Tapioca infuses hip-hop with popular Brazilian music
By Gus Navarro April 04, 2022
Brazilian popular music — in Portuguese, musica popular brasileira (BPM)—is often associated with a tropical atmosphere and a laid-back vibe. What if the MPB artist you listen to leans more towards bossa novasamba, Where vshorror, the music is almost guaranteed to set the tone for a fun night out with friends. But make no mistake: beneath the cold surface, the music of South America’s largest country is as socially conscious as it is playful.
“Popular music brasileira (MPB) developed in part as a musical response to the 1964 military coup that overthrew a left-wing populist government bent on reform,” says Lorraine Leu, professor of Latin cultural studies. Americans at UT-Austin. “Before the coup, the left-wing cultural scene had become very dynamic in imagining the new society that would emerge from these reforms. The defeat of the left has led to much soul-searching on the part of cultural producers. As Brazil grappled with the post-coup political regime, which lasted until 1985, artists such as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben and Maria Bethânia emerged, capturing the imagination of Brazilians Across the country.
“Early MPBs focused heavily on issues of national identity and how to imagine a national community under an authoritarian government,” says Leu. “Although this highly politicized scenario meant expressing your leftist credentials by playing traditional or folk forms of Brazilian music, MPB became a creative blend of traditional and national music with contemporary foreign influences.”
As the MPB grew in popularity in Brazil, the music accompanied Brazilians who traveled, studied abroad, or moved to new countries entirely. In the case of Alessandro Vlerick, his mother moved to Belgium. Known as Le Tagarel, Vlerick is a musician and lyricist who grew up in Belgium. Growing up, Vlerick listened to and eventually made all types of music. But MPB was always present. “My mom and dad had a Brazilian restaurant,” says Vlerick. “So throughout my youth there was a lot of Brazilian music. My mother was crazy about Jorge Ben.
In the 2000s, Vlerick met fellow musician and hip-hop enthusiast Simon Carlier, also known as SiKa, through mutual friends. The two hit it off and started making music together. What started as two artists trying to collaborate became a friendship. Over the next 15 years, Vlerick and Carlier released a few moderately successful French rap projects, and continued to hang out and experiment with music. Meanwhile, Vlerick took a trip to Brazil and came back with a ton of records. “We talked a lot about the music he brought back. The initial idea was to know how to taste it,” recalls Carlier. “Then we started talking about doing something that other beatmakers or crate diggers could sample. To reverse the process.
The end result of this process is Travel. Published by Vlerick and Carlier under the name Tapioca via Jakarta Records, Travel is an amalgamation of several musical styles. Vlerick sings and raps almost entirely in Portuguese on Travel, and the process of creating the album made him think about a language he had been around all his life in a new way. “What I’ve always liked about classical Brazilian singers is the smoothness. The fluidity. And also, the rhythms. I think Brazilian singing is so rhythmic,” says Vlerick. “I think as a as a rapper, you are also based on rhythm. It was very interesting to try all the rhythms and all the accents and to try to learn how to sing better in Portuguese.
On the one hand, the project can be easily classified in the hip hop category; it doesn’t take long to catch the almost a timeless boom bap syncopation that harmonises with funk bass lines and four-on-the-floor house patterns. But what you hear above all is the influence of MPB.
In part, the essence of MPB comes from the music. Whether on “Seu Olhar”, the seventh song, or “Maracuja”, the fourth track, the compositions have a relaxed and relaxed feeling on the beach. But beneath the laid-back vibe lie deeper themes. On “Voyage”, the second song, Vlerick sings of his desire to get away from it all and see the world; the sixth track “Melodia”, powered by a catchy chorus, thick bassline and strings, is an anthem about self-esteem. And throughout the album, Portuguese speakers around the world talk about the role that tapioca, the flour made from cassava root, has played in their lives. This tapioca is an essential Part of the cuisine and culture across the Americas, the African continent and Europe is no small feat.
On “Voyage”, Vlerick and Carlier took their initial idea of sampling MPB and created something entirely new, which fits into a larger legacy of Brazilian music created in the 60s, 70s and 80s, explains Professor Leu. “I understand Brazilian popular music as a conversation. Artists are always in dialogue with each other in their work, both their contemporaries and previous characters who may have died before they were even born. I would say that after the emergence of the MPB, music in Brazil has become the most important cultural forum for reflecting on the changing spaces of identification that social change can bring about. It is his legacy. »