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BaianaSystem, Village Underground - the new Brazilian contenders | reviews, news & interviews

BaianaSystem, Village Underground - the new Brazilian contenders

BaianaSystem, Village Underground - the new Brazilian contenders

Post-genre band turn up the heat in triumphant London debut

Masked men from Bahia

The post-modernists have taken over the asylum. At least, that's what I thought twice this week. Once when I saw Vlad Putin on YouTube doing karaoke to an adoring audience. The other was seeing Brazil’s latest contenders BaianaSystem, who played to a sweaty packed-out house at the Village Underground.

"Post-modern" in the sense of beyond defineable genre and with a dose of irony thrown in, and not quite beleiving what is in front of your eyes.

Of course, there have always been interesting musical mixes in Brazil, especially in Bahia in the North-East where they come from. The state has been a source of much of the music that has made it out of Brazil, notably the likes of Tom Zé, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil – whose Tropicalia movement included diverse elements playfully thrown in from the Beatles to bossa nova and avant-garde classical music.  

Their live imagery and backdrops are almost Kraftwerkian in their considered use

Bahia is the state where Afro-Brazilian culture is at its deepest and strongest – from the candomblé religion with its particular rhythms and Yoruba deities to the martial art dance form capoeira, but there is also a strong intellectual tradition. Caetano Veloso, who has endoesed BaianaSystem, may well be the most intellectual pop star in the world – able to drop Walter Benjamin and Nietzsche into the conversation with gay abandon. (No wonder David Byrne loves him and unlike Bryne, Caetano is loved by “cleaners and taxi drivers” as well as the artier crowd.)

The question of the two cities and two audiences is one that exercises the group (many songs are composed by band members Roberto Barreto and Russo Passapusso) and indeed their last album was called Duas Cidades, the title track they performed with panache live, an arresting samba-ska workout that asks the audience, “So where do you fit in? The high city or the low city?”, which also refers to the physical divide in Salvador, linked by the Lacerda Elevator in a song about privilege and social segregation.

"Lucro” (Profit) seems to borrow from old-style guittarada music from Pará in the Amazon with almost Cuban-style brass and is concerned with speculative real-estate developments and gentrification, as well as what happens when art becomes product, while “Invisível” (Invisible) is about how racism renders people and their contributions invisible. The closest thing the band have had to a global hit so far was the use on the FIFA 16 game of the electro-dub-reggae “Playsom”, which they ended the set with.

An unusual feature of the band is that the visual artist Filipe Cartaxo, responsible for graphic art, photographs and videos is considered an essential member, and their live imagery and backdrops are almost Kraftwerkian in their considered use. Their logo, more than a mere gimmick, is a stylised mask, which are also handed out to the audience, because for BaianaSystem “image communication is done in mobile graphics modules, organized as a systems language. The mask appears as a personification of a 'being', a bond with the public, making it become an integral part of this 'system'.” (That may sound better in the original Portuguese.)

There are bands in Brazil furrowing a similar modern post-genre path, like São Paulo’s Metá Metá but BaianaSystem are now the ones to beat. Other types of music in the set which will make you dance and also make you think they include samba-reggae, ijexá rhythms, MPB, frevo, afrobeat, cumbia, rock, hip-hop and pagode. Of course, you have to have a strong through-line in terms of band personality and sheer pizzazz to carry off such an eclectic mix. BananaSystem have that in spades and should be high on anyone’s list to check the next time they come to London. A triumphant London debut.


Of course, you have to have a strong through-line in terms of band personality and sheer pizzazz to carry off such an eclectic mix


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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