Balnearico – The Sunny Side of Brazil’s Underground Pop mixtape by Selvagem
by Wax Poetics
“Balnearico is the word we came up with when trying to find a concept that would embrace the feeling one can get from listening to these sunny, bright songs produced in the late ’70s up to the mid-’80s, no matter the genre they’re attached to—funk, rock, boogie, reggae, disco, electro, et cetera,” comments the São Paulo DJ duo Millos Kaiser and Trepanado, who go by Selvagem and created this Balnearico mix exclusively for Wax Poetics. “This neologism is a blend of balearic (the laidback style that descends from the music played in the ’80s in the Spanish Islas Baleares, specially Ibiza) and balneário, the Portuguese word that’s synonymous for beach—so yes, in our effort of uncovering all this music, we’re also trying to create a soundtrack that captures the essence of Brazil’s atmosphere by the sea, which doesn’t mean it only makes sense in that setting.
“It’s a bit of a word play to dub it ‘The Sunny Side of Brazil’s Underground Pop,’ but we mean it: All these songs are hidden gems that had potential of being, if not major, at least minor hits, and get some airplay in the radio back then, which didn’t happen in most of the cases. This music never made it and was thrown into darkness. Since then, it’s been largely ignored by fans and collectors of Brazilian music who usually look for psychedelia, funk, soul, boogie, and samba-rock, because digging in this realm can get really sticky, cheesy. Yes, it can get cheesy, but even the bad moments are worthy to us—we are adepts of the “aesthetics of error”; it’s what makes us human. Still, the majority of the music here shines bright, so you better put your sunglasses and ride this wave.”
Track listing and notes by Selvagem
1. Regina Shakti “Espírito Puro” (Young) 1980
In the late ’70s, Regina Shakti was known for impersonating singer Dee D. Jackson in Brazilian television, an idea conceived by TV host Carlos Imperial (who was long involved in showbiz and at the time was particularly interested in the discotheque culture). The next step was to launch Regina as a singer herself, but it never went further than a very obscure 7-inch single (fact: Regina is a yoga master for decades now, something one can notice by the cover). “Espírito Puro,” which kick things off, backs the cheesy Eurodisco-tinged “Ishivara Hare (Saudação a Vishnu)” and has a cosmic feel carrying it all the way. We can’t help but love the saloon-toned piano and the group vocals on the chorus.
2. Placa Luminosa “Olhos de Vera” from Neon (Polygram/Lança) 1982
The band was born as Corrente de Força, when it was already responsible for some killer grooves (check “Salve o Congo”). As Placa Luminosa, they were a frequent act in the emerging scene of the Black music parties in São Paulo, along with pioneer DJs. That was around the end of the ’70s. Later on, they became the support band for big stars in Brazil, like Ney Matogrosso, and scored some tracks in soap operas, which is something quite meaningful over here—but never met real fame. Some of the members are still together these days, struggling to live with their music, playing in bars and small venues. “Olhos de Vera” is the only instrumental theme on Neon, their second LP. It has almost a soft-jazz vibe in the beginning that suddenly follows to a typical Brazilian regional melody.
3. Os Famks “Labirinto” from Famks (EMI) 1978
This is the first incarnation of Roupa Nova, a group that broke through the pop chart in the ’80s but before that released two 7-inch singles and two self-titled LPs as Famks. Most of their output is forgetable, but in the second album they flirted successfully with boogie and disco, coining fine tracks such as “Preciso Te Encontrar,” “Todo Mundo Fala,” and the bass-and-synth-driven “Labirinto,” which closes this sought-after record.
4. Luiz Maurício “Gosto de Batom” (Polydor) 1980
Luiz Maurício is of course Lulu Santos, one of the most reputable pop singers in Brazil, and he, too, released music before picking a more suitable artistic name for his solo career. “Gosto de Batom” is the B-side of “Melô do Amor” (melô being the abbreviation slang for melodia, or melody, a slang for song identified with a word or an expression), featured on the great Plumas And Paetês soap-opera soundtrack (the compilation includes Lincoln Olivetti and Robson Jorge’s “Prêt-A-Porter,” Lucia Turnbull’s “Aroma,” and Banda Black Rio’s “De Onde Vem”), and brings Santos’s trademark vocals and guitar licks. Supercatchy and sunny as hell.
5. Ricardo Bomba “Dias Quentes” (Elektra) 1981
Ricardo de Barros Sjösted was born in 1960 and spent his teens in the United States. The 7-inch single containing “Dias Quentes” was the first recording ever for the then 21-year-old boy, who composed, sung (the lyrics are super “balnearic,” an ode to the summer), played the piano and also the synths on this song. During the next years, as far as we know, he released only one more 7-inch using “Bomba” as his artistic surname, though not as special as this one. As Ricardo Duna he put out a few albums, most of them instrumental. But for us, nothing beats the naiveté and sun-soaked aesthetics of “Dias Quentes” with its lovely backing vocals, almost Beach Boys–esque, throughout the track.
6. Jair Supercap Show “Promessas pelo Ar” from Jair Supercap Show (Fermata) 1983
This is what we call a find. Jair Supercap Show is still active as a big band specialized in events and balls, which they have done since the ’70s. During the span of 1979 through 1985, they managed to release some cool records, and to say they are overlooked is to understate it—they’re scarce. In the 1983 album we found “Promessas Pelo Ar,” an uplifting, groovy soft-rock tune that echoes the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” in the chorus, but believe us, it goes beyond that impression: Irresistible bass line with some occasional slapping, Caribbean-like piano, and perfect bridges between the vocals… We just can’t get enough of it.
7. Brenda “Natureza Viva” (RCA) 1980
A rare 7-inch-only release. To our knowledge, Brenda released only three singles, the most famous being “Sábado Que Vem,” a disco cover of “What a Difference a Day Makes” influenced by the Esther Phillips’s 1975 version. She tasted success but vanished soon after. Before that producer Don Beto (from the Nossa Imaginação LP fame) took her by the hand (he appears as “independent producer” on the RCA label) and recorded in 1980 the sing-along “Natureza Viva.” The nature-conscious lyrics stick to your head, but it’s the slap bass and the guitar solo that makes this a remarkable track.
8. Junior “Pedras de Cristal” (RGE) 1981
Sadly, Luiz Mendes Jr. aka Junior Mendes passed away earlier this year. He was 63 years old. Son of an actress and a sports radio personality, Junior began writing songs at 17, and did that prolifically, together with friend Gastão Lamounier, for the rest of his life, providing successful compositions for Banda Black Rio, Sandra Sá, and Tim Maia, who he also followed as a backing vocal in the Vitoria Regia band early on. The name Junior Mendes can be read in most of the Brazilian soul-funk-disco record’s back sleeves. “Pedras de Cristal” was released in a 7-inch that had this incredible cover and also featured on his 1982 album Copabana Sadia.
9. Bolão “Sem Querer” (RCA) 1984
Carlos Bolão was the percussionist of Brylho (the band will appear further on with another track), mostly known for the R&B ballad “Noite do Prazer,” recorded a dozen of times and still often aired in the radio. In the reggae-driven “Sem Querer,” released only in this 7-inch, Bolão sings and appears magnificently solo in the cover, though accompanied in the recording sessions by the members of Brylho. He stills performs these days and have played together with names like Caetano Veloso and Jorge Ben in his career.
10. Denny King “Lobisomem” from Crack-No (Reneau Records) 1987
A lot of mystery surrounds Denny King and Reneau Records, responsible for most of the artist’s releases, both in Brazil and in the U.S. Around here, he has put out a 7-inch and Crack-No, an LP with a bizarre name and cover. It seems Denny is American and had spent some time in our country during the ’80s, where he wrote songs for Tim Maia, Sandra Sá, Cassiano, and Emílio Santiago. In “Lobisomem,” he whispers nonsense phrases with that strong gringo accent, culminating in the hilarious chorus: “Quem come homem é lobisomem” (“Who eats men is a werewolf”—“eat” being a euphemism for the F-word in Portuguese). At the Reneau Records website (very idiosyncratic, may we say) there’s an actual photo of Denny King and the news that he is recording some new material for 2014. Fingers crossed.
11. Sergio Sá “Namoro de Gato” (Opus/Columbia) 1983
As a musician, producer, arranger, or composer, Sergio is one of the most ubiquitous figures in Brazilian record industry from the late ’60s to the ’90s. He composed music for names like Roberto Carlos and tons of jingles for the publicity industry, not to mention his work as Paul Bryan (a pseudonym he used when singing in English was fancy in Brazil). The early ’80s was one of his most prolific periods, when he embraced the synths and the boogie aesthetics to release music like “Namoro de Gato,” cheesy yet irresistible—so many good bits we can’t list them all (okay, just one: the verse that talks about love—roughly translated to “if we drink so fast from this wine so rare and so good we end up not knowing how it tastes”—brilliant!). Blind since he was a kid, Sergio has written a book about his condition (Close the Eyes to See Better), a novel, and a manual on home recording and acoustics. Today he also gives lectures around the country.
12. Fábio “Um Toque Só” (EMI) 1985
Fábio was known as one of Tim Maia’s most loyal friends—and Tim wasn’t easy to deal with; they knew each other since 1966 and collaborated on a few releases. He’s originally from Paraguay. In 1969, he released the mind-blowing single “Lindo Sonho Delirante” (allusion to LSD), but he was always some sort of outcast figure in pop music, surrounding it but never making his way through it. Well, “Um Toque Só” is part of his last efforts as a singer, a B-side of an obscure 7-inch released in 1985 (“Onda Boa”), a song written and arranged by Vinicius Cantuária, former drummer of band O Terço and important songwriter for the ’80s cannon. By the way, the drums are pretty tight on this song, not to mention the amazing intro with a super cool ’80s jazz-rock feel.
13. Woops “Venha Dançar” from Palco da Vida (Continental) 1981
Woops was band with a Christian rock inclination. Palco da Vida was their only LP with this formation. “Venha Dançar” is the only enlightened moment of the album for us. Paulo Woops, the singer, is still active these days, playing Bee Gees and Pink Floyd covers in weddings, proms, and parties.
14. Marcelo “Algo no Ar” from Marcelo (EMI) 1978
Marcelo Costa Santos started as an actor but soon turned himself into a singer-songwriter with a consistent output. In the Brazilian boogie era, he’s more known for his 1983 song “Sufoco ou Rebô,” another Lincoln Olivetti production, but his first album, from 1978, finds Marcelo in his prime, especially in this track with sophisticated arrangement, slick funk guitar, and relentless groove.
15. Brylho “A Bruxa Está Solta” (Elektra) 1984
The track, full of Prince vibes, was released only on a 7-inch, just before the band dissolved. The mixing is far from being well done, but the instruments used and the arrangement were quite modern for that time in Brazil. The lyrics are about a witch and how you should take care to not get caught by her. Deliciously naïve.
16. Ricardo Graça Mello “Tempo Quente” (Hot Staff) 1982
Ricardo is son of actress Marília Pêra and half-brother of Guto Graça Mello, who called the shots at Brazilian major label Som Livre (part of Rede Globo) as musical director. He was an actor-singer also associated with music producer Nelson Motta; Ricardo was part of the Banda Mistura Fina, which was the house band of legendary Frenetic Dancing Day nightclub at Morro da Urca, ran by Motta in the late ’70s. In 1982, Ricardo starred Menino do Rio, the independent-turned-blockbuster movie that had as main song “De Repente California,” a Lulu Santos hit, and in the same year Nelson Motta and Lulu Santos wrote “Tempo Quente” for Ricardo, and Guto produced it, wrapping this up. It ended up being included in the Sol the Verão soap opera soundtrack.
17. Léo Dim “Gata Selvagem” (RGE) 1985
Léo was a studio recording technician in Recife, in northeast Brazil. During a free day in the recording room, he decided to register four songs he had composed, along with the friend Djalma Coutinho. Léo’s mother worked as a secretary at Comdil, a records distributor, so when the masters were ready, they sent it to a few majors and Léo got a contract with RGE. The 7-inch sold well and he even performed in some TV shows. But at the same time, he realized that he was happier and fulfilled as a technician and sound engineer. “But I never stopped composing,” he says when we called him over the phone to get more information about “Gata Selvagem.” “I want to put out a whole album this time!”
18. Newton Drinckwater “Melô do Macaco (Macaco Pesado)” (EMI) 1982
Google gives you zero results when you type in Newton Drinckwater’s name. This 7-inch was probably his only recording, and it was produced and arranged by the great Lincoln Olivetti. You can listen to the maestro’s signature all over this track—from the fast-paced trumpet riffs to the synth bass. The lyrics are a masterpiece, charged with double-entendre jokes. On the back cover, there’s a scan of his ID, probably to prove that the weird lastname (Drinck with “ck”?) is true.
19. Kauê “Sentindo-Se Bem” (Dollar) 1985
Responsible for producing the haunting Tincoãs group in the early 1980s, Kauê recorded an electronic samba tune in the middle of that decade where he experimented with the synthethic boogie sound. This song is one of those you have mixed feelings about it at first but after trying it out a few times you’re totally into it (still, the breakdown chorus can be a bit too much for some ears…). Anyway, the bass line is a mean one, deep and fat, hooking you up instantly, and most of the vocal melody is pretty catchy too.
20. Wilma Dias “La Massagiste” (Epic) 1982
An obscure 1982 Lincoln Olivetti production that derives from his work for Painel de Controle band, for the album Chama A Turma Toda, from 1978—specifically from the “Relax” track; it’s the same arrangement. Wilma was known at the time as “banana woman” for being in the opening credits of famous Brazilian comedy show Planeta dos Homens (the overture was a Planet of the Apes parody) and had a short-lived actress career. By the time the “La Massagiste” was released, she rivaled bombshell queen Gretchen and also another actress-singer, Sharon (who released the infamous hit “Massage for Men” in the same year), as the sexiest singer of Brazil, a battle she lost. A pity, because she had the finest, wildest groove of them all, even if her French sucks big time.
21. JB & CA “Um Desejo” (RGE) 1984
Yet another B-side of a 7-inch single. We don’t have much information on this project apart that JB is Toninho JB and CA is Ciro Araujo, the former playing percussion and the latter guitar (neither of them were part of a famous studio band, for the record). It’s an independent production from 1983 with a hint of Curtis Mayfield and a flavor of Hot Chocolate, the darker stuff from the ’80s. Listen to the bass line and the non-stop bongos and just go with it, it’s just unstoppable.
22. Caio Flávio “Urra” (Polydor) 1980
Caio was one of the many vocalists of rock band Made in Brazil (the same one Cornelius is founder of) who left for solo career in 1979. In the following year he released his first single, “Cabeça Boa,” backed by “Urra,” with its great guitar intro and clever lyrics (shame most of you can’t understand most of them in the mix, there’s some pretty good ones). Even if the groove is broken by the structure of the song, it just stays with you, with its powerful shout punctuating it. Caio Flávio released a funny self titled LP four years later consisting only of covers of pop hits as the Romantics’ “Talking in Your Sleep,” B-52’s “Legal Tender,” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
23. Mário Gomes “Um Alô” from Mário Gomes (Som Livre) 1977
Mr. Gomes was a stud in Brazilian television at the time, a status he enjoyed for more than 15 years—you know, the good looking guy who scores all the gorgeous babes, doesn’t matter the plot. In 1977, someone at Som Livre thought it would be a hit if Mário Gomes released an album, but it wasn’t—the LP is pretty bad, kitsch songs with an awful vocal performance, apart from the first song which makes it worth the hunt. “Um Alô” was composed by Guilherme Lamounier, a talented yet underrated songwriter (he has three LPs, including a 1973 self-titled album that’s pretty good), so it’s a solid song with a sing-along melody and the acoustic guitar arrangement just makes it memorable, sounding like one of the many perfect tunes to play at the Arpoador sunset (those who witnessed it knows what we’re talking about). A sweet song that’s perfect to finish this Balnearico selection.
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