Brazilian Girls: Global Pop Collective

Brazilian GirlsBrazilian Girls: New York City (Verve, 8/5/08)

Brazilian Girls: “Good Time”

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Brazilian Girls is not Brazilian, and only one band member, singer Sabina Sciubba, is female. And for the record, she’s Italian, not Brazilian. She isn’t the only member with international flavor, however, as keyboard wiz Didi Gutman hails from Buenos Aries, Argentina and won a Latin Grammy for a track on the electronica-flavored Bajo Fondo Tango Club.

Combined with former Kansan jazz drummer and film scorer Aaron Johnston, the three produce an eclectic, dance-influenced sound that was borne from meetings in 2003 at a Manhattan club called NuBlu, a hangout for internationally minded musicians and artists. (The club also gave birth to Brazilian band Forro in the Dark.)

The three started playing together on Sundays at an all-night jam session, and their interests in international music evolved into a unique global groove. They hijacked Jamaican dance hall, Brazilian sambas, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, classic American saloon songs, rock, rap, techno, and anything else that caught their fancy to create their own high-flying, slightly surrealistic genre.

Sciubba’s story of the band’s origin, however, is more colorful. “I was dreaming of two cute boys carrying me to heaven with music,” she says while grinning. “When I woke up, the dream was true.”

There isn’t any real mystery about the band’s name. Turks and Brazilians run NuBlu, and plenty of dance-happy, real Brazilian girls became fans of the band. It seemed like a name as open-ended as the music that they were making. Like Manu Chao and Rachid Taha, Brazilian Girls freely borrow licks from any music, anywhere; they also resist labeling themselves or their music.

“Labels suck, especially ‘world music,’” Gutman says.  “What does that even mean? We are all musicians, and we’re all in this world, so if we hear something we like, we use it. It’s not thought out and often not even rehearsed. Those Sunday-night gigs at NuBlu were totally free. One of us would bring an idea, such as a harmonic progression, or a set of loops and samples. We’d talk about it for a few minutes before the gig. If it felt good, we’d hash it out by playing it again and again. I think we are going to be seeing more artists doing [these kinds of fusions], but I don’t know if that is going to change [the way that the music business will market it].”

“Brazilian girls is not a solo-artist type of band. We’re a collective, from a place called NuBlu, where there are many amazing and unique musicians and artists from all over the world. We feed off this.”

The band’s eponymous 2004 debut is a lighthearted romp through the nightclubs of the world. One track, “Corner Store,” combines tango, Eastern European brass-band oomph, a bit of rap, and a taste of drum-and-bass that morphed into a rhythm that sounded like Brazilian ska.

“We live in New York City, surrounded by colors and cultures and music from all over the world,” Sciubba says. “We all have lived all over the world and listen to music from everywhere, so when we arrange a song, our collective taste comes out.”

Walk down any New York City street and you’ll hear reggae, salsa, Arab rap, and Ukrainian folk music blasting out of storefronts. You may even catch a jug band playing on the sidewalks. That may be one reason that the band chose New York City as the title for its new album.

“Brazilian girls is not a solo-artist type of band,” Johnston says. “We’re a collective, from a place called NuBlu, where there are many amazing and unique musicians and artists from all over the world. We feed off this.”

New York City took almost a year to make. Individual band members had scattered all over the globe to pursue their wide-ranging musical interests, and they wanted to bring some of that flavor back to the album.

Brazilian Girls

“Sabina and myself went to London to write and record with Baaba Maal,” Gutman explains. “‘Internacional’ is one of about 15 songs that came from those sessions. I can’t wait for his album to come out. It was a great learning experience, working with Baaba and his band.”

“Internacional” blends West African, Brazilian, and club beats; Maal’s ululating vocals add steam to the track’s already bubbling party vibe. “Berlin” is a dissolute German beer-hall waltz, featuring Sciubba’s Marlene Dietrich-influenced vocals.

“I particularly like her singing in German,” Sciubba says. “She rolls the Rs — very fatale.” Horns supplied by Kenny Wollesen’s band, The Himalayas, augment the song’s dark drama. “‘Berlin’ is a live take — no overdubs, including the vocal,” Sciubba says. “It was a beautiful experience.”

Unlike previous albums, where the multi-talented band played most of the music itself, New York City sports a who’s who of New York’s international musical community. “We have so many valuable and talented musicians in our family,” Johnston says. “Kenny Wollesen and his marching band, who brought their flavor to ‘Berlin’; (trombonist and composer) Clark Gayton, who has played with us for years and helped write ‘Pussy Pussy Marijuana’; Mauro Refosco, the percussionist from Forro in the Dark. They’ve all contributed a great deal to the sound of this band. Sometimes things are written beforehand and the parts are just played. Other times, we rely on people to do their ‘thang,’ which always comes out sounding unique and beautiful.”

On New York City, those unique and beautiful explorations have created a distinct Brazilian Girls sound that’s almost mainstream, the beginning perhaps of a new kind of global pop. “It’s true,” Sciubba says enthusiastically. “C’est più internazional que nunca! It’s about as mainstream as weisswurst sashimi and vegan crèpes à la carbonara!”

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