meta-scriptThe Roots of 'Roots': Sepultura's Game-Changing Metal Masterpiece At 25 |


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The Roots of 'Roots': Sepultura's Game-Changing Metal Masterpiece At 25

For the first time since 1997, all four classic members of Sepultura have come together (albeit remotely) to speak at length about 'Roots' and their groundbreaking exploration of their indigenous connections

GRAMMYs/Apr 9, 2021 - 03:00 pm

Upon calling former Sepultura drummer Iggor Cavalera about the 25th anniversary of the Brazilian metal band's 1996 LP Roots, it's impossible not to notice the image that pops up on his WhatsApp profile. It's a tattoo of MF DOOM's mask; he recently got it to honor the beloved and enigmatic rap supervillain upon his passing this past Halloween. Talk swiftly turns to the work of globetrotting hip-hop producer Madlib and his profound knowledge of Brazilian music.

"I've seen Madlib a few times in Sao Paulo," the drummer tells "And I knew he used to go there a lot to look for records and find all this obscure Brazilian stuff. It is so cool to see how he has his own take on how to make this stuff from the '60s and '70s somehow sound modern. Even on the DOOM stuff they did together [2004's Madvillainy], there are a lot of Brazilian references in there, especially from the psychedelic rock side of it."

The revelation of Iggor being a fan of Madlib and DOOM should come as no surprise to any fan of Roots. On that album, the group's classic lineup—guitarist Andreas Kisser, bassist Paulo Pinto Jr., Cavalera and his brother Max on lead throat—fully embraced their Brazilian heritage. They did this by deeply incorporating elements of their country's rich music history into some of the most brutal death metal to emerge from the 1990s.

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For the first time since 1997, all four classic members of Sepultura have come together (albeit remotely) to speak at length with about Roots and their groundbreaking experiments with their indigenous past—which helped make the album the most polarizing and beloved LP in the band's canon.

"I remember when Roots first came out, it felt like a shock to the system," the singer recalls. "The biggest newspaper in Brazil is the Folha de São Paulo, and they gave us a full-page article. And the writer wrote into the story, 'The samba of the future is metal.' It was so cool to read how they were comparing—how the power of metal and the power of samba are very similar. I remember when we were kids, we used to see the samba schools practicing. And when you see 80 or 90 drummers playing all at once, it's as heavy as a metal band—I promise you."

The elder Cavalera got the ball rolling on the album's centerpiece "Itsari," which found the band venturing deep into the state of Mato Grosso on the eastern end of Brazil. They went there to collaborate with the elusive Xavante, one of the oldest and (sadly) most exploited tribes in the country's savanna region.

The inspiration for "Istari" came from the film At Play In The Fields Of The Lord. "The plot of the movie is about these two Americans who go into the rainforest," he explains. "At first, they are supposed to go and drop bombs to scare away the Indians. But one of them, who is Native American, gets drunk and flies a plane to parachute into the rainforest and start living with the Indians. For some reason, the movie made a huge impact on me, and a lightbulb came on in my head about wanting to record with an indigenous tribe.

"I felt like this is what I am here for, to brave this new frontier," Max continues. "I remember my wife and manager telling me, 'You guys aren't Michael Jackson; you don't have that kind of budget!' But we made it work. I researched for contacts and found this lady Angela, who worked with all the Indian tribes in Brazil. The tribe I originally wanted to record was Kayapos, but they would have just killed all of us [laughs]. They don't f**k around."

However, getting to the Natives and their hidden world proved to be an adventure even before the group boarded the small Cessna to traverse over the jungle.

"At the time I was really afraid of flying," admits Pinto. "Especially in a small plane going over the jungle. The only thing I could see was a green carpet. But after this trip, I started to lose my fear of flying, because I was sitting in the cockpit with the pilot, who was explaining everything to me and how the plane works. There was a lot of turbulence because of the jungle's humidity—and the cabin was not pressurized, so the pilot was talking me through it. It was amazing how he was able to find the tribe just by coordinates."

"A lot of people would go to the Xavantes tribe and treat them almost like they were in a zoo," Iggor says. "It was like you were just this spectator. We, on the other hand, were there to collaborate with them and to exchange cultural ideas. We also wanted to do this as a way of representing them outside of Brazil."

"Most people in Brazil don't interact with the tribes," Max adds. "But my whole life I've been fascinated with them. In fact, on my mother's side, my great-great-grandmother was a true native. She was from the rainforest."

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"We were told we could not bring any type of alcohol, no drugs," Pinto Jr. added. "We could only stay outside the limits of the tribe, and we could only cross into their land if we were escorted by one of the natives. For the longest time, it seemed like every time the white man came through it f**ked them up. The natives were always getting screwed. Most people don't seem to respect them, especially the government. So when they have this area that they own and is protected by law, they are very cautious."

Yet it wasn't before long that these amicable outsiders became fast friends with the tribe. A promotional film for Roots now available on YouTube chronicles Sepultura's two days with the Xavantes tribe. And even if you don't fully understand Portuguese, there is nothing lost in translation in the body language between these four young men and these ancient people they learned about in their studies and on the national currency. 

In this footage, the two parties form a human connection in real-time. The Xavantes fully welcome Kisser, Pinto and the Cavaleras into their culture with open hearts and minds.  They encourage them to participate in their dance and prayer rituals and adorning them with their own body paint. Some moments of the film are moving in that regard; the positive impact on the trip indeed remains palpable in their voices.

"It was a life-changing experience, not only as a musician but as a human," admits Kisser, who, along with Pinto Jr., are the only remaining members left in the incarnation of Sepultura who recorded Roots. "It was a privilege to have this interaction with them and earn their attention and respect. We were so excited to be there. I think we spent 48 hours there, and I didn't sleep one minute. There was so much natural adrenaline going through me. At night, I heard sounds I never heard in my life. It's amazing how it created these new sensations in us and new feelings that came out of our music. 

"I think that was the first time I truly realized that time was just a concept," Kisser continues to "The way that they relate to nature and with the animals, the way they relate with the sun. I saw my watch lose all of its meaning because it's only connected to a concept. It was a very powerful thing to observe and see these people at peace with themselves. There was no rush or anxiety to pay bills or go to church. They are a very free people."

"When we were there with the Xavantes, we were writing a song together in real-time," Iggor explains. "So in order for them to figure out what they were going to sing about, they needed to wait until one of the elders had a dream. That's the only way they feel they can write music—if it was in a dream. So we had to wait a whole day for an elder to have that dream and the inspiration for the song, which served as a spiritual connection with us."

"We are all very grateful we were able to bring that vibe to the record," Pinto Jr. tells us. "We achieved a very special moment with that connection with the Xavantes. We didn't want to go through any politicians to make it happen. It was 100 percent cultural and spiritual, and I think we achieved the purity of that purpose."

The other major factor that gives Roots its multicultural perspective is the involvement of renowned Brazilian percussion master Carlinhos Brown, though the group reveals he wasn't their first choice.

"The first idea we had was to work with Naná Vasconcelos," explains Pinto Jr., referring to the renowned Brazilian percussionist who has played alongside Don CherryBrian Eno and Pat Metheny. "Sadly, he wasn't available at the time. But he was the main guy we initially thought about because he was so highly regarded as a percussionist. He was one of the masters."

"For us, percussion was always heavy in our lives, certainly heavier than any metal band," adds Kisser. "If you go to the Carnival in Rio and see the parades with these 500-person drum ensembles, there's no way to describe the feeling of hearing them all together. All we wanted to do was put heavy guitars over them. But then, of course, we began to explore different rhythms and harmonies."

As it turned out, the Bahia-born Brown, who has worked with such Brazilian legends as Caetano VelosoSergio MendesJoão GilbertoDjavan, and João Bosco in addition to his own successful career as a star in his own right, proved to be a perfect match. 

"We had the pleasure to work with Carlinhos, who is a genius," Kisser says, aglow. "A fantastic mind, a fantastic soul; he was so crucial for us on Roots."

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"We wound up meeting Carlinhos at an MTV Awards show here in Brazil," explains Pinto Jr. "We met him through the MTV director who was a good friend of ours. We had discussed with her what we were looking to do on Roots and she said, 'Oh you should meet Carlinhos, he's on the show as well.' So we got to talking and found out quickly how very well we jammed together."

"Out of all the countries in South America, Brazil has the biggest population of Africans, and that is something we wanted to convey on Roots," Iggor says. "Bringing in someone like Carlinhos Brown, who represented the whole African side of Brazil, was very important for us in order to portray those themes and ideals on this record. It wasn't just about the roots of native Brazilians, but also those who came after them as well."

"When we met him, I felt like we really connected spiritually," Max adds. "Like in the beginning of 'Ratamahatta' when the both of us are singing these Indian chants, there was no rehearsal for that. It was just me and him in the vocal booth. I began calling up to our ancestors from inside the booth, and I'm glad the producer was smart enough to record it."

"For 'Canyon Jam,' our intent was to utilize the full possibilities of the compact disc," reveals Kisser in reference to the atmospheric, instrumental hidden track on Roots. "And in the case of Roots, we were really exploring that extra time without concerns, and to really be free like the Xavantes tribe who gave us that concept about dealing with time. 'Canyon Jam' was with Carlinhos Brown and done with no plan. It was just us and Ross Robinson, who inputted all of the microphones all throughout the canyon, like miles and miles of cable, and put them in different positions. It was really open. Carlinhos was really kind and guided us to really different vibes and grooves. It was very of the moment."

One other key aspect of Roots that really calls up the spirits of their musical heritage is "Jasco," an acoustic instrumental track by Kisser that not only serves as an homage to heady nugs but the guitar work of the legendary ECM composer Egberto Gismonti. 

"Egberto Gismonti is such a fantastic performer and composer," Kisser tells "He plays that 10-string acoustic guitar, and when he plays the low strings it gives off this weird, fantastic vibe. He uses these harmonies that really represent the vibe of the jungle and the interior of the country. I had Egberto in mind when I did 'Jasco'. I tuned the lowest string to D in order to give the impression of the Amazon rainforest—at least in my head (laughs)." 

Back when Sepultura created Roots in the mid-90s, heavy metal had only begun to spread its wings in the global village of modern music. This occurred thanks to the inventive work of peers like Mike Patton (who alongside members of Korn and House of Pain appear on the album track "Lookaway"), China's Tang Dynasty and Israel's Orphaned Children. 

Yet it took a group like Sepultura, whose acclaim among their high profile peers and open-minded fans of metal helped them break through the overwhelming whiteness of modern metal. As such, they paved a new road for groups like Botswana's Overthrust, Indonesia's Siksakubur and India's Demonic Resurrection to not only survive but thrive in a genre oftentimes too blinded by its collective European heritage. 

"I think that was the coolest thing about Roots," Iggor admits. "Especially in the metal world, where we know there is still a lot of closed-minded mentality and people with macho bulls**t. And for us to do an album like Roots, I think it was a real eye-opener for those types of guys to see that you can still make some pretty heavy stuff and leave room to expand and try new things."

"I remember the older bands would take on a different melody or something in a song but it wouldn't be 100 percent immersive," Pinto Jr. surmises. "For us, being Brazilian, this kind of music was all around us regardless, whether we liked it or not. It's been part of our lives for all this time."

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"To me, Roots is such a cool record in that regard," adds Max. "Because apart from all of the Indian stuff, some of these songs are the heaviest we ever did together like 'Cutthroat' and 'Ambush' which is about Chico Mendes who, to me, is a Brazilian hero from the rainforest. I knew this was going to be a divisive album. But that's what happens when you roll the dice. I think the record has really evolved over time, though. We've been to about 80 countries, and in a weird way, Roots left its mark on all of those places. It's so cool to hear how this record is still influencing people to this day."

In all this looking back at Roots on its 25th anniversary, though the album was crafted during a period of great interpersonal strife amongst the members of this lineup, each of them recalls its creation with a fondness that supersedes any bitterness or regret towards the era. The pride each of these men has about the making of Rootsrises above any animosity they may have had.

"I have to mention Ross Robinson," interjects Kisser. "Without Ross, none of this would be possible. Andy Wallace as well. And Roadrunner. Everyone was really crucial in making what Roots is—this balance of everyone in the right place putting in the right input, and in equal measure. That's why it's still so powerful today. But I think amidst all of the chaos backstage with all of us really fighting a lot, I don't think Roots would have been possible as well. 

"It was a turmoil that really helped our art in the end," he continues. "It kept that fire in us, and really helped us survive each other. We disagreed on a lot of topics. But in the times when we would be playing together and jamming, nobody invaded that realm. It was really sacred and we kept it that way."

"It makes me wonder that if Roots were to be released today, if it could win a GRAMMY," adds Max, who continues to expand upon the album's global directions with his group Soulfly. "I'm very proud of how it left such a big mark on the world of metal."

Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMYs Salute To Prince
Sheila E. performs during the GRAMMY Salute To Prince in 2020

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy


Living Legends: Sheila E. On Prince, Playing Salsa And Marching To The Beat Of Her Own Drum

"I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood," Sheila E. says of her debut record. Forty years later, the GRAMMY-nominated multi-hyphenate is still forging her own path on the energetic new record, 'Bailar.'

GRAMMYs/Apr 5, 2024 - 01:22 pm

GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter, producer and percussionist Sheila E. has certainly had a glamorous life — and has done a lot with it. 

The child of percussionist Pete Escovedo and goddaughter of legendary timbalero Tito Puente, Sheila Escovedo has been energizing stages for most of her life. First performing as a child, Sheila was one of few female percussionists in the 1970s and '80s, and rose to the upper echelons of the music industry — performing alongside Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Herbie Hancock and Diana Ross. Whether in session or onstage, her dynamism and inventiveness continually made Sheila the star of the show. 

"I think outside the box," Sheila E. tells "You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be." 

Sheila's energy and unique approach to playing drums, timbale, and percussion caught the attention of Prince, a unique artist in his own right. The two spent decades as creative partners – Sheila acting as the Purple One's drummer, producer, musical director and, for a time, romantic partner; Prince shepherded her 1984 solo debut, A Glamorous Life, into being — and worked together until his death. Among her lasting contributions to their musical legacy, Sheila performed on the Purple Rain sessions and toured the album, and her vocals appear on "Erotic City." The two duetted on Sheila's 1986 single "A Love Bizarre" and, fittingly, got engaged in the middle of a performance.

In addition to her list of impressive accomplishments (which include co-founding the educational nonprofit Elevate Oakland), Sheila E has released eight albums as a solo artist. Her ninth, Bailar, finds the one avenue Sheila had yet to pursue: salsa. 

Recorded in Miami with a cast of local musicians, the 10-track record features originals and covers in both Spanish and English, and its lead single — an energetic cover of Celia Cruz's "Bemba Colorá featuring Gloria Estefan & Mimy Succar — fittingly has Sheila playing percussion, timbale and singing. 

"This is the best record I've ever done. I feel that good about it," she says. Ahead of Bailar's April 5 release, Sheila E. spoke with about creating music in a new idiom, the importance of collaboration, and finding space in music. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You've been working in the funk, R&B and pop space for years. What brought you to salsa now?

I've wanted to do a salsa record for a long time. My bucket list is extensive, and then I met [GRAMMY-winning producer and timbale player] Tony Succar in 2015… he did a project and took Michael Jackson songs and flipped them into salsa. I said, "Man, if I ever do my salsa record, we have to do it together because you understand."

I'm bringing that Oakland vibe to salsa. My dad was a Latin jazz artist — that's the foundation of who I am —  however, he also played salsa music in the house. I grew up listening to Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Celia Cruz and Tito Rodriguez, and the Fania All-Stars.  Our whole family loves salsa dancing.

There was music that I had written for an R&B album that I didn't release, and I said we can take some of this and flip it into salsa. This is another side of me that I'm excited about sharing with the people. 

Bailar sounds like something you would hear in New York or Miami, but there's something slightly different about it. What are you bringing to this record that might be different from another salsa band?

Salsa is very demanding. It's specific and traditional; there are things that are supposed to be played in specific sections of a song — whether it's a conga rhythm, a timbal rhythm, a cowbell rhythm. The element of the Bay Area and the Latin jazz with a little bit of funk, that was me [adding something new]. 

I always wanted to do "Bemba Colorá." I did a rumba in front of it and took a conga solo, and when I got to the half-time of that song, I said, "I want to take a drum solo." I don't think anyone has taken a drum solo or have even played drums on this song…especially a woman. Just adding different elements like that, as well as the way that I mix: where I place the horns and where I place the percussion and where the bells are and where the drums are. 

Tony Succar and I produced this record together. I did a couple of arrangements [and] co-wrote seven of the 10 songs. The songs that I had already written were arranged, but then we wanted to flip them into salsa. 

Are there any other songs on this record that you're particularly proud of?

All of them. Every one is a different story. The only woman that I could think of to call [for "Bemba Colorá"] was Gloria Estefan; she's like my sister. Mimi Succar is a new and upcoming artist, so we had her to sing as well, and the three of us just had a blast. 

[Also] playing "Anacaona," which is a song I used to hear [by] Fania All-Stars and Cheo Feliciano. My dream was to have Rubén Blades sing on my record; he sang that song and I started crying. I was just overwhelmed. 

["El Rey del Timbal"] was one song that I had played with Tito [Puente] and my dad many times. When Tony sent me the demo, I listened to it and was like, "We got to go way faster than that. If Tito was playing it, he would've played it this way, and I know because I've played it with him."  So I started taking a solo, banging my legs while I was listening to it through the phone, and I just kept going faster, and then Tony's like, "Are you serious? This is 200-something BPMs." 

It was perfect for me taking the timbale solo, but when I had to then overdub and play all the parts on the bells and everything, it was so fast, I was like, What was I thinking? The horn section had it worse. A trumpet player yelled on the track  — "Ahh!" —  and I boosted him yelling [on the final mix], because that's real stuff.  It took everything for them. 

I'd love to hear a little bit about your relationship with Tito Puente and any important musical lessons he taught you, especially now that you're coming out with an album that's very much influenced by his work.

He was such an influence. He was amazing. He did so much for us as a family, musically, as well as being our friend and growing up listening to him. He and my dad met when they were 18, and having him around the house when I was growing up, I didn't even know he was.  

The biggest thing was we would go to New York, my dad and I, and we would sit in with Tito at the Palladium and the Corso. And back then, you'd have four bands playing in one night until 6 in the morning. And they would jump from one club to the other. It was the most stressful time because, as jazz artists, we didn't hardly sit in with salsa bands. I was like, "But papa, I don't know the clave, I don't understand what bell pattern or what conga pattern to play." He goes, "Don't worry about it. You don't listen to those guys. You just go play you."

So he kept encouraging [me]: it doesn't matter, you have the heart to go ahead. And my pops would say the same thing: We might not understand it technically, but we play it from our heart. [Tito] always encouraged me, and I got to play with Celia, Tito and [bassist] Cachao [Lopez] at the same time.

What a dream come true. Tito introduced me to all of these musicians as well, but really just telling everybody, "You be quiet and just let Sheila play."

Read more: Celebrating Tito Puente's Centennial: 10 Essential Songs By The Mambo King

Bailar is a bit more celebratory than your last album, 2017's Iconic: Message 4 America, which was heavily political. Obviously we continue to live in increasingly fraught times; why was it important for you to put more positive messages out into the world? One of your tracks is even called "Possibilities."

We are living in hard times, and it's challenging. Things are changing every single day. And everyone is going through something every single day.  One of the things that has been such a blessing to me is the gift of music. I don't take it for granted. To be able to share music and at least make people happy for the five minutes that you listen to this song or the entire record…is healing.

Many times in my shows, people end up crying. It's emotional, and music brings joy. It lifts you up. It brings you to a place of happiness and love, and we just want you to have a good time. But the joy that I get to be able to do this, it heals me too. And I just thought it was important.

Your work and relationship with Prince is so extensive and deep. What would you consider the peak of your creative partnership?

I don't think there ever was. We continued to grow and just kept experimenting on different sounds, and recording and jamming. We first jammed together in 1977 when he came to my house. We either recorded or played together [on] so many songs. There's still tons of stuff in the vault…I counted at least 200 songs I played on that I haven't even heard yet.

We were always jamming, coming up with something, or recording. A lot of times I would engineer for him as well; it's just he and I [in the room] most of the time. I taught myself some engineering when I was growing up; I saved all my money and started buying recording gear so I could learn how to write and produce myself when I was in my teens. 

So when I started to record with [Prince], I had already recorded songs on tape before. Being in the studio with him, we would see who could stay up the longest, who's going to fall asleep first. We would catch each other [falling asleep] almost at the same time. 

*You also worked with Prince on your debut album, 1984's The Glamorous Life. You'd been working so much as a musician up to that point already that it's interesting to think of it as your debut. How did you work on that project together?*

We had already been jamming and playing together before we did all that. And I had been out on tour with so many artists beforehand; when we first met, I was already touring with George Duke in the mid-'70s. [Prince was] like, "I've been watching you and I'm following your career, and maybe one day we could do something together." 

He started doing all these albums, and then he becomes the Prince that we all know. He changed every record, which was amazing musically. At the time [we recorded Glamorous Life], he was at Sunset Sound [recording studio and] he had all the rooms going at the same time. We just went in and started recording.

Prince was very involved in getting me the deal with Warner Brothers. He just one day said, "You want to do the record now?" And I was like, "Yeah, I think I'm ready. Let's do it." It was that simple. We went into the studio and we were pretty much done with my record, from top to bottom, in a week.

We just stayed in there, literally no sleep. We were so excited. We had so much fun.

Back then, I wasn't really playing drums a lot. I wanted to make sure that my percussion was in the forefront, and he knew that too. That's how Glamorous Life came about, to showcase me in a light that I wasn't really a singer. I was a percussion player leading my band, playing timbales, which no one really understood because, in pop culture, no one had done that. 

So it took even a minute for [Warner Brothers] to understand releasing the record. They wanted to release "Belle of St. Mark" first as the single and not "Glamorous Life"; I had to fight them on it because I said, "'Glamorous Life' is a song that is important to me, and it showcases me as a percussionist and a singer. If I do 'Belle of St. Mark,' it's only me singing. I'm not even playing percussion."

I would love to hear about other musical collaborators who are a big part of your story.

I've been able to play with so many people: George Duke and my dad, and [drummer] Billy Cobham, [bassist] Alfonso Johnson, and it went on. Then [jazz guitarist] Lee Ritenour and [jazz pianist] Patrice Rushen and all of these other artists; Herbie Hancock…. Then you go switch over to Marvin Gaye, and then you go to Brooks & Dunn. I just hopped all over the place with Con Funk Shun and sitting in with so many people and recording. When we do these events, you get to sit and play with Phil Collins and Elton John; I'll just play percussion, I'll be the backup. I don't need to be in the front. Part of what I love is I get to be on both sides.

I can be a team player and play with a group, which is so exciting. Or if you want to feature me, that's fine. That's kind of what had happened throughout my life; anyone that I performed with would just say, "Sheila, you just go out in the front." They would push me out there. Marvin Gaye is like, "Sheila, you take over. I'm going to go back and change." He made it a part of his show. And then same thing with Lionel Richie. Everyone would just feature me, it became that thing. Everyone has influenced me in some sort of way.

You're out there being featured and just putting so much into your performances. You have this incredible amount of energy. What powers you?

God's given me the gift and point-blank. I am forever grateful to be able to do what I get to do because of that gift. I don't take it for granted. 

You have musical directed the Obama's Festival Latina, the Recording Academy's Tribute to Prince, and of course, you were his musical director for many years. Does that work require a special set of musical muscles?

When it comes to music and just being an artist, whatever you put into it is what you get out. I would always do the homework that was needed to play with an artist — learn all the music — so when I walked into a situation, I would walk in with confidence. I wasn't a great reader at all; it was really all by ear. That preparation is everything. 

Putting together my first ever band during that time in the early '80s, I knew what I wanted. [Today] I'm able to put together projects and put the right people together. For some people, it's just a gig and for me, it's more than that. It's a lifestyle and it's family and it's trust and it's respect. 

How did you choose the music for "Let's Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Tribute To Prince"?

Some of the songs they already had, some of the other songs I suggested. Almost everything that they were going to play, I knew and I had a lot of the original music. I had a lot of the samples; I had Prince's vocals. There were things that I had that could help in some of the arrangements, and a lot of the arrangements I used from my show. 

You try to adjust to make sure that [the artists] shine and that they feel comfortable, because everyone was really nervous. I had many conversations with people making sure, "Is this a good key for you?" Making sure that "You don't have to sing it like Prince. This is your representation of who you are and you happen to be doing a Prince song and no one's going to judge you for it." 

Speaking of collaborative efforts, The Greatest Night in Pop music doc came out recently. What do you remember from recording "We Are the World"? 

I kind of didn't want to do it because, initially, we were on the Purple Rain tour [and] we were exhausted. At some point I thought,  Do I even belong in that caliber of people? 

[At the "We Are The World" session,] everyone was hanging out, everybody was really cool. No one had a huge entourage. I was excited to meet people I hadn't met before. One of the people I was excited about meeting was Cyndi Lauper. I loved her. I wanted to meet Bruce Springsteen, the boss. 

In that moment of being in that room with everyone, and it was just amazing to [think], Wow, we're going to do something incredible to be able to raise money for people who are starving.  Then you just take a breath and you do what you do, and then things happen.

Do you think that you have changed or contributed to the sound of percussion in R&B and pop music?

My style is my style. Different artists from the Bay — Sly and the Family Stone, Carlos Santana, my dad's band [Azteca], Grateful Dead, Tower Of Power, of course, Pointer Sisters — listening to all those bands and being able to watch their rehearsals when I was a teenager influenced me. 

The key was being adaptable to what needed to be for that specific song. You have to make up your own beats, because being a percussion player is like [working on] a beautiful painting that's already painted and they're asking you to put one color in there or you see a space — what would you put in that space? 

It's not about playing all over the place and playing something that doesn't belong. You have to figure out those spaces and, to me, the most important part of music is space. That space is what allows a song to breathe.

I would use different things even in the studios; I didn't use all of the right mics all the time. I would bite on an apple and sample it and put that sound on top of the snare. I just experimented. I started on pots and pans, and I used keys, and I used a spray bottle can that blows out air to clean your computer as a high hat. Everything can be musical. 

One of the biggest things is Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough." Quincy [Jones] had called me and said, "Michael wants this kind of sound, I don't know what it is, bring all your toys." I brought everything. I ended up getting two bottles and I poured water in it, and I used the holder to play the triangle on the sides of the bottle. So "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough" has those bottles.  

You just come up with ideas and it doesn't have to be traditional. It just has to be from your heart, a feeling that makes sense, that compliments whatever song it may be.

Are there any other female percussionists out there right now that you see carrying the torch that you lit?

Oh my God. There are so many drummers right now. I go on social media frequently throughout the week, and I try to find at least someone new and DM them and say, "You're amazing. God bless you. Thank you for your gift. Keep doing what you're doing," and people freak out. 

That's part of my job, to continue to encourage the young people to keep playing. 

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you've dealt with a lot of harassment throughout your career as a woman playing an instrument that women don't traditionally play. I'd like to know how you continued to move forward and own your vision in an industry, and in an era, where women are often belittled or posited as like sex objects.

When I first started, I didn't know it was a big deal that I was one of few — or one of one — that was doing what I was doing. In the Bay Area, you see a lot of women playing percussion. In Berkeley, we all go and hang out at the park and everyone plays and it's like 20 or 30 of us and whoever brings their instrument, they just jam with us.

Coming to L.A. and recording with other artists, when I walked into a room, the drummer would say, "Can you get me a cup of coffee?" And I'm like, "I'll get it for you but I'm not the receptionist or anything. I'm the percussion player." They would freak out. 

When that first started happening and things were being said that were really rude and bad, I would go back to my parents. They would just say, "You just keep doing what you're doing. They're jealous or they're mad because you're there, or they've never seen anyone like you. You have a gift and you just go ahead. You learn the music, know what you have to do, so when you walk in with confidence, it's not an issue." A lot of the time, those musicians were not prepared, and I was, and they hated me even more because I knew everything. 

I got so much joy out of performing. And even with all the nos and the nastiness and the stuff that was being said [like], "Hey, if you sleep with me," all of these other things. It just made me stronger. You keep pushing through; you just keep playing. 

When you find your passion and that's your purpose, no one can stop you.  I stand on that word.

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Michael Jackson GRAMMY Rewind Hero
(L-R) Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones at the 1984 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images


GRAMMY Rewind: Michael Jackson Wins Best Recording For Children, The Award He Was "Most Proud Of" At The 1984 GRAMMYs

Michael Jackson took home eight golden gramophones at the 1984 GRAMMYs, but felt most rewarded by his win for his audiobook and soundtrack companion album for 'E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.'

GRAMMYs/Dec 1, 2023 - 06:00 pm

Michael Jackson made history with his groundbreaking album Thriller in 1982. But while the icon was smashing pop records, he was also venturing into a new avenue: narration.

Jackson was the voice of the audiobook and soundtrack companion album for Steven Spielberg's groundbreaking 1982 classic, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The album won the King of Pop one of his eight GRAMMYs in 1984 – and it may have been the most important win of his career. 

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, relive the night Jackson won Best Recording for Children with Quincy Jones, who produced the LP, at the 26th Annual GRAMMY Awards.

"One of the most dangerous joint decisions Michael and I made was to accept to do an album for Steven Spielberg," Jones explained at the beginning of their acceptance speech before expressing gratitude for the film's cast and crew.

"I don't thank the people who stopped this record from coming out," Jones said, alluding to the backlash MCA Records received from Epic for releasing the project at the same time as Thriller.

"Of all the awards I've gotten, I'm most proud of this one," Jackson revealed. "I think children are a great inspiration, and this album is not for children. It's for everyone. I'm so happy, and I'm so proud. Thank you so much."

Press play on the video above to hear Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones's complete acceptance speech for Best Recording for Children at the 1984 GRAMMY Awards, and check back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Ray Parker Jr performing "Ghostbusters" in 2019
Ray Parker Jr performs "Ghostbusters" for Freeform's "31 Nights of Halloween Fan Fest" in 2019.

Photo: Image Group LA via Getty Images


10 Halloween Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "Thriller," "Ghostbusters" & More

With Halloween celebrations in full swing this Oct. 31, revisit 10 eerie or ghoulishly titled songs that have all been awarded music's top honor, from the 'Exorcist' theme to Eminem and Rihanna's "The Monster."

GRAMMYs/Oct 31, 2023 - 12:56 pm

If the holiday of trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and decorating your front porch with skeletons is your favorite of the year, then you'll no doubt already have a playlist stacked with creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky bangers ready to fire up on Oct. 31. But if you want to add a bit of prestige to your supernatural soundtrack, there's another list of Halloween-friendly songs to check out — one that highlights another celebrated annual occasion.

While the GRAMMYs might not yet have awarded Rob Zombie, Jukebox the Ghost, or And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, it has embraced the odd musical spooktacular in several forms. In 1988, for example, it gave Halloween obsessive Frank Zappa Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Jazz from Hell. A year later, it handed Robert Cray Band Best Contemporary Blues Recording for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. And it's also dished out goodies (of the statuette, rather than the sweet, variety) to the likes of Mavis Staples' "See That My Grave Is Clean," Chick Corea's "Three Ghouls," and Mastodon's "A Sultan's Curse."

With Halloween 2023 fast approaching, here's a closer look at ten other tracks which left the music industry's biggest awards show completely bewitched.

Stevie Wonder — "Superstition" (1974)

It seems unlikely that Stevie Wonder walked under a ladder, crossed a black cat, or 'broke the lookin' glass' while recording "Superstition" — the squelchy Moog-funk classic kickstarted his remarkable run of 25 GRAMMY Awards when it won both Best Rhythm and Blues Song and Best R&B Vocal Performance Male in 1974. Taken from what many consider to be his magnum opus, Talking Book, "Superstition" also gave Wonder his first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in over a decade. And the soul legend further leaned into its supernatural theme in 2013 when he appeared as a witch doctor in a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial soundtracked by the Tamla favorite.

Mike Oldfield — "Tubular Bells" (1975)

Incredibly, considering how perfectly it complements all-time classic horror The Exorcist, Mike Oldfield's prog-rock epic Tubular Bells was recorded long before director William Friedkin came calling. Mike Oldfield, then aged only 19, used a variety of obscure instruments across its two mammoth pieces. Yet, it's the brilliantly creepy Steinway piano riffs which open Side One that are still most likely to bring anyone who experienced the movie's hysteria in a cold sweat. Oldfield was rewarded for helping to scar a generation of cinemagoers for life when a condensed version of his eerie masterpiece picked up the Best Instrumental Composition GRAMMY.

The Charlie Daniels Band — "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (1980)

The Charlie Daniels Band certainly proved their storytelling credentials in 1979 when they put their own Southern country-fied spin on the old "deal with the devil" fable. Backed by some fast and furious fiddles, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" tells the tale of a young musician named Johnny who bumps into Beelzebub himself during a jam session in the Peach State. Experiencing a downturn in soul-stealing, the latter then bets he can win a fiddle-off, offering an instrument in gold form against Johnny's spiritual essence. Luckily, the less demonic party proves he's the "best that's ever been" in a compelling tale GRAMMY voters declared worthy of a prize, Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group.

Michael Jackson — "Thriller" (1984)

The 1984 GRAMMYs undeniably belonged to Michael Jackson. The King of Pop picked up a whopping 11 nominations for his first blockbuster album, Thriller, and then converted seven of them into wins (he also took home Best Recording for Children for his narration on audiobook E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial). Remarkably, the title track's iconic John Landis-directed video didn't feature at all: its making of, however, did win Best Music Film the following year. But the song itself did pip fellow superstars Prince, Billy Joel, and Lionel Richie to the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance crown. Jackson would also win a GRAMMY 12 years later for another Halloween-esque anthem, his Janet Jackson duet "Scream."

Duran Duran — "Hungry Like the Wolf" (1984)

Produced by Colin Thurston, the man behind another early '80s Halloween-friendly classic, (Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy"), "Hungry Like the Wolf" cemented Duran Duran's status as MTV icons. Alongside their much raunchier earlier clip for "Girls on Film," its jungle-themed promo was also responsible for giving the Second British Invasion pin-ups the inaugural GRAMMY Award for Best Music Video, Short Form; it featured on the Duran Duran compilation that was crowned Best Video Album, too. Frontman Simon Le Bon had been inspired to write their U.S. breakthrough hit by Little Red Riding Hood, giving the new wave classic its sinister, and appropriately predatory, edge.

Ray Parker Jr. — "Ghostbusters" (1985)

Ray Parker Jr. not only topped the Hot 100 for four weeks with his ode to New York's finest parapsychologists, he also picked up a GRAMMY. Just don't expect to hear "who you gonna call?" in the winning version: For it was in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance where "Ghostbusters" reigned supreme. The fact that Parker Jr. wrote, performed, and produced the entire thing meant he still took home the trophy. However, Huey Lewis no doubt felt he should have been the one making the acceptance speech. The blue-eyed soulman settled out of court after claiming the spooky movie theme had borrowed its bassline from "I Want a New Drug," a track Ghostbusters' director Ivan Reitman admitted had been played in film footage intended to inspire Parker Jr.

Ralph Stanley — "O Death" (2002)

Traditional Appalachian folk song "O Death" had previously been recorded by the likes of gospel vocalist Bessie Jones, folklorist Mike Seeger, and Californian rockers Camper Van Beethoven, just to name a few. Yet it was Ralph Stanley's 2002 version where GRAMMY voters first acknowledged its eerie a cappella charms. Invited to record the morbid number for the Coen brothers' period satire O Brother, Where Art Thou, the bluegrass veteran won Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the 2002 ceremony, also picking up a second GRAMMY alongside the likes of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris when the soundtrack was crowned Album Of The Year.

Skrillex — "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" (2012)

David Bowie fans may well feel aggrieved that his post-punk classic "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" was entirely ignored by GRAMMY voters, while the bro-step banger it inspired was showered with awards. The title track from EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites added Best Dance Recording to Skrillex's 2012 haul: the asymmetrically haired producer also walked away with Best Dance/Electronica Album and Best Remixed Recording: Non-Classical for his work on Benny Benassi's "Cinema." Packed with speaker-blasting beats, distorted basslines, and aggressive synths, Skrillex's wall of noise is enough to scare anyone off their pumpkin pie.

Eminem and Rihanna — "The Monster" (2015)

Who says lightning can't strike twice? Just four years after picking up five GRAMMY nominations for their transatlantic chart-topper "Love the Way You Lie," unlikely dream team Eminem and Rihanna once again joined forces for another hip-pop masterclass. Unlike their previous collab, however, "The Monster" didn't go home empty-handed, winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2015 ceremony. The boogeyman hiding under the bed here, of course, isn't a Frankenstein-esque creation, but the mix of paranoia, self-doubt, and OCD that leads the Real Slim Shady into thinking he needs a straitjacket.

Jason Isbell — "If We Were Vampires" (2018)

While the Twilight franchise may have failed to add a GRAMMY to its trophy cabinet, it did pick up several nominations. But four years after the Team Edward vs Team Jacob saga wrapped up, folk hero Jason Isbell proved mythical bloodsuckers weren't a barrier to awards success. Emerging victorious in only the fifth ever Best Americana Roots Song category, "If We Were Vampires" is a little less emo than the various Twilight soundtracks. Still, as a love song dedicated to wife Amanda Shires, and the quiet acceptance that the Grim Reaper will inevitably end their story, it's certainly no less emotional.  

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2023 Latin GRAMMYs General Hero


Latin GRAMMYs 2023: Listen To The Nominees For Best Portuguese Language Urban Performance

The five nominees for Best Portuguese Language Urban Performance reflect the diversity of Brazilian music. Listen to the nominated works and tune in to the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs on Nov. 16.

GRAMMYs/Oct 20, 2023 - 03:13 pm

The Latin GRAMMYs have introduced three new categories to the awards this year in order to recognize an ever broader spectrum of Latin culture: Songwriter Of The Year, Best Singer-Songwriter Song, and Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance. The new category for urban music in Portuguese nods to the force that Brazilian music has become on the world stage.

Portuguese urban music is a broad category, encompassing funk carioca and other uniquely Brazilian genres as well as hip-hop and rap, or a fusion of urban genres with other styles. Collectively, the five 2023 Latin GRAMMY Nominees who are up for the honor of Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance represent this diversity in Brazilian music. The artists nominated are: Àttøøxxá and Carlinhos Brown (“Da Favela Pro Asfalto”), GIULIA BE (“Aviso De Amigo”), Iza (“Fé”), Planet Hemp Featuring Criolo (“Distopia”) and Filipe Ret with Caio Luccas and Dallass (“Good Vibe”).

The 24th Latin GRAMMY Awards will be held on Nov. 16 in Sevilla, Spain. Learn about the nominees for this new category, then don’t miss the broadcast on Univision at 8 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. CT).

Àttøøxxá Featuring Carlinhos Brown – “Da Favela Pro Asfalto”

This nomination is a first for Afro-Brazilian fusion group Àttøøxxá, who recruited the vocal gifts of fellow Baiano, Carlinhos Brown for the party jam "Da Favela Pro Asfalto," off their recent album Groove. It may be their first Latin GRAMMY nom, but Groove is their fourth album and the quartet is well-known for simultaneously bringing cosmopolitan hip and retro cool to pagodão, the Bahia-bred style that dominates their sound. On the come up for a little while now, they brought some of their pagodão seasoning to Anitta’s “Me Gusta,” in 2020.

This is a significant moment for Àttøøxxá and their genre. Guitarist Chibatinha said in a statement, “This nomination is a celebration of black music. ‘Da Favela Pro Asfalto' is a significant song because it brings together two generations of Bahia music and to be chosen by world critics to compete gives this work another weight.”

GIULIA BE  – “Aviso De Amigo”

Giulia Be is a chart-topping, multihyphenate singer-songwriter and actress from Rio de Janeiro who earned her second Latin GRAMMY nomination with the song “Aviso De Amigo.” The offbeat, bedroom funk tune with the eyelash-fluttering lyrics from her 2022 debut album DISCO VOADOR, may be more indoor-voice than some of her made-for-arenas pop bangers but its sophistication and confident pacing makes it a standout.

Giulia’s career is white hot right now. Last year’s nomination was for Best New Artist. In 2022, she also starred in the hit Netflix drama Depois Do Universo and, on a lighter note, saw DISCO VOADOR album track “pessoa certa hora errada” become a viral TikTok hit.

Iza – “Fé”

Backed up by a gospel-inspired chorus, a samba trio, and clubby hip-hop beats, Iza tells her story and sings about what keeps her going on “Fé,” the 2022 single that brought her a second Latin GRAMMY nomination. Her first nomination came just last year when her critically successful debut album Dona de Mim put her in the running for Best Portuguese Language Contemporary Pop Album. (This year, she followed Dona de Mim with AFRODHIT.)

Iza knows about the hard work and struggle she describes in “Fé.” Before signing with Warner Music Brasil, the singer, songwriter and dancer worked as a video editor while she built her following by posting cover songs on YouTube.

Planet Hemp Featuring Criolo – “Distopia”

Rio de Janeiro rap-rock legends Planet Hemp have been making music (and problems for the authorities) since 1993. A lot has happened since their formation. The group has survived tragedy, been arrested for advocating marijuana use, broken up and reunited. Current and former members such as BNegão and Black Alien have gone on to be known as rappers and musicians beyond the band. Collectively, Planet Hemp had enough laurels to rest on for the foreseeable future, but the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro spurred the members to action.

In 2022 they returned with Jardineiros, their first studio album in more than 20 years. Despite the long hiatus, the release found them in top form and joined by collaborators such as superstar rapper Criolo, who gives lead single “Distopia” its powerful chorus.

Filipe Ret with Caio Luccas and Dallass  – “Good Vibe”

Moody, dim trap beats and meandering lyrics with shades of funk proibidão made Filipe Ret a diamond-certified star. Producer Dallass crafted quite a few of those beats for the Carioca rapper over the course of their careers, however, when the two regular collaborators made “Good Vibe” something else entirely happened. The track, which appears on 2022’s Lume, feels light, dreamy, maybe even sunny. Vaporwave synths brighten the typically gloomy corners and everything seems to float on clouds of reverb.

What could bring on such good vibes? Well, it’s a song about a girl. Love seems to have put Ret and rapper Caio Luccas in the mood to look on the bright side. It’s working for them.

2023 Latin GRAMMYs: See The Complete Nominations List