Belem’s suburbs are converting Amazonia to electronic music
Text & Photographs by Vincent Rosenblatt / Agencia Olhares
Light idols, lasers, fireworks, and DJs worshiped like international popstars. The machines they drive make tens of thousands of young Amazonians from the Brazilian state of Pará dance. For decades, families of stallholders/fairground entertainers from Belem’s suburbs have had their
“aparelhagens” (equipments) built; these itinerant theme nightclubs are transported by truck from one side of the suburbs to the other, or by boat to other river cities East of the Amazonia, making couples of all ages to dance. All kinds of Brazilian and Caribbean rhythms are played, but it’s the
Brega that rules. This music, romantic to perfection, enhanced with electric guitar and electronic keyboard solos is often condemned by the local elites, who perceives it as a musical under-style: in Portuguese, “brega” means tacky.
At the beginning of 2000, the outbreak as well as the democratization of technology – PCs, Internet and music editing softwares (largely pirated) – transformed the traditional Brega and the musical scene as a whole. Since then artists have been producing their music in improvised, home based studios passing over music labels. Music shops have been replaced by street vendors selling pirate CDs for 1.5 euros a
piece, in Belem and other cities of the Pará state. Artists are giving up their royalties from the sales or the right to play their music in the “aparelhagens” (equipments) parties: the machines have become the driving force of local culture
its promotion, way ahead of radio stations or the television.
Artists largely compensate for the loss of their royalties with shows and tours they take to the interior of Pará or neighboring states that the machines cannot reach. Street vending and “pirating” are accepted as an integral part of this new system thus ending with the bribes previously offered by FM radio stations to DJs: the popular success is such that radio stations have had to go with the trend so as not to lose listeners. It is pirate CDs and the street itself which create and confirm an artist´s hits, in contrast to parties.
Tecnobrega – traditional Brega enriched with techno music (also recently renamed Tecno-Melody) – has brought about a renewal and caused a drastic evolution of both machines and the music: the accelerated rhythm (tunes are played at 180 BPM) and a new type of couple dancing mixing Afro-
European ballroom elements and street fighting movements, display the strong Amerindian influence in Belem.
The new dance is so fast that only the youngest and the fittest manage to hold the rhythm. For the over-25, other parties are organized, the “Bailes da saudade” (old-fashioned balls), which revive hits from the 70s, 80s or the 90s with vintage looking machines. Another trend is to come up with freestyle Portuguese versions of international hits. A Brazilian
antropophagy of the world Top 10 popmusics. Thus “Umbrella” by Rihanna has become “Me venera” (worship me) in the Portuguese hit. From Tatu to Dire Straits, all gain their Brazilian version, carefree about asking for permission or about rights.
Traditional families of fairground entertainers have understood this “electronic” evolution by launching machines evermore futuristic: “Superpop – the fire eagle”, “Rubi – the sound spaceship”, the powerful Tupinamba or the Principe Negro (Black Prince) share the adoration of hundreds of thousands of young people, mainly from Belem’s suburbs.
Most of those machines, made of wood, resin and aluminium are built in the workshop of João do Som, with their design drawn on his PC. Another expert then installs the powerful hydraulic systems which enable the “spaceships” to take off during the show. Last but not least, the machines´ owners head to the South of Brazil, to buy in São Paulo the latest technology: laser beams, LCD televisions and LED giant screens, fireworks launchers. The accumulated investment for the biggest machines such as the Superpop can reach
1 million US dollars, an initial investment recovered after only a few shows, particularly if they are launching new sound “spaceships”. In order neither to bore the public nor to be beaten by the competition, the machines have to be renewed every six months, become bigger and display innovative novelty.
Entrance fee to the shows costs between 2 to 7 Euros – young women usually get in half-price -depending on the neighborhood and the club where they are taking place. Anything between 1000 to 10,000 people can gather at these events. Yet another source of income generated by this
informal model of cultural production is the burning of the CD by the DJ´s assistants of the music played during the show. By giving-up their royalties, popular artists and composers have allowed for the emergence of a new music economy, increasing the number of beneficiaries: street vendors
(until recently accused of promoting pirating), DJs, managers of the shows, machines´ owners and their employees. This unusual experience, born in the suburbs of Belem, puzzles Brazilian researchers and economists alike. The new model of the music industry might have had its origins in Amazonia.
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