Red Hot + Rio 2 (Music Review)

Recently released, Red Hot + Rio 2 is a new album produced by the Red Hot Organization, a not-for-profit organization, founded in 1989, that fights AIDS using the power of pop music. Red Hot was created as a response to the precocious death of many artists and intellectuals in New York in the late 80s.

Leigh Blake and John Carlin were the two men behind the dream of producing an AIDS charity album with lots of pop stars appearances, which first happened in 1990 with Red Hot + Blue, featuring artists such as U2 and Tom Waits. After this, Red Hot produced many other albums, including the brand new Red Hot + Rio 2.

The album consists of two full length CDs with 33 songs (plus bonus tracks), which are mainly – as defined by executive producer Beco Dranoff – a mixture between Brazilian tropicália with contemporary indie-rock. To make such a combination work, Red Hot + Rio 2 brought together the crème de la crème of Brazilian music and some of the best upcoming international artists. The Brazilian cast has a bit of everything, from legends such as Caetano Veloso, Tom Ze, Marcos Valle and Rita Lee to the super cool Seu Jorge and the lovely Céu. They are very well accompanied by names such as Aloe Blacc, John Legend, Beirut, Jose Gonzalez and many others.

The “first side” of the album is called Red and starts with the Brazilian classic “Baby”, revisited by the sweet voice of Alice Smith and the soul presence of Aloe Blacc. A very promising start for an album that I knew would be good since I first heard of its release. The second track “Tropicalia” brings together two of the coolest artists in the world, Beck and Seu Jorge. It is a relaxed song, almost like lounge music. And Seu Jorge shows that he is on top of his game.

On track number three Mia Doi Todd and Jose Gonzalez combine their beautiful vocal tones to deliver an irresistible tune, “Um Girassol da Cor do Seu Cabelo”, with elements of Portuguese fado and a discreet yet notable electronic touch. As the albums progresses, Seu Jorge appears again singing “Boa Reza”, with the group Almaz and velvety-voiced Vanessa da Matta. You can almost feel the summer breeze after this one. However it is “Nu Com A Minha Minha Musica”, beautifully executed by Marisa Monte, Rodrigo Amarante and Devendra Banhart, that definitely sends you to a summery place, with not only the breeze but also the sea, the sand, and all you can possibly want. What a song!

Not to leave the listener too relaxed though – knowing that the second CD of this album is still to come – the last song of Red is the hopeful “Dreamworld” with David Byrne and Caetano Veloso. The last of which is the author of “Leaozinho”, the first song of CD two, Hot. The Red Hot + Rio 2 version of “Leaozinho” is sung by Beirut, who absolutely nail it, not only making it their own but also making the effort of singing it in admirably good Portuguese. It is definitely one of the highlights of this album, my personal favourite.

Although “Leoazinho” was a great start for Hot, the second CD of this album, it was only on track number seven that I saw myself going “wow” again. After some good but not so great tracks, including the strange “Freak Le Boom Boom”, which seems a bit out of place here, “Tropical Affair” brings back a delicious combination of Brazilian instruments and the beautiful voice of Brazilian actress/singer Thalma de Freitas, who delivers it brilliantly. Another track that really caught my attention was “Roda”. Probably the most innovative song of the whole album, it is an ambitious mix of rap with elements of Brazilian north-eastern music, such as forró and baiao, bringing together Orquestra Contemporanea da Olinda and the super creative rapper Emicida.
“Roda” is followed by “Berimbau”, which takes the album back to a more relaxed vibe. Berimbau is the main musical instrument used in Capoeira and so it is no surprise that the song has a certain tribal vibe, typical of Capoeira songs.

Moving toward the end of the album now, I came across two of the most contemporary productions of the record, in terms of arrangements: “It’s A Long Way”, featuring the sweet Brazilian singer Céu, and “A Cidade”, with DJ Dolores and the charismatic Otto.

Some of the last songs of the album have – maybe intentionally – a nostalgic vibe. The super-classic “Aguas de Marco”, made eternal by Tom Jobim and Elis Regina, is very well interpreted by Fernanda Takai and Moreno Veloso. It is followed by the jazzy bossa nova “Show Me Love”, a very ‘carioca’ song, sung almost sensually by Twin Danger. These two songs make you feel saudade but also are a great closure to this superb album.
The initiative of fighting HIV/AIDS through music, by itself, deserves admiration and support. However in this case, whoever decides to buy Red Hot + Rio 2 will be having double pleasure: helping fight HIV/AIDS and having the privilege to listen to a great album.

The neat production, the artists’ personal engagement with the album and their performances itself prove that Red Hot Organization took the whole “charity album” concept to a higher level.

On their website – www.redhot.org – you can find more information on how to purchase the album, get some free downloads and watch videos related to the album.

by Eduardo Pagnoncelli

Leave a Reply