Jungle reviews: an inspiring UK debut from Criolo

Born in Rio de Janeiro but based in London for the first time as part of the festival London 2012, Back2Black presented a promising line-up, including world-acclaimed names like Gilberto Gil, Mulatu Astatke, Femi Kuti and Macy Gray.

But the great expectation for most of the crowd (more than 50% Brazilians) and critics was the Brazilian revelation Criolo, three times winner of the latest Brazilian Music Awards. Considered by Caetano Veloso as “possibly the most important figure on the Brazilian pop scene”, Criolo may bring the world’s attention back to Brazilian culture, that has been put aside since Seu Jorge made his big breakthrough in the past decade.

With his mix of non-obvious lyrics with a cauldron of rhythms, including bolero, hip-hop and samba Criolo was one of the main attractions of Saturday’s line-up, featuring the jazz legend Mulatu Astatke.

Most of all, Criolo is showing to the world, through a wise discourse and an irreverent and theatrical posture on stage, the abyss that exists between the rich and the poor in Brazil, despite the economic rising that placed Brazil as the 5th world economy in 2012.

With the verse “Eu odeio explicar gíria” (I hate explaining slang), Criolo synthesizes his vocabulary. But can rap music in other language be enjoyable? Well, the English rapper Roots Manuva, which entered the main stage just before the Brazilian rapper, was probably the great shill for the English audience, but they don’t mince words: “Criolo’s gig was wicked”, they all repeated in unison.

For the Londoner Rob Searle-Barnes, Criolo’s gig was full of energy, right from the start. “The crowd was only lifted higher and higher into a real party mood. Of course it’s hard to appreciate the music fully as it is always hard to understand a foreign language, but I would encourage everyone to go and see live foreign music as it removes the language barrier.” – says Rob, originally from the village of Flamstead.

According to another member of the audience, Daryl Wild, the concert was enjoyable and energetic and the ambience was friendly. “ If he could speak a little more English, he could have engaged the English crowd members a bit more, but I didn’t feel left out”, he said, highlighting as well the participation of Criolo’s partner and producer, Daniel Ganjaman, in the tune Grajauex, one of the highest points of the gig.

Born in the north-east of Brazil, in the city of Fortaleza, with the baptism name of Kleber Gomes, Criolo moved to São Paulo with his family when he was still a kid, looking for a better life, like millions of Brazilians do every year for decades, running from the drought and hunger of the backcountry.

The arrival at the biggest city of Latin America was a huge disappointment and Criolo ended up in a favela with his family. And, in the slums, periferia in Brazilian Portuguese, his knowledge and wisdom were born.

Through lyrics packed with street language, but also with many references to Brazilian icons in Arts and Literature, like Manuel Bandeira, Di Cavalcanti and Oiticica; verses like “Essa padaria nunca vendeu pão” (This bakery never sold bread) – a reference to the drug traffic and money laundry, “Os bares estão cheios de almas tão vazias” (The bars are full of empty souls) and “Aqui ninguém vai pro céu” (Here no one goes to heaven), the rapper distances himself from previous icons in Brazilian hip-hop scene, like Racionais Mc’s, Sabotage and Nega Gizza, by taking a less aggressive and obvious approach, and, consequently, sowing urban poetry.

In the end of the gig, clearly thrilled to find himself playing alongside his hero Mulatu Astatke, the 36 year old rapper didn’t forget to leave his message to the Brazilian audience: “Don’t low your heads. You are Brazilians here or in any other place of the world”. Well, by everything Brazilians go through, he definitely has a point.

by Bruna Gala

Leave a Reply