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Various Artists - Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia Music Album Reviews

This revelatory survey of the music of Northern Brazil from the 1970s and ’80s is by turns alien and familiar, sacred and profane, always raw and thrilling.

Joaquim Maria Dias de Castro—better known as Mestre Cupijó—was already an accomplished bandleader in his hometown of Cametá, a small city in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, when he ventured upriver to live in an Amazonian quilombola community among the descendants of escaped slaves. There he absorbed siriá, the traditional sound of those mixed-race communities, where African, indigenous, and mestiço cultures commingled for generations, and he returned to Cametá determined to modernize that sound, blending it with elements of the Colombian cumbia, Dominican merengue, and Cuban mambo that had spread across northern Brazil in the 1960s, carried across the jungle by distant radio signals.


“Despedida,” captured live in a Cametá nightclub in 1973, represents the first recording of modern siriá. An invigoratingly raw blend of bashed drum kit and bittersweet horns, it is the closing song on Jambú e os Míticos Sons da Amazonia, Analog Africa’s fascinating new survey of the bygone sounds of Belém, the capital of Pará and the gateway between the Atlantic and the Amazon. But in many ways, Cupijó’s story serves as a prelude to this compilation. Analog Africa first turned its eye to Brazil in 2014 with Siriá, an anthology of Cupijó’s music, and Jambú, the result of label co-founder Samy Ben Redjeb’s digging expeditions in Belém, widens the lens to focus on carimbó and lambada, sister sounds to siriá that also incorporate a mixture of indigenous, Afro-Brazilian, and Portuguese influences.

With the exception of giants like Pinduca, a legendary figure who first modernized and electrified carimbó, many of these artists will be unfamiliar to all but the most dedicated students of Brazilian music (for several, it is their first time appearing on streaming services), and the music is uniformly thrilling, blending the syncopated shuffle of carimbó—a beat, originally played on hollowed-out tree trunks, that’s part galloping horse, part drunken stumble—with trance-like woodwind melodies, throaty sing-alongs, flickering rhythm guitar, and the overdriven sonics you might expect from a genre whose pioneers ran their electric guitars through church PAs powered by car batteries.

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what is so gripping about this music, what gives it a quality at once alien and familiar. “Jambú” refers to a medicinal Amazonian herb frequently mixed with cachaça, to reportedly powerful effect, and that stimulated/sloshed dichotomy plays out in a kind of rowdy melancholy: The beats surge like floodwaters, the percussion clatters like a thumped table covered with empties, the singers’ voices have the ragged edge of sun-up on no sleep. The slippery trills and eerie, modal sax melodies of songs like Messias Holanda’s “Carimbó de Pimienta” and Verequete e o Conjunto Uirapurú’s “Da Garrafa uma Pinga” remind me, in their mercurial moods, of Ethiopian jazz.

The compilation’s excellent liner notes detail the clubs and bars where this music took shape in the 1970s and 1980s, and quite a few of these songs make no bones about their mission as straight-up party music. Pinduca’s “Vamos Farrear” is a rousing toast with a sly twist (“Let’s drink cachaça, everyone/Let’s party/The cachaça is tasty/No one will get drunk”); the irresistible “Coco de Bahia” is a tribute to the coconuts of Bahia, Brazil that’s loaded with winking double entendres. Such wordplay runs through many of these songs, as do snapshots of rural life in remote farming communities: Vieira e Seu Conjunto’s lilting “Melô do Bode,” which hinges on the double meaning of “bode” (“goat”/“problem”) is about a troublesome animal he can’t wait to unload.

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Throughout, a captivating mix of the profane and the sacred holds sway, particularly in the acoustic “pau e corda” (“stick and chord”) style of Verequete e o Conjunto Uirapurú. Verequete, the “King of Carimbó,” was a devotee of Candomblé, a regional religion with African roots; he took his name from a vodun, or divinity, in the jejes-nagós cults of Mina. Relying on traditional instruments like curimbó drum, saxophone, banjo, sticks, triangle, ganza, and afoxé, Verequete’s band offers not just a testament to carimbó’s pre-electric roots but also its roof-raising qualities. And Janjão’s “Meu Barquinho” is a song about the orishas Zango and Yemanja, while his album Carimbó e Outras Mirongas was meant as a call to preserve the cultural heritage of Brazilian Candmoblé and other folk-religious forms.

To the uninitiated, Jambú may sound at first nearly as incomprehensible as it is exciting. The first dozen times through, I had trouble making sense of the overloaded midrange and upper register: the horns, guitars, call-and-response vocals, and insistent shakers and maracas. But eventually, it all settles into place, yielding both a rich diversity of complementary styles—just compare the rollicking, jazz-band madness of Os Muiraquitãns with the spindly elegance of Mestre Vieira’s brand of lambada and guitarrada—and a riveting glimpse at styles and cultures long ignored by the official history of Brazilian popular music. Jambú is the next best thing to a seat in Mestre Cupijó’s dugout canoe. Decades after he ventured upriver, he takes the rest of us with him.


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