Reggae from the Badlands

    Brazilian pop has traditionally been a product of mauricinhos,
    young people from upper-middle class families who always dress fashionably,
    look as if they just got out of the shower, carry cellular phones…a kind
    of Brazilian yuppie. These mauricinhos have exerted a vigorous reign
    over the pop landscape for some time. But this privileged class stronghold
    has finally been shattered by a group from Rio’s badlands. Ascending from
    the most violent region in the state of Rio, as the first group to break
    the middle-class pop monopoly and become the principal reference of Brazilian
    reggae is Cidade Negra.

    The group hails from Belford Roxo, a city stuck in the middle of the
    low plains area known as Baixada Fluminense. The site is one of the most
    unkind places in the world where the streets are dirt; and guns, violent
    crime, and poverty are worn out cliches. It is a city where there are few
    paths young people can take. Aside from the inconsequential sum of money
    that hard work brings, there is the evangelical church, drug trafficking,
    and music. Everyone starts out the same, but the path a person takes as
    an adolescent seals an unalterable fate.

    Most bars in Belford Roxo continue to be frequented by older people,
    lovers of samba; clubs cater to teenagers who like funk. The few small
    reggae bars in the area have had a precarious existence, but their numbers
    are growing. And it is here that the latest music from the world’s top
    reggae groups can always be heard playing in the background.

    Devotees of reggae come together in these bars or in garages where their
    favorite bands rehearse. Young people whose hearts beat in time to the
    pulsating rhythms of Bob Marley and who mirror the habits and dress of
    Jamaica pack these sites. Some wear dreadlocks and articles of clothing
    that bear green, yellow, and red colors. The better informed use words
    extracted from the Rastafari religion. One of the most often heard is Jah,
    the Rastafari word for God.

    How the habits and music from a distant island in Central America could
    influence a dusty town in the Baixada is still difficult to fathom. But
    the process seems to have started in the middle of the 1980s when the movement
    of black consciousness was growing around Rio. In that climate of social
    criticism, reggae fell like the bomb of love and spread like radiation.
    Jamaican reggae star Jimmy Cliff played soccer and rode a bicycle around
    the streets of Belford Roxo during a break in his 1991 concert tour of
    Brazil, commenting later that he felt at home, that it was exactly like
    his country.

    Although the influence of Jamaican culture in Belford Roxo goes beyond
    reggae and wearing dreadlocks, few reggae fans actually follow the rigid
    precepts of the Rastafari religion. Among other things, the Rastafari beliefs
    preach a total abstinence from the consumption of meat and dictate isolation
    for long periods of time. Notwithstanding, Belford Roxo’s city government
    initiated a project last year that will research important similarities
    and draw comparisons between Belford Roxo and Jamaica.

    Among all of the traces of Jamaican culture, what excites the young
    people of Belford Roxo most is without a doubt the music. There are in
    this small town no less than ten top-notch reggae bands. Several of them
    are now recording demo tapes for the major record companies, and all are
    dreaming of repeating the success of Cidade Negra. For people who considered
    Belford Roxo the capital of world violence because of the number of bloody
    killings that occur in the region, this trend is a sizable step in the
    right direction. Today, mothers in Belford Roxo are encouraging their kids
    to learn how to play guitar.

    Cidade Negra’s guitar player, Paulo Roberto da Gama, used to paint cars.
    Vocalist, Antônio Bento da Silva (Toni Garrido), was a delivery boy
    for a pharmacy. Until a few years ago, Lázaro da Cruz (Lazão),
    the group’s drummer, and André de Farias (Bino), Cidade’s bass player,
    carried cleaning brushes and buckets to wash the windows of office buildings
    in the center of Rio, or they offered their cleaning services to car owners
    on the streets. They all came from families where the mothers were domestic
    maids and the fathers were laborers.

    The members of Cidade Negra managed to escape from a brutal destiny,
    but have not abandoned it. Today on blistering afternoons, Cidade Negra
    is not in Belford Roxo. Success has brought this band from the periphery
    to apartments in Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, and the exclusive Lagoa area.
    They all have cars and cellular phones. Still, they continue working for
    change in the same Babylon that devoured their peers. Among other ventures,
    da Gama is planning to open an independent record label to promote new
    talent and give some Belford reggae bands a first chance. He already pays
    for their studio time, coaches their performances, and has produced a few
    shows. So if Cidade Negra displays a little pride nowadays, if nothing
    else, it serves as a good reference for other poor kids who live in the
    Baixada Fluminense.

    From the time of their first release Lute Para Viver (Fight in
    Order to Live), which contained the hits “Falar a Verdade” (To Speak the
    Truth) “Nada Mudou” (Nothing Changed), “Assassinatureza” (Nature Killer),
    and “Nos Jardins Desta Nação” (In the Gardens of This Nation);
    the group has remained close to the limelight. Lute Para Viver was
    a masterpiece of Brazilian roots reggae. But to be completely honest, the
    group did need some time to emerge from problems they had with their misunderstood
    second project, Negro no Poder (Black in Power). Many radio stations
    refused to give the disc airplay for reasons that could, at best, be construed
    as racist. A good example of why Negro no Poder was misunderstood
    can be seen in the lyrics from the tune “Zumbi.” Zumbi was the military
    commander of the Republic of Palmares, a remarkable political and economic
    state comprised of nearly twelve thousand runaway slaves in Alagoas in
    Northeastern Brazil between 1630 and 1697:

    Aqui onde estão os homens

    De um lado cana de açúcar

    Do outro lado cafezal

    Ao centro senhores sentados

    Vendo a colheita do algodão branco

    Sendo colhido por mãos negras

    Eu quero ver

    Quando Zumbi chegar

    O que vai acontecer

    Zumbi é senhor das guerras

    É senhor das demandas

    Here are the men

    On one side sugar cane

    On the other a coffee plantation

    In the center the masters are sitting

    Watching the harvest of the white cotton

    Being collected by black hands

    I want to see

    When Zumbi arrives

    What is going to happen

    Zumbi is the master of wars

    He is the master of the conflicts

    After the disappointing sales of Negro no Poder, the group was
    forced to accept some new conditions from their multinational record label.
    An excessive work schedule was just one concession of their agreement with
    Sony. The band pushed their live performance schedule to the limit, at
    times performing 22 shows in one month, not including radio and TV appearances
    and interviews. A sad aftermath of the group’s concessions to Sony was
    Ras Bernardo’s decision to leave the group.

    Ras [1] Bernardo (Sebastião Francisco Bernardo), the first vocalist
    of Cidade Negra, embarked on a solo career with the disc Atitude Pátria
    (Civic Attitude). Bernardo discovered that the reality in Jamaica had everything
    to do with his reality and today divides his time between performances
    and the preparation of the União Brasileira Rastafari (Brazilian
    Rastafari Union), a kind of study center dedicated to Jamaican belief systems.
    He commented last year that he doesn’t want to establish a temple, only
    a home for debates and the dissemination of information.

    Toni Garrido, the vocalist who joined the group in 1994 after the departure
    of Ras Bernardo, has added not only new energy and ideas, but also a commercial
    consciousness and a politically correct position. Garrido feels that the
    group is not yet in a position where they can comfortably discuss the circumstances
    surrounding Negro no Poder, but intends to one day reveal the names
    of the DJs at the particular stations, who were responsible for preventing
    the project’s exposure. In the meantime the band is being careful about
    voicing their opinions on controversial issues. After all, the message
    of reggae is about love, energy, and establishing a peaceful and harmonic

    In his critique of their third disc, Sobre Todas as Forças
    (Above All the Forces), Sérgio Martins, critic for Show Bizz
    magazine, described Toni Garrido as mediocre and inexpressive. Despite
    the jab, Cidade Negra sold 400,000 copies of the disc in the first four
    months after its release. A feat like that is usually reserved for artists
    like Roberto Carlos. Six tracks from this project were constantly aired
    on the radio and became major hits for the group: “Onde Você Mora”
    (Where Do You Live?), “Downtown,” which includes an appearance by Jamaican
    reggae star Shabba Ranks, “A Sombra da Maldade” (The Shadow of Your Malice),
    “Pensamento” (Thinking), “Querem o Meu Sangue” (They Want My Blood) by
    Jimmy Cliff, and “Mucama” (Slave Woman), which mixes reggae with rap and
    includes a guest appearance by rapper Gabriel O Pensador. In addition,
    the video for the tune “Onde Você Mora” was number two on MTV’s Top
    20, preceded only by “Love is Strong” by the Rolling Stones who were performing
    in Brazil at the time.

    Composed by Nando Reis (Titãs) and Marisa Monte, “Onde Você
    Mora” is different from the roots reggae the group had been performing
    with Ras Bernardo. It mixes elements of soul music with romantic lyrics:

    Amor igual ao teu

    Eu nunca mais terei

    Amor que eu nunca vi igual

    Que eu nunca mais verei

    Amor que não se pede

    Amor que não se mede

    Que não se repete

    Love like yours

    I will never have again

    Love like I have never seen

    That I will never see again

    Love that’s not asked for

    Love that’s not measured

    That doesn’t repeat

    At first glance the music and lyrics of Cidade Negra seem like nothing
    new, since many of these same elements have been the benchmarks of Brazilian
    pop. What is new is that Cidade Negra’s approach, their kind of spirit,
    has been completely absent from the Brazilian pop music scene. Theirs is
    not audacious post-modern or concrete poetry, nor is it the poetry of Chico
    Buarque. On the contrary, Cidade Negra’s lyrics are about common life,
    about simple, thought-provoking everyday events. Another good example of
    Cidade’s style is the lyrics from “Mucama” (Slave Woman) off the Sobre
    Todas as Forças disc:


    Na cama do patrão

    Me paga

    Salário de bufão

    Mas come

    O que a população

    Não come.

    Slave woman

    In the bed of the boss

    He pays me

    The salary of a clown

    But he eats

    What the population

    Does not eat.

    Whereas Negro no Poder forced the group to make some compromises
    and “Onde Você Mora” began a controversy with Cidade’s critics, O
    Erê (The Child) has reopened the floodgates of success. With
    arresting lyrics, melodies that differ widely in formal outline and emotional
    impact, overpowering rhythmic vigor, and boundary breaking horn arrangements,
    Cidade Negra’s fourth disc reveals the range and depth of their reggae
    concept in a style that overshadows their previous work. Although there
    is some concession to commercialism, like the bonus track “Free” sung in
    English, there is embedded in each of the tracks a scorching passion for
    reggae music.

    O Erê underlines not only the group’s considerable writing
    talent, but also their knack for selecting material by composers of fresh
    and durable melodies. Half of the tracks from the new disc are receiving
    extensive radio exposure: “Cidade em Movimento” (City in Motion), “Jah
    Vai Providenciar” (God Will Provide), “SOS Brasil,” “Firmamento” (Heaven),
    “O Guarda” (The Cop), Jorge Benjor’s “Negro É Lindo” (Black Is Beautiful),
    and the title track, “O Erê.” According to Jorge Davidson, the project’s
    artistic director, O Erê is expected to generate more sales
    than Cidade Negra’s past three releases combined by the end of this summer,
    an extraordinary mark for the band considering their humble beginnings.

    “SOS Brasil,” the disc’s first track, opens with the persistent stimulation
    of Cidade’s rhythmic foundation (Bino and Lazão) bonded to a tightly
    syncopated horn section arranged by Laminha. Garrido is simultaneously
    lyrical and virile. It is an unusually satisfying performance—the essence
    of electronic 90’s reggae.

    The disc’s paramount work is “Cidade em Movimento” by Pedro Luís,
    a prolific composer known for defining a kind of Northeastern regional-punk
    music with the group Parede (Wall), for his compositions “Tudo Vale a Pena”
    (Everything is Worthwhile) and “Dois” (Two) on Fernanda Abreu’s 1995 release
    Da Lata (From Tin), and for his musical direction of singer Arícia
    Mess and the group Boato (Rumor).

    A somber atmospheric prelude acts as a decoy until Bino’s bass grabs
    the spotlight in a performance that reflects clear-cut articulation and
    an incisive individuality of expression. Here the impeccable Bino is as
    fluid and fiery as ever, but in a more overt manner than usual. He obviously
    knows his instrument and is capable of instantly executing ideas. In fact,
    this quality characterizes his playing throughout the disc. Fantastic polyrhythms
    and intelligent construction of ideas are juxtaposed by mixing DJ scratching,
    Bino’s unrelenting bass, and an Eleanor Rigby-like string effect to make
    “Cidade em Movimento” one of the group’s all-time best.

    It is on “Jah Vai Providenciar” that Garrido demonstrates his technical
    finesse and expressive lyricism. In addition, each member of the group
    performs with authority, something that comes from comprehensive musicianship,
    to capture a trace of their earlier roots reggae sound. I found myself
    humming the tune’s refrain at unexpected moments and futilely speculating
    what would have happened had Ras Bernardo stayed with the band.

    Virtuosity and versatility again combine for the no-holds-barred “O
    Guarda.” Lazão, Bino, and da Gama, as always, lock down an unremitting
    rhythmic foundation. The performance here is amazingly mature and completely
    confident demonstrating that Cidade Negra’s approach is always evolving.

    The success of the new disc does not mean that Cidade Negra is making
    reggae any more or less pure. It only verifies that the band has reached
    a place in popularity that allows them to record what they want. Besides,
    they have never followed the existing trends that so many other reggae
    bands have succumbed to. Sales of O Erê are showing that the
    reggae of Cidade Negra is at a peak whatever the classification the public
    gives them. And judging from the latest numbers, it’s safe to say that
    O Erê will not create any disturbing negotiations with Sony
    in the near future.

    Speaking the truth and grasping the purpose and the philosophy of reggae
    has taken Cidade Negra a long way from Belford Roxo. The group has achieved
    superstardom in Brazil. Their following consistently fills up stadiums.
    Furthermore, the band is beginning to establish a broad following outside
    Brazil. They have performed in Europe and in the United States. But what
    I assume was even more satisfying was their trip to Bob Marley’s Jamaica
    where they were the only band from South America to participate in the
    Sunsplash Festival, the world’s most important reggae celebration.

    For the band to release a new disc after the phenomenal success of Sobre
    Todas as Forças was an enormous responsibility. But this band
    from the outskirts of Rio has demonstrated they have talent and breath
    enough to remain high on the charts for a long time to come. With the release
    of their forth disc, O Erê, Cidade Negra has made reggae the
    best bet for this summer.

    [1] The name Ras in Jamaica means prince. In Belford Roxo it is applied
    to those who admire reggae or to those dedicated to the Rastafari belief

    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:

    Cidade em Movimento

    Words and music by Pedro Luís,

    Roberto Valente,

    and Rodrigo Saad (a.k.a. Rodrigo Cabelo)

    O sol acorda a cidade

    Mistura a cor da massa

    Que vai na velocidade

    Da luz do astro rei do olhar

    Sou da cor da cidade

    Caminho junto com a multidão

    Que pulsa ao som da verdade

    Tambor da nossa comunicação

    Que toca no sangue

    Que toca os sentidos

    Espalha no ar o batuque das tribos

    Na força do vento um só movimento

    Deságua na onda que invade e transborda

    No som que acorda a cidade

    Coração de paz

    Coração de pão

    Tudo coração de irmão

    Coração rei

    Coração de irmão

    City in Motion
    The sun wakes the city

    It mixes the color of the people

    Who move at the speed

    Of the King Star’s light.

    I have the color of the city

    I walk together with the multitude

    That vibrates with the sound of the truth

    Drum of our communication

    That touches our blood

    That touches the senses

    Spreads in the air the beat of the tribes

    The strength of the wind in only one movement

    Cascading like a wave that invades and overflows

    In the sound that wakes up the city

    Heart in peace

    Heart in bread

    Every heart of a brother

    King heart

    Heart of a brother

    SOS Brasil

    Words by da Gama, Lazão, and Bernardo Vilhena

    Music by da Gama, Lazão, and Bino

    Há muito tempo que eu queria te dizer, ouça

    Vontade de te ver também

    Não vale se esconder

    Verdades sempre vêm

    E as coisas que passei

    Já ficaram para trás

    Eu tenho que viver

    A minha ansiedade cada vez aumenta mais

    Eu tô vendo na cidade, ódio, amor, guerra e paz

    Alguém da sua idade no caminho encontrei

    Falando dos atalhos descobertos pelos reis

    O rei da sua história e até o rei sol

    Todos eles dizem que existe uma lei

    Mas eles não sabem de uma coisa que eu sei

    Mas eles não sabem de uma coisa que eu sei

    Cachorro magro e criança na rua, corra

    Pra tentar salvar alguém

    Mulher bonita é feitiço da lua

    Seu relax me faz bem

    A gente avança e também recua,

    No balanço desse trem

    Desempregado a luta continua

    Resistindo esse vai e vem

    Rua é a escola

    Rua pra jogar bola

    Nua a criança chora

    Nua pedindo esmola

    Agora eu vou contar

    O que ninguém nunca ouviu

    O futuro é agora,

    SOS Brasil.

    SOS Brazil
    For a long time I’ve wanted to tell you, listen

    I want to see you also

    You are not allowed to hide

    Truth always comes

    And the things that I passed

    Are already left behind

    I have to live

    My anxiety grows more each time

    In the city I see hatred, love, war, and peace

    I met somebody your age on the way

    Talking about the shortcuts discovered by kings

    The king of your history and even the sun king

    All of them say that there is a law

    But they don’t know one thing that I know

    But they don’t know one thing that I know

    Skinny dog and child on the street, run

    To try and save somebody

    Beautiful woman is a spell of the moon

    Your ease makes me feel fine

    The people move forward and also retreat

    On the sway of this train

    Unemployed the struggle goes on

    Resisting this come and go

    Street is the school

    Street is to play soccer

    Naked a child cries

    Naked asking for charity

    Now I am going to tell you

    What no one has ever heard

    The future is now

    SOS Brazil.

    Jah Vai Providenciar

    Words and music by Serginho Meriti

    and Caca Franklin

    Pessoa, ainda sinto as mesmas coisas fortes por você

    Meu sentimento mais profundo ainda insiste em te querer

    Mas sei que não tem sido nada fácil sobreviver

    Tanto para mim, quanto pra você

    E aquele nosso jeito apressado de querer vencer

    Quase nos deixou mal

    Mas nada há de abalar nossos planos

    Você vai ver que com o passar dos anos

    O que falta pra nossa felicidade

    Jah vai providenciar, Jah vai providenciar

    Pessoa, não duvide que na vida tudo pode acontecer

    E o sol pode estar quente de repente, trovejar e até chover

    Mas chuva lava a alma, tenha calma, vai acontecer

    Saiba esperar, não se negue a crer

    Que foi aquele jeito apressado de querer, vencer

    Quase nos deixou mal

    Mas nada há de abalar os nossos planos

    Você vai ver que com o passar dos anos

    O que falta pra nossa felicidade

    Jah vai providenciar, Jah vai providenciar

    Jah vai providenciar, Jah vai providenciar

    Jah vai providenciar, Jah vai providenciar

    God Will Provide
    People, I still feel the same strong things for you

    My deepest feelings still insist on loving you

    But I know that it has not been easy to survive

    As much for me as for you

    And in that urgent way we wanted to succeed

    We nearly lost ourselves

    But nothing is going to shake our plans

    You will see that with the passing years

    What is missing for our happiness

    God will provide, God will provide

    People, don’t doubt that in life anything can happen

    And the sun may be hot, and suddenly it thunders and even rains

    But the rain washes the soul, be calm, it is going to happen

    You have to be patient, don’t deny your faith

    And in that urgent way we wanted to succeed

    We nearly lost ourselves

    But nothing is going to shake our plans

    You will see that with the passing years

    What is missing for our happiness

    God will provide, God will provide

    God will provide, God will provide

    God will provide, God will provide

    O Erê

    Words by Toni Garrido, da Gama, Lazão,

    Bino, and Bernardo Vilhena

    Music by Toni Garrido, da Gama, Lazão, and Bino

    Pra entender o Erê

    Tem que tá moleque

    Tem que conquistar alguém

    E a consciência leve

    Há semanas em que tudo vem

    Há semanas que é seca pura

    Há selvagens que são do bem

    A sequência do filme muda

    Milhões de anos luz podem curar

    O que alguns segundos na vida podem representar

    O Erê, a criança, sincera convicção

    Fazendo a vida com o que o sol nos traz

    Você sabe

    Um sentimento não trai

    Um bom sentimento não trai

    Pra entender o Erê

    Tem que tá moleque

    Tem que conquistar alguém

    E a consciência leve

    Pare e pense no que já se viu

    Pense e sinta o que já se fez

    O mundo visto de uma janela

    Pelos olhos de uma criança

    The Child
    To understand the child

    You have to be a child of the streets

    You have to defeat someone

    And have a light conscience

    There are some weeks when everything comes to you

    There are some weeks that are pure drought

    There are some hardened ones who are good

    The sequence of the film changes

    Millions of light years may heal

    What a few seconds in a life may represent

    O Erê, the child, sincere conviction

    Making a life with what the sun brings us

    You know

    A feeling does not betray

    A good feeling does not betray

    To understand the child

    You have to be a child of the streets

    You have to defeat someone

    And have a light conscience

    Stop and think of what you have already seen

    Think and feel what you have already done

    The world seen through a window

    Through the eyes of a child

    1990….. Lute Para Viver……………. Epic

    1992 …..Negro no Poder…………… Sony

    1994….. Sobre Todas as Forças…. Sony

    1996….. O Erê………………………… Sony

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