedro, who loved Rosa who was a cousin of Drumond
And Drumond was married to Maria who was the daughter of Sofia, mother of Onofre and José

And José was married to Nazira who was the daughter of Jandira, mistress of Mané
And Mané had 17 children, 10 boys and 6 girls, and one that was going to decide
And the boy who was already an adolescent had an earing in his ear and high heels to be
taller
And Rodolfo who was already divorced was a man badly loved and didn’t want to live any
more
And met Maria Paula de Arruda who helped him a lot and made his heart be born
And these are the stories of love
That happen every day, yes sir

 

Céu Com Pé no Chão

André Abujamra

(Quoted passage is from "Terremoto" by João Donato and
Paulo César Pinheiro)

Lá fora não tem água e aqui dentro a gente chora
Lá fora não tem água e aqui dentro a gente chuva
Eu vou pro céu com o pé no chão
Encontrar com a María e seu marido Lampião
Eu vou pro céu com o pé no chão
Encontrar com a María e meu São Sebastião
Foi Chico César que falou que a vida é boa
Mas ela às vezes ela pode ser ruim
É que tem vezes que a gente tem que dizer não e a gente sempre fala sim
Foi Theo Werneck que falou que a vida é boa
Mas ela às vezes ela pode ser má
É que tem vezes que a gente fica parado e a gente tinha que andar
Paulinho Moska que falou que a vida é boa
Mas ela às vezes ela pode ser cruel
É que tem vezes que a gente está no inferno a gente pensa que é o céu
Foi Chico Science que falou que a vida é boa
Por que na terra tem maracatu rural
E ele fica lá no céu dançando lindo abençoando pessoal.
"Ei mamãe com pé na terra
Ei meu pai com pé no chão
Por onde andei
Sem direção
Eu te verei com pé no chão
Meu mestre é rei
Foi Salomão
Que me ensinou com pé no chão."

Heaven With Feet
on the Ground

 

Out there, there’s no water, and in here we cry
Out there, there’s no water, and in here we rain
I’m going to heaven with my feet on the ground
To meet Maria and her husband Lampião
I’m going to heaven with my feet on the ground
To meet Maria and my St. Sebastian 
It was Chico César that said life is good
But sometimes it can be bad
It’s just that sometimes we have to say no, we always say yes
It was Theo Werneck that said life is good
But sometimes it can be mean
It’s just that sometimes we stand still, we have to move
Paulinho Moska said life is good
But sometimes it can be cruel
It’s just that sometimes we’re in hell, we think it’s heaven
It was Chico Science that said life is good
Because on earth there is "maracatu rural"
And he stays up there in heaven, blessing us, folks.
"Hey mama with feet on the land
Hey papa with feet on the ground
Where have I wandered
No direction
I will see you
With feet on the ground
My master is king
Was Solomon
That taught me with feet on the ground"

 

(1) Kikito is the name of the award for the Gramado Festival, which is the most
traditional and important film festival in Brazil.

(2) Fernando Pessoa was the most controversial Portuguese poet at the beginning of this
century. He had multiple personalities and wrote under four different names in four
completely different styles. Readers and critics thought that his work was in reality the
work of four different poets.

(3) The twin saints of the Catholic church.

(4) In Brazil, there is a belief that if you eat mango, you should not drink milk
because the combination of the enzymes creates a venom.

Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters
degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz
ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him through
his E-mail: cuica@interworld.net 

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