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Shut Up and Dance

Shut Up and Dance

Basic education in Brazil is in chaos. A little more
than 30% of students ever finish elementary school. Teachers’ salaries
are a joke with some receiving as little as $1.30 (that is one dollar and
thirty cents) per 45-minute class. Nobody is happy. There are islands of
excellence in some private schools, and higher education is reasonable.
But that is too little for the eighth largest economy in the world if it
wants to make any difference in the next millennium.
By Brazzil Magazine

It’s Friday night and everybody at Café Danssa in West Los Angeles
is dancing to a tune that has been dominating Brazilian radio for months
with irresistible rhythmic punch and torrid lyrics that speak of a dream
girl steamed in vapor. Pumping through the sound system is Skank, a band
that has seduced the public with an infallible formula that addresses two
national glories Brazilians cultivate from the crib: women and soccer.
Their monstrous hit is, of course, "Garota Nacional" (National
Girl).

Skank, the latest sensation of Brazilian pop, emerged from Belo Horizonte,
the capital of mountainous, mineral-rich Minas Gerais, a city where the
music scene at the beginning of the `90s was divided between the cult of
the Clube da Esquina — devotees of Milton Nascimento, Lô Borges,
and Beto Guedes; and the disciples of heavy-metal. Skank is neither.

Embracing Jamaican pop as its foundation, Skank succeeded because of
their riveting, unrelenting sound and because they have never been solely
a reggae band. What came directly from Jamaica to the music of Skank was
electronic reggae, the digital keyboard and drum sound of Sly & Robbie.
Although some contend that the band’s name came from the Bob Marley tune
"Easy Skanking" on his Kaya LP, and others say that it
is a derivative of the word used for laboratory grown marijuana; the name,
in reality, is an allusion to the Jamaican rhythm ska. Skanking
is something like dancing to ska.

Comparisons between Skank and other composers and musicians from Minas
like Lô Borges are inevitable. But by performing their own breed
of reggae, Skank has created an unparalleled sound that is aggressive,
but sweet, a sound that defies any resemblance to the well-accepted music
of the region.

Because they have a knack for writing coherent tunes, which sound simple,
yet shine with unusual brilliance, Skank’s compositions have conquered
the public at large as well as other successful composers and notable musicians.
Lô Borges, a Skank fan himself, recently commented that the quartet’s
sound is one that Brazil has needed for a long time. Daniela Mercury invited
Samuel Rosa, Skank’s vocalist and guitar player, to record the duet "Minas
com Bahia" by Chico Amaral on her most recent project. And Jorge Benjor,
another Skank fan, asked Samuel to appear on Homo Sapiens, Benjor’s
latest project.

Besides writing tunes with contagious rhythms and flirtatious lyrics,
the quartet evokes a euphoric mood. They are heirs of the pop music reveler
tradition dating back to the accordion of Luiz Gonzaga and the trio
elétrico of Luiz Caldas. Setting a record, they made 170 appearances
in 18 months to promote their second release, Calango. Their fee
is roughly $41,000 per show while the reggae group Cidade Negra, who in
1995 sold almost 1 million discs, receives about $15,000 for a performance.

Skank’s success is intriguing because of its similarity to the recent
spread of axé music, which originated with black groups in
Bahia. Axé exploded in Brazil only after being presented by Daniela
Mercury. The same thing happened with Brazilian rap, which became a national
mania only after Gabriel o Pensador’s first release. Exploitation of black
music by white artists has been an astonishing and widely recognized phenomenon
that has been successfully employed since Elvis Presley. The only trick
is that the formula works only when the artists involved have talent.

Skank went through a curious growth process, different from the majority
of groups from Belo Horizonte. The band members were local musicians who
played at different bars. Once in a while they got together at a bar called
Janis to play in Skank and do cover versions of tunes by Tim Maia (godfather
of Brazilian funk) and Jorge Benjor, never imagining that five years later
Benjor would invite their singer to appear on one of his recordings.

The first venue Skank started playing with any regularity was a churrascaria
(a restaurant featuring barbecued meat) called Mister Biff. Every night
after the gig, their clothes would be inundated with the smell of meat
and smoke. But the worst part of the gig was that the band never even got
dinner. They were allowed a snack, which was limited to a choice between
a hamburger or a potato. Struggling to survive in the artistic world of
Belo Horizonte by playing the bar scene was grizzly. It was a milestone
for the quartet when they created a joint savings account to spur the Skank
project.

Instead of proceeding like many other groups, who make a demo tape and
try their luck with the big record companies, Skank invested their $10,000
collective savings in a CD and a video clip. They had 3,000 copies of the
CD pressed and sent half to radio stations, record companies, and the press.
The other half was sold at gigs to cover their investment. While the band
was busy trying to shop their product, their manager negotiated a deal
with Sony’s Chaos label. Sony bought the master for $10,000 and invested
another $10,000 for a remix providing the first release with a more polished
sound. The deal was a bargain for Sony who at the time was reticent about
contracting any new talent.

The first disc sold 150,000 copies, more than enough for the standards
of Brazilian rock when you consider that the superb disc Da Lata (From
Tin) released in 1995 on EMI by rock diva Fernanda Abreu, singer and sex
symbol for the preeminent rock group Blitz, sold roughly 100,000 copies
in one year. Although Skank’s first release wasn’t the earth shattering
success of Mamonas Assassinas, it was enough to show that Brazilian pop
music had a future and that it was not necessary for Brazilian bands to
sing in English or to mimic the fashions that were in vogue abroad, like
hip-hop music or grunge.

The members of the quartet were born and raised in Belo Horizonte, and
they still live there. Guitar player and vocalist Samuel Rosa, bass player
Lelo Zaneti, and drummer Haroldo Ferretti live on the same street. Keyboard
player Henrique Portugal lives in an apartment two blocks away from the
others. They play soccer together every chance they get and are often joined
by their close friend Lô Borges. Their passion for the game is obvious
by the official soccer jerseys they wear on stage and by their refusal
to book gigs on days when there is an important match between the two principal
Mineiro soccer teams, Atlético and Cruzeiro.

They have even signed an exclusive contract with the brand of sports’
products that sponsors the uniforms of the top Brazilian teams. Nonetheless,
they have refused offers of $250,000 to promote products like slippers
and beer. It’s not that they are adverse to the advertising world. It is
just that Skank has tried to avoid the over-exposure that pulled down groups
like RPM, the Brazilian rock sensation of the 1980s. The members of Skank
never imagined they would attain stardom, and that is the secret of the
rapport they have established with their fans. They are like a soccer team
that wins the World Cup playing with athletes who were just promoted from
the juniors.

Selling more discs than the king, Roberto Carlos, and more than any
sertaneja duo, Skank dominated Brazilian music sales in 1996. Their
third disc O Samba Poconé (the name was forró
inspired) has continued to maintain its position high on best sellers’
charts in Brazil and is proof that Skank’s success was warranted and not
fabricated. Only the sound track from the soap opera Rei do Gado (King
of the Herd) — pushed by Globo media conglomerate and adorned by a dozen
different artists — sold more than the Mineiros. Maybe the wind
will change, but it is still strong enough now to bet on Skank as a favorite
for quite some time.

In absolute numbers, O Samba Poconé is followed closely
only by Na Cabeça, e na Cintura (In the Head, In the Waist)
from the Bahian group É o Tchan and by the most recent disc by Zezé
Camargo and Luciano, both with sales above the 1.5 million mark. Released
in June 1996, on the Sony label, O Samba Poconé has already
sold over 1.8 million copies. In comparison, the disc A Tempestade
(Storm) by Legião Urbana (Urban Legion) sold less than half as many
copies despite the commotion over the death of singer Renato Russo.

Propelled by the racy lyrics and its scorching rhythmic drive, the latest
project has brought record crowds to their electrifying shows. Skank communicates
with their fans via a high-voltage energy level that moves through a throng
like electrifying waves. Attending a Skank show has become the dream of
the young people who championed Mamonas Assassinas. Fans stay up until
three in the morning dancing and trying to get closer to their idols. "É
uma Partida de Futebol" (It’s a Soccer Game), narrated with a magic
reminiscent of the Benjor classics, "Fio Maravilha" (Marvelous
Fio) and "Ponta de Lança Africano" (African Point Man)
never fails to ignite Skank supporters.

Aside from soccer, the liveliest tunes on O Samba Poconé talk
about girls. The charm here lies in the understated manner the group has
of expressing its particular form of romanticism. Even when the lyrics
are disheartening, the music is joyous. This happens with "Eu Disse
a Ela" (I Told Her) which talks about a separation:

Quando eu disse a ela

Que o amor morreu

A cidade sutilmente

Estremeceu

When I told her

That my love died

The city subtly

Shook

It’s not Chico Buarque, but the group makes no pretension of flying
so high. The idea is to be simple and direct without butchering the grammar,
as many rival bands have. Another subject that Skank touches on is cinema.
Three tracks from O Samba Poconé talk about the seventh art,
one is an homage to the comic Zé Trindade.

The new disc successfully employs female background vocals, thick percussion
tracks, and some of the sweetest horn section arrangements I’ve heard in
years. After two months of confinement in a São Paulo studio, the
completed O Samba Poconé emerged, without exaggeration, as
one of the best recorded projects ever to come out of Brazil. Reggae once
more is the foundation, but the project ventures through rock, ska,
baião, and carimbó as well. This diversity
has resulted in a recording that has the capacity to hook listeners abroad
as well as in Brazil.

Almost all the music was composed by singer Samuel Rosa. Chico Amaral,
the thirty-nine year old sax player who is considered by many to be the
fifth member of Skank, wrote the lyrics for 8 of the 11 tracks. In addition,
Amaral composed both the music and lyrics for "Um Dia Qualquer"
(Any Day) and "Poconé." The quartet acknowledges that
Amaral’s contributions have been decisive. Returning the praise, Amaral
has referred to the group as a fraternity of talent. Bass player Nando
Reis from the group Titãs, a musician who has written some of the
biggest hits for Marisa Monte and the reggae group Cidade Negra, makes
his debut as Samuel Rosa’s writing partner on the aforementioned "É
Uma Partida de Futebol," the disc’s forceful opening track.

Even before delivery to the stores, the project was a hit. The tune
"Garota Nacional" — satiric defense for those wonderful girls
that populate the erotic dreams of all healthy guys — was given premature
air-play all over Brazil long before stores received the product. To supplement
the early radio exposure, Skank hatched a video, displaying a stable of
beautiful, nearly naked girls in stimulating poses. Skank’s manager, Fernando
Furtado, used to be a porno movie critic known as Dr. Penetration. Needless
to say, the video turned the heads of a generation of Brazilian youth who
devour MTV videos. "Garota Nacional" has commanded the charts
for months and remains the biggest hit from O Samba Poconé
so far, although it is followed closely by "Os Exilados" (The
Exiled) and "Eu Disse a Ela."

Three months after its release, O Samba Poconé guaranteed
the band another Disco de Platina. Without a doubt, the CD is one of the
best releases of Brazilian pop in years. It will inevitably set the standard
for some time, just as O Eterno Deus Mu Dança (The Eternal
God of Change) by Gilberto Gil and Cabeça Dinossauro (Dinosaur
Head ) by Titãs did in the 1980s. The comparison to these touchstone
recordings is validated by Skank’s impressive instrumental and vocal musicianship,
their unequaled writing, and by the recording quality itself. Well produced
and highly danceable, the disc follows admirably in the footprints of their
1994 mega-success Calango, which propelled Skank to a national career
and landed the group their first Disco de Platina. Practically every track
on Calango was a hit.

Blessed by their success in Brazil, the group is now pushing toward
the international market without any significant promotional work and singing
in Portuguese — a language that has not helped exportation. Success in
the markets abroad may be a stiff challenge for the quartet largely because
recordings by Brazilian artists released outside of Brazil are typically
labeled by record companies as "Latina Music" and handled as
such, not because Brazilian music is so small a slice of the market and
the Spanish speaking market is so huge, but because these large companies
don’t seem to know what to do with Brazilian music. Curiously, the Brazilian
act that has taken off outside Brazil plays music with a heavy-metal emphasis.
Still, Skank’s expectations for an international career are formidable.

If nothing else, the band has become a notable statistic with tremendous
potential. The international version of the disc O Samba Poconé
with a bonus track of "Garota Nacional" in Spanish was released
in ten countries in Latin America and exported to France, Spain, and Portugal.
Among all the South American artists contracted to multinational Sony music,
Skank has been the most successful outside their country of origin for
the last 10 months. Last December the band made a small tour to Chile,
where "Garota Nacional" was receiving extensive airplay; it even
became a jingle for a cigarette commercial. Sony’s enthusiastic manager
of international development for Brazilian artists stated recently that
the responses they have been receiving from markets outside Brazil is unanimous:
Skank is a marvelous product.

It appears that Skank will soon have the support abroad from the North
American Epic label, the same division responsible for recordings by Michael
Jackson. And if an international campaign corresponds to their ambitious
expectations, the quartet will become the most successful Brazilian group
outside Brazil, a position occupied today only by another band from Belo
Horizonte, Sepultura — the heavy metal head-bangers whose most notable
success has been achieved outside Brazil. Contrary to the laborious heavy-meddlers,
who "sing" in English and live abroad, Skank intends to remain
in Belo Horizonte and to sing in Portuguese.



Te Ver

(from Calango)

Samuel Rosa, Lelo Zaneti, Chico Amaral



Te ver e não te querer

É improvável, é impossível



Te ver e ter que esquecer

É insuportável, é dor incrível



É como mergulhar num rio e não se molhar

É como não morrer de frio no gelo polar

É ter estomago vazio e não almoçar

E ver o céu se abrir no estio e não se animar



É como esperar o prato e não salivar

Sentir apertar o sapato e não descalçar

É ver alguém feliz de fato sem alguém pra amar

É como procurar no mato estrela do mar



É como não sentir calor em Cuiabá

Ou como no Arpoador não ver o mar

É como não morrer de raiva com a política

Ignorar que a tarde vai vadia e mítica



É como ver televisão e não dormir

Ver um bichano pelo chão e não sorrir

É como não provar o néctar de um lindo amor

Depois que o coração detecta a fina flor


To See You

To see you and not want you

Is improbable, it is impossible



To have you and have to forget you

Is unbearable, it is incredible pain



It is like diving in a river and not getting wet

It is like not dying of cold in the polar ice

It is to have an empty stomach and not eat lunch

It is to see the open sky in the summer and not be happy



It is like waiting for the dish and not salivating

To feel the shoe pinch and not take it off

It is to see someone really happy without someone to love

It is like searching for a star in the bushes



It is like not feeling the heat in Cuiabá

Or like not seeing the sea at Arpoador

It is like not dying of rage with politics

To ignore that the evening is going leisurely and mythically



It is like watching television and not getting sleepy

To see a cat on the floor and not smile

It is like not tasting the nectar of a beautiful love

After the heart detects the finest flower

Eu Disse a Ela

Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

Quando eu disse a ela

Que o amor passou

A cidade levemente

Flutuou



Ondas amarelas

Na Contorno cheia

A cidade simplesmente

Me odeia



Quando eu disse a ela

Que o amor morreu

A cidade sutilmente



Estremeceu

Bestas e janelas

Êxtase no breu

A cidade nos meus dentes

Tu e eu



Mesmo sabendo que a vida nos engana

Mesmo sabendo que a Opala não é plana

Mesmo sabendo que a dor cartesiana

Mesmo sabendo que só música baiana



Eu disse a ela que

Eu disse a ela então

Eu disse a ela que

Eu disse a ela não

I Told Her

When I told her

That love has passed

The city lightly

Floated



Yellow waves

On the crowded avenue

The city simply

Hates me



When I told her

That my love died

The city subtly

Shook



Beasts and windows

Ecstasy in the darkness

The city in my teeth

You and I



Even knowing that life deceives us

Even knowing that the Opal is not flat

Even knowing that the pain is Cartesian

Even knowing that it is only Bahian music



I told her that

I told her then

I told her that

I told her no

Garota Nacional

Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

Aqui nesse mundinho fechado ela é incrível

Com seu vestido preto indefectível

Eu detesto o jeito dela,

mas pensando bem

Ela fecha com meus sonhos

como ninguém



Conhece-te a ti mesmo e eu

me conheço

Sou um qualquer vulgar,

bem, às vezes esqueço

E finjo que não finjo ao ignorar

Que ela me domina no

primeiro olhar



Porque ela derrama um banquete, um palacete

Um anjo de vestido, uma libido do cacete

Ela é tão vistosa que talvez seja mentira

Quem dera minha cara fosse de sucupira



Beat it laun,daun daun

Beat it loom, dap’n daun

Beat it laun, baun baun



Eu quero te provar

Cozida a vapor

Eu te quero te provar

Sem medo e sem amor

You can download a sample of

"Garota Nacional" (garotana.wav –
197kb)

National Girl

Here in this closed little world she is incredible

In her infallibe black dress

I detest her manner, but on second thought

She matches my dreams like no one else



Know yourself and I know myself

I am anyone, well, sometimes I forget

And I pretend that I’m not pretending at ignoring

That she dominates with her first glance



Because she pours a banquet, a small palace

An angel in a dress, a fucking libido

She is so good looking that maybe it’s a lie

I wish my face showed no expression



Beat it laun, daun daun

Beat it loom, dap’n daun

Beat it laun, baun baun



I want to taste you

Cooked in steam

I want to taste you

Without fear and without love

Tão Seu

Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

Cê sabe que eu sinto a sua falta

Não posso esperar tanto tempo assim

O nosso amor é novo

É o velho amor ainda e sempre



Não diga que não vem me ver

De noite eu quero descansar

Ir ao cinema com você

Um filme à toa no Pathé



Que culpa a gente tem de ser feliz

Que culpa a gente tem, meu bem

O mundo bem diante do nariz

Feliz aqui e não além



Cê sabe que eu faço tanta coisa

Pensando no momento de te ver

A minha casa sem você é triste

E a espera arde sem me aquecer



Não diga que você não volta

Eu não vou conseguir dormir

À noite eu quero descansar

Sair à toa por aí



Que culpa a gente tem de ser feliz

Eu digo eles ou nós dois

O mundo bem diante do nariz

Feliz agora e não depois



Me sinto só, me sinto só, me sinto tão seu

Me sinto tão, me sinto só e sou teu

So Much Yours

You know that I miss you

I can’t wait so long

Our love is new

It is the old love again and forever



Don’t tell me you won’t come to see me

In the evening I want to rest

To go the movies with you

A film of any type at the Pathé



Who can blame us for being so happy

Who can blame us, my love

The world is in front of our noses

Happy here and not beyond



You know that I plan so many things

Thinking of the moment that I will see you

My home is sad without you

And waiting for you burns without warming me



Don’t say that you’re not coming back

I cannot sleep

In the evening I want to rest

To hang out



Who can blame us for being so happy

I tell them or the two of us

The world is here in front of our noses

Happy now and not afterwards



I feel helpless, I feel helpless, I feel so much yours

I feel so much, I feel helpless and I am yours

Os Exilados

Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

Meu coração tá batendo

De amor e de cansaço

Saudade de abraço

Do morno regaço

Onde eu deixei

Um pedaço de mim



Meu coração parecendo

Um lobo rubro aço

Ficou mudo no abraço

É de veludo o laço

Com que eu atei

Um pedaço de você



Com você eu vou mais longe

Que os cristos, que as crenças

Que o bonde de Valença

Com você eu vou mais longe



Com você eu vou mais longe

Que a ilha de Mallorca

Onde a porca torce o rabo

E o diabo nos esconde



Meu coração parecendo

Um troço, um erro crasso

Tipo "lost in the space"

Não entende o estilhaço

Que é só, eu sei

Um balaço de amor



Meu coração é o seu

Seu coração é o meu

The Exiled

My heart is beating

My love is tired

Longing for a hug

In the warmth of your bosom

Where I left

A piece of myself



My heart seems

A red steel wolf

That became mute in your embrace

It is a velvet lasso

With which I tied

A piece of you



With you I go much farther

Than the christs, and the beliefs

Than the streetcar to Valença

With you I go much farther



With you I go much farther

Than the island of Majorca

Where the pig twists her tail

And the devil hides us



My heart seems

An object, a big mistake

Type "lost in the space"

That doesn’t understand the debris

That it is only, I know

A bullet of love



My heart is yours

Your heart is mine

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: cuíca@interworld.net

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