Shut Up and Dance

    Shut Up and Dance

    Basic education in Brazil is in chaos. A little more
    than 30% of students ever finish elementary school. Teachers’ salaries
    are a joke with some receiving as little as $1.30 (that is one dollar and
    thirty cents) per 45-minute class. Nobody is happy. There are islands of
    excellence in some private schools, and higher education is reasonable.
    But that is too little for the eighth largest economy in the world if it
    wants to make any difference in the next millennium.
    By Brazzil Magazine

    It’s Friday night and everybody at Café Danssa in West Los Angeles
    is dancing to a tune that has been dominating Brazilian radio for months
    with irresistible rhythmic punch and torrid lyrics that speak of a dream
    girl steamed in vapor. Pumping through the sound system is Skank, a band
    that has seduced the public with an infallible formula that addresses two
    national glories Brazilians cultivate from the crib: women and soccer.
    Their monstrous hit is, of course, "Garota Nacional" (National

    Skank, the latest sensation of Brazilian pop, emerged from Belo Horizonte,
    the capital of mountainous, mineral-rich Minas Gerais, a city where the
    music scene at the beginning of the `90s was divided between the cult of
    the Clube da Esquina — devotees of Milton Nascimento, Lô Borges,
    and Beto Guedes; and the disciples of heavy-metal. Skank is neither.

    Embracing Jamaican pop as its foundation, Skank succeeded because of
    their riveting, unrelenting sound and because they have never been solely
    a reggae band. What came directly from Jamaica to the music of Skank was
    electronic reggae, the digital keyboard and drum sound of Sly & Robbie.
    Although some contend that the band’s name came from the Bob Marley tune
    "Easy Skanking" on his Kaya LP, and others say that it
    is a derivative of the word used for laboratory grown marijuana; the name,
    in reality, is an allusion to the Jamaican rhythm ska. Skanking
    is something like dancing to ska.

    Comparisons between Skank and other composers and musicians from Minas
    like Lô Borges are inevitable. But by performing their own breed
    of reggae, Skank has created an unparalleled sound that is aggressive,
    but sweet, a sound that defies any resemblance to the well-accepted music
    of the region.

    Because they have a knack for writing coherent tunes, which sound simple,
    yet shine with unusual brilliance, Skank’s compositions have conquered
    the public at large as well as other successful composers and notable musicians.
    Lô Borges, a Skank fan himself, recently commented that the quartet’s
    sound is one that Brazil has needed for a long time. Daniela Mercury invited
    Samuel Rosa, Skank’s vocalist and guitar player, to record the duet "Minas
    com Bahia" by Chico Amaral on her most recent project. And Jorge Benjor,
    another Skank fan, asked Samuel to appear on Homo Sapiens, Benjor’s
    latest project.

    Besides writing tunes with contagious rhythms and flirtatious lyrics,
    the quartet evokes a euphoric mood. They are heirs of the pop music reveler
    tradition dating back to the accordion of Luiz Gonzaga and the trio
    elétrico of Luiz Caldas. Setting a record, they made 170 appearances
    in 18 months to promote their second release, Calango. Their fee
    is roughly $41,000 per show while the reggae group Cidade Negra, who in
    1995 sold almost 1 million discs, receives about $15,000 for a performance.

    Skank’s success is intriguing because of its similarity to the recent
    spread of axé music, which originated with black groups in
    Bahia. Axé exploded in Brazil only after being presented by Daniela
    Mercury. The same thing happened with Brazilian rap, which became a national
    mania only after Gabriel o Pensador’s first release. Exploitation of black
    music by white artists has been an astonishing and widely recognized phenomenon
    that has been successfully employed since Elvis Presley. The only trick
    is that the formula works only when the artists involved have talent.

    Skank went through a curious growth process, different from the majority
    of groups from Belo Horizonte. The band members were local musicians who
    played at different bars. Once in a while they got together at a bar called
    Janis to play in Skank and do cover versions of tunes by Tim Maia (godfather
    of Brazilian funk) and Jorge Benjor, never imagining that five years later
    Benjor would invite their singer to appear on one of his recordings.

    The first venue Skank started playing with any regularity was a churrascaria
    (a restaurant featuring barbecued meat) called Mister Biff. Every night
    after the gig, their clothes would be inundated with the smell of meat
    and smoke. But the worst part of the gig was that the band never even got
    dinner. They were allowed a snack, which was limited to a choice between
    a hamburger or a potato. Struggling to survive in the artistic world of
    Belo Horizonte by playing the bar scene was grizzly. It was a milestone
    for the quartet when they created a joint savings account to spur the Skank

    Instead of proceeding like many other groups, who make a demo tape and
    try their luck with the big record companies, Skank invested their $10,000
    collective savings in a CD and a video clip. They had 3,000 copies of the
    CD pressed and sent half to radio stations, record companies, and the press.
    The other half was sold at gigs to cover their investment. While the band
    was busy trying to shop their product, their manager negotiated a deal
    with Sony’s Chaos label. Sony bought the master for $10,000 and invested
    another $10,000 for a remix providing the first release with a more polished
    sound. The deal was a bargain for Sony who at the time was reticent about
    contracting any new talent.

    The first disc sold 150,000 copies, more than enough for the standards
    of Brazilian rock when you consider that the superb disc Da Lata (From
    Tin) released in 1995 on EMI by rock diva Fernanda Abreu, singer and sex
    symbol for the preeminent rock group Blitz, sold roughly 100,000 copies
    in one year. Although Skank’s first release wasn’t the earth shattering
    success of Mamonas Assassinas, it was enough to show that Brazilian pop
    music had a future and that it was not necessary for Brazilian bands to
    sing in English or to mimic the fashions that were in vogue abroad, like
    hip-hop music or grunge.

    The members of the quartet were born and raised in Belo Horizonte, and
    they still live there. Guitar player and vocalist Samuel Rosa, bass player
    Lelo Zaneti, and drummer Haroldo Ferretti live on the same street. Keyboard
    player Henrique Portugal lives in an apartment two blocks away from the
    others. They play soccer together every chance they get and are often joined
    by their close friend Lô Borges. Their passion for the game is obvious
    by the official soccer jerseys they wear on stage and by their refusal
    to book gigs on days when there is an important match between the two principal
    Mineiro soccer teams, Atlético and Cruzeiro.

    They have even signed an exclusive contract with the brand of sports’
    products that sponsors the uniforms of the top Brazilian teams. Nonetheless,
    they have refused offers of $250,000 to promote products like slippers
    and beer. It’s not that they are adverse to the advertising world. It is
    just that Skank has tried to avoid the over-exposure that pulled down groups
    like RPM, the Brazilian rock sensation of the 1980s. The members of Skank
    never imagined they would attain stardom, and that is the secret of the
    rapport they have established with their fans. They are like a soccer team
    that wins the World Cup playing with athletes who were just promoted from
    the juniors.

    Selling more discs than the king, Roberto Carlos, and more than any
    sertaneja duo, Skank dominated Brazilian music sales in 1996. Their
    third disc O Samba Poconé (the name was forró
    inspired) has continued to maintain its position high on best sellers’
    charts in Brazil and is proof that Skank’s success was warranted and not
    fabricated. Only the sound track from the soap opera Rei do Gado (King
    of the Herd) — pushed by Globo media conglomerate and adorned by a dozen
    different artists — sold more than the Mineiros. Maybe the wind
    will change, but it is still strong enough now to bet on Skank as a favorite
    for quite some time.

    In absolute numbers, O Samba Poconé is followed closely
    only by Na Cabeça, e na Cintura (In the Head, In the Waist)
    from the Bahian group É o Tchan and by the most recent disc by Zezé
    Camargo and Luciano, both with sales above the 1.5 million mark. Released
    in June 1996, on the Sony label, O Samba Poconé has already
    sold over 1.8 million copies. In comparison, the disc A Tempestade
    (Storm) by Legião Urbana (Urban Legion) sold less than half as many
    copies despite the commotion over the death of singer Renato Russo.

    Propelled by the racy lyrics and its scorching rhythmic drive, the latest
    project has brought record crowds to their electrifying shows. Skank communicates
    with their fans via a high-voltage energy level that moves through a throng
    like electrifying waves. Attending a Skank show has become the dream of
    the young people who championed Mamonas Assassinas. Fans stay up until
    three in the morning dancing and trying to get closer to their idols. "É
    uma Partida de Futebol" (It’s a Soccer Game), narrated with a magic
    reminiscent of the Benjor classics, "Fio Maravilha" (Marvelous
    Fio) and "Ponta de Lança Africano" (African Point Man)
    never fails to ignite Skank supporters.

    Aside from soccer, the liveliest tunes on O Samba Poconé talk
    about girls. The charm here lies in the understated manner the group has
    of expressing its particular form of romanticism. Even when the lyrics
    are disheartening, the music is joyous. This happens with "Eu Disse
    a Ela" (I Told Her) which talks about a separation:

    Quando eu disse a ela

    Que o amor morreu

    A cidade sutilmente


    When I told her

    That my love died

    The city subtly


    It’s not Chico Buarque, but the group makes no pretension of flying
    so high. The idea is to be simple and direct without butchering the grammar,
    as many rival bands have. Another subject that Skank touches on is cinema.
    Three tracks from O Samba Poconé talk about the seventh art,
    one is an homage to the comic Zé Trindade.

    The new disc successfully employs female background vocals, thick percussion
    tracks, and some of the sweetest horn section arrangements I’ve heard in
    years. After two months of confinement in a São Paulo studio, the
    completed O Samba Poconé emerged, without exaggeration, as
    one of the best recorded projects ever to come out of Brazil. Reggae once
    more is the foundation, but the project ventures through rock, ska,
    baião, and carimbó as well. This diversity
    has resulted in a recording that has the capacity to hook listeners abroad
    as well as in Brazil.

    Almost all the music was composed by singer Samuel Rosa. Chico Amaral,
    the thirty-nine year old sax player who is considered by many to be the
    fifth member of Skank, wrote the lyrics for 8 of the 11 tracks. In addition,
    Amaral composed both the music and lyrics for "Um Dia Qualquer"
    (Any Day) and "Poconé." The quartet acknowledges that
    Amaral’s contributions have been decisive. Returning the praise, Amaral
    has referred to the group as a fraternity of talent. Bass player Nando
    Reis from the group Titãs, a musician who has written some of the
    biggest hits for Marisa Monte and the reggae group Cidade Negra, makes
    his debut as Samuel Rosa’s writing partner on the aforementioned "É
    Uma Partida de Futebol," the disc’s forceful opening track.

    Even before delivery to the stores, the project was a hit. The tune
    "Garota Nacional" — satiric defense for those wonderful girls
    that populate the erotic dreams of all healthy guys — was given premature
    air-play all over Brazil long before stores received the product. To supplement
    the early radio exposure, Skank hatched a video, displaying a stable of
    beautiful, nearly naked girls in stimulating poses. Skank’s manager, Fernando
    Furtado, used to be a porno movie critic known as Dr. Penetration. Needless
    to say, the video turned the heads of a generation of Brazilian youth who
    devour MTV videos. "Garota Nacional" has commanded the charts
    for months and remains the biggest hit from O Samba Poconé
    so far, although it is followed closely by "Os Exilados" (The
    Exiled) and "Eu Disse a Ela."

    Three months after its release, O Samba Poconé guaranteed
    the band another Disco de Platina. Without a doubt, the CD is one of the
    best releases of Brazilian pop in years. It will inevitably set the standard
    for some time, just as O Eterno Deus Mu Dança (The Eternal
    God of Change) by Gilberto Gil and Cabeça Dinossauro (Dinosaur
    Head ) by Titãs did in the 1980s. The comparison to these touchstone
    recordings is validated by Skank’s impressive instrumental and vocal musicianship,
    their unequaled writing, and by the recording quality itself. Well produced
    and highly danceable, the disc follows admirably in the footprints of their
    1994 mega-success Calango, which propelled Skank to a national career
    and landed the group their first Disco de Platina. Practically every track
    on Calango was a hit.

    Blessed by their success in Brazil, the group is now pushing toward
    the international market without any significant promotional work and singing
    in Portuguese — a language that has not helped exportation. Success in
    the markets abroad may be a stiff challenge for the quartet largely because
    recordings by Brazilian artists released outside of Brazil are typically
    labeled by record companies as "Latina Music" and handled as
    such, not because Brazilian music is so small a slice of the market and
    the Spanish speaking market is so huge, but because these large companies
    don’t seem to know what to do with Brazilian music. Curiously, the Brazilian
    act that has taken off outside Brazil plays music with a heavy-metal emphasis.
    Still, Skank’s expectations for an international career are formidable.

    If nothing else, the band has become a notable statistic with tremendous
    potential. The international version of the disc O Samba Poconé
    with a bonus track of "Garota Nacional" in Spanish was released
    in ten countries in Latin America and exported to France, Spain, and Portugal.
    Among all the South American artists contracted to multinational Sony music,
    Skank has been the most successful outside their country of origin for
    the last 10 months. Last December the band made a small tour to Chile,
    where "Garota Nacional" was receiving extensive airplay; it even
    became a jingle for a cigarette commercial. Sony’s enthusiastic manager
    of international development for Brazilian artists stated recently that
    the responses they have been receiving from markets outside Brazil is unanimous:
    Skank is a marvelous product.

    It appears that Skank will soon have the support abroad from the North
    American Epic label, the same division responsible for recordings by Michael
    Jackson. And if an international campaign corresponds to their ambitious
    expectations, the quartet will become the most successful Brazilian group
    outside Brazil, a position occupied today only by another band from Belo
    Horizonte, Sepultura — the heavy metal head-bangers whose most notable
    success has been achieved outside Brazil. Contrary to the laborious heavy-meddlers,
    who "sing" in English and live abroad, Skank intends to remain
    in Belo Horizonte and to sing in Portuguese.

    Te Ver

    (from Calango)

    Samuel Rosa, Lelo Zaneti, Chico Amaral

    Te ver e não te querer

    É improvável, é impossível

    Te ver e ter que esquecer

    É insuportável, é dor incrível

    É como mergulhar num rio e não se molhar

    É como não morrer de frio no gelo polar

    É ter estomago vazio e não almoçar

    E ver o céu se abrir no estio e não se animar

    É como esperar o prato e não salivar

    Sentir apertar o sapato e não descalçar

    É ver alguém feliz de fato sem alguém pra amar

    É como procurar no mato estrela do mar

    É como não sentir calor em Cuiabá

    Ou como no Arpoador não ver o mar

    É como não morrer de raiva com a política

    Ignorar que a tarde vai vadia e mítica

    É como ver televisão e não dormir

    Ver um bichano pelo chão e não sorrir

    É como não provar o néctar de um lindo amor

    Depois que o coração detecta a fina flor

    To See You

    To see you and not want you

    Is improbable, it is impossible

    To have you and have to forget you

    Is unbearable, it is incredible pain

    It is like diving in a river and not getting wet

    It is like not dying of cold in the polar ice

    It is to have an empty stomach and not eat lunch

    It is to see the open sky in the summer and not be happy

    It is like waiting for the dish and not salivating

    To feel the shoe pinch and not take it off

    It is to see someone really happy without someone to love

    It is like searching for a star in the bushes

    It is like not feeling the heat in Cuiabá

    Or like not seeing the sea at Arpoador

    It is like not dying of rage with politics

    To ignore that the evening is going leisurely and mythically

    It is like watching television and not getting sleepy

    To see a cat on the floor and not smile

    It is like not tasting the nectar of a beautiful love

    After the heart detects the finest flower

    Eu Disse a Ela

    Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

    Quando eu disse a ela

    Que o amor passou

    A cidade levemente


    Ondas amarelas

    Na Contorno cheia

    A cidade simplesmente

    Me odeia

    Quando eu disse a ela

    Que o amor morreu

    A cidade sutilmente


    Bestas e janelas

    Êxtase no breu

    A cidade nos meus dentes

    Tu e eu

    Mesmo sabendo que a vida nos engana

    Mesmo sabendo que a Opala não é plana

    Mesmo sabendo que a dor cartesiana

    Mesmo sabendo que só música baiana

    Eu disse a ela que

    Eu disse a ela então

    Eu disse a ela que

    Eu disse a ela não

    I Told Her

    When I told her

    That love has passed

    The city lightly


    Yellow waves

    On the crowded avenue

    The city simply

    Hates me

    When I told her

    That my love died

    The city subtly


    Beasts and windows

    Ecstasy in the darkness

    The city in my teeth

    You and I

    Even knowing that life deceives us

    Even knowing that the Opal is not flat

    Even knowing that the pain is Cartesian

    Even knowing that it is only Bahian music

    I told her that

    I told her then

    I told her that

    I told her no

    Garota Nacional

    Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

    Aqui nesse mundinho fechado ela é incrível

    Com seu vestido preto indefectível

    Eu detesto o jeito dela,

    mas pensando bem

    Ela fecha com meus sonhos

    como ninguém

    Conhece-te a ti mesmo e eu

    me conheço

    Sou um qualquer vulgar,

    bem, às vezes esqueço

    E finjo que não finjo ao ignorar

    Que ela me domina no

    primeiro olhar

    Porque ela derrama um banquete, um palacete

    Um anjo de vestido, uma libido do cacete

    Ela é tão vistosa que talvez seja mentira

    Quem dera minha cara fosse de sucupira

    Beat it laun,daun daun

    Beat it loom, dap’n daun

    Beat it laun, baun baun

    Eu quero te provar

    Cozida a vapor

    Eu te quero te provar

    Sem medo e sem amor

    You can download a sample of

    "Garota Nacional" (garotana.wav –

    National Girl

    Here in this closed little world she is incredible

    In her infallibe black dress

    I detest her manner, but on second thought

    She matches my dreams like no one else

    Know yourself and I know myself

    I am anyone, well, sometimes I forget

    And I pretend that I’m not pretending at ignoring

    That she dominates with her first glance

    Because she pours a banquet, a small palace

    An angel in a dress, a fucking libido

    She is so good looking that maybe it’s a lie

    I wish my face showed no expression

    Beat it laun, daun daun

    Beat it loom, dap’n daun

    Beat it laun, baun baun

    I want to taste you

    Cooked in steam

    I want to taste you

    Without fear and without love

    Tão Seu

    Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

    Cê sabe que eu sinto a sua falta

    Não posso esperar tanto tempo assim

    O nosso amor é novo

    É o velho amor ainda e sempre

    Não diga que não vem me ver

    De noite eu quero descansar

    Ir ao cinema com você

    Um filme à toa no Pathé

    Que culpa a gente tem de ser feliz

    Que culpa a gente tem, meu bem

    O mundo bem diante do nariz

    Feliz aqui e não além

    Cê sabe que eu faço tanta coisa

    Pensando no momento de te ver

    A minha casa sem você é triste

    E a espera arde sem me aquecer

    Não diga que você não volta

    Eu não vou conseguir dormir

    À noite eu quero descansar

    Sair à toa por aí

    Que culpa a gente tem de ser feliz

    Eu digo eles ou nós dois

    O mundo bem diante do nariz

    Feliz agora e não depois

    Me sinto só, me sinto só, me sinto tão seu

    Me sinto tão, me sinto só e sou teu

    So Much Yours

    You know that I miss you

    I can’t wait so long

    Our love is new

    It is the old love again and forever

    Don’t tell me you won’t come to see me

    In the evening I want to rest

    To go the movies with you

    A film of any type at the Pathé

    Who can blame us for being so happy

    Who can blame us, my love

    The world is in front of our noses

    Happy here and not beyond

    You know that I plan so many things

    Thinking of the moment that I will see you

    My home is sad without you

    And waiting for you burns without warming me

    Don’t say that you’re not coming back

    I cannot sleep

    In the evening I want to rest

    To hang out

    Who can blame us for being so happy

    I tell them or the two of us

    The world is here in front of our noses

    Happy now and not afterwards

    I feel helpless, I feel helpless, I feel so much yours

    I feel so much, I feel helpless and I am yours

    Os Exilados

    Samuel Rosa, Chico Amaral

    Meu coração tá batendo

    De amor e de cansaço

    Saudade de abraço

    Do morno regaço

    Onde eu deixei

    Um pedaço de mim

    Meu coração parecendo

    Um lobo rubro aço

    Ficou mudo no abraço

    É de veludo o laço

    Com que eu atei

    Um pedaço de você

    Com você eu vou mais longe

    Que os cristos, que as crenças

    Que o bonde de Valença

    Com você eu vou mais longe

    Com você eu vou mais longe

    Que a ilha de Mallorca

    Onde a porca torce o rabo

    E o diabo nos esconde

    Meu coração parecendo

    Um troço, um erro crasso

    Tipo "lost in the space"

    Não entende o estilhaço

    Que é só, eu sei

    Um balaço de amor

    Meu coração é o seu

    Seu coração é o meu

    The Exiled

    My heart is beating

    My love is tired

    Longing for a hug

    In the warmth of your bosom

    Where I left

    A piece of myself

    My heart seems

    A red steel wolf

    That became mute in your embrace

    It is a velvet lasso

    With which I tied

    A piece of you

    With you I go much farther

    Than the christs, and the beliefs

    Than the streetcar to Valença

    With you I go much farther

    With you I go much farther

    Than the island of Majorca

    Where the pig twists her tail

    And the devil hides us

    My heart seems

    An object, a big mistake

    Type "lost in the space"

    That doesn’t understand the debris

    That it is only, I know

    A bullet of love

    My heart is yours

    Your heart is mine

    Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received
    his Masters degree in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads
    the Brazilian Jazz Ensemble Axé and plays cuíca for escola
    de samba MILA. You can reach him through his E-mail: cuí

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