PHOTO: Jamie Wdziekonski
Behind The Smoke & Mirrors With Japanese Psych-Rock Legends Kikagaku Moyo
"It is absolutely possible for music to cross borders, language barriers and to be created imperfectly," says Kikagaku Moyo guitarist Tomo Katsurada ahead of the band's fifth album, out May 6, and final tour.
Ten years ago, the founding members of Japanese psych-rock band Kikagaku Moyo began jamming at a rotary in front of the Takadanobaba train station in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. Surrounded by skateboarders, artists and students from the nearby college, Tomo Katsurada and Go Kurosawa led rotating lineups of musician friends through late-night, open-ended musical explorations that combined '70s psychedelic rock and traditional folk music with classical Indian music and Krautrock.
Once Tomo and Go solidified the band lineup — drums, bass, two guitars, sitar — they began recording songs and playing shows around Tokyo. They hosted their own psychedelic rock festivals around Tokyo, got invited to play Austin Psych Fest and spent the next 10 years playing roughly 100 shows a year on tours of Australia, Europe, Japan, the UK and the US.
Kikagaku Moyo have released four full-length albums and several EPs; their most popular songs on Spotify are over seven minutes long and have more than 6 million listens. Yet these are not simple pop songs with a quick payoff; Kikagaku Moyo takes time to expand, contract and expand beyond where it seemed the song was likely to go.
"Dripping Sun," from their 2018 album Masana Temples is classic Kikagaku Moyo: it begins with a pulsing bass line and sparse wah guitar, ramps up with driving drums and guitar melody, then slows down and quiets down with a hushed vocal, segues into a bouncing chorus, then launches into a full-on psychedelic rock jam, only to quiet down one last time. Fan favorites such as "Green Sugar," "Smoke & Mirrors" and "Tree Smoke" are heavily improvised, evolving each time the band plays them in concert.
Over time, the band have developed a cult-like status, due in part to their DIY approach. Kikagaku Moyo write and record their own music, and release it on their own label, Guruguru Brain — evening touring without a stage crew until just this year.
They’ve played dive bars and proper music venues, but in recent years have performed at unique venues like San Francisco's Castro Theater, a former church in Amsterdam called the Paradiso, and have played Switzerland's mountaintop Palp Festival. Kikagaku Moyo have also collaborated with fashion designers Gucci and Issey Miyake, adding their unique sonic style to fashion shows.
On May 6, Kikagaku Moyo will release their final fifth album and will do one final year-long tour before going on indefinite hiatus. GRAMMY.com recently spoke with guitarist Tomo Katsurada over Zoom from his home in Amsterdam about the band’s beginnings, their 10-year journey, and their decision to take a break from the band.
How is your fifth album different from your previous albums?
In all the previous albums, our impressions came from touring experiences, like hanging out with bands, going to see a lot of cities and eating food and watching cinema and listening to music. Each day was a different city. It was a very trippy experience.
But this time, because of Covid, we didn’t play songs together very much. We made songs remotely, imagining how we would play this song together. Everything went into the concept of imagining, like an imaginary playground in our heads, because we couldn’t have so much time together. We worried if the album sounded like ourselves because it was so much inside our imagination, but it does sound very much like us.
Why did Kikagaku Moyo decide to go on hiatus after this upcoming world tour?
We truly felt that we achieved all that we could as five members. We have always been committed to creating work that stands the test of time and music that we are wholeheartedly proud of. Ultimately, we wanted to complete our journey as a group on our own terms and on our highest note possible. Along with the support of our fans, to this we are truly grateful.
I would love to leave behind space within the psychedelic music scene for younger generations to take over. It is absolutely possible for music to cross borders, language barriers and to be created imperfectly…..I believe in the cycle of inspiration and am very much looking forward to seeing how it manifests within our audience in the future.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Why did you and Go decide to start a band together? What were you doing before you created Kikagaku Moyo?
I played cello from ages 3-13, practicing every day. Then my older sister started playing guitar in a punk band and that really influenced me. I got into skateboarding and making skate videos. I played guitar in a pop punk band in high school.
I started hanging out with Go after he came back from studying in the US. We watched a lot of movies together and I made posters for his band. We started making music when I came back from going to college in Portland, Oregon.
How did that time in the US affect you?
I got into psychedelic music by going to these great music stores around 2010. I couldn’t even speak English very well when I got there.
I was relieved to be there, to be abroad. Japan has such a big collectivist mindset around harmonized thought, which is very different to the American individual mindset. I really felt that when I was 20; it gave me freedom. Americans were talking about themselves all the time, and I was like, wow I’m allowed to do that?
What drew you to psychedelic rock music?
When me and Go started hanging out, we talked about psychedelic things from the '60s and '70s, like books and bands and movies. The most beautiful black and white film I’ve ever watched is Eros and Massacre, a very trippy three-hour Japanese film I’ve watched at least four times.
In Japan, it’s only master musicians, like music done only one way, the proper way. But I started meeting young artists making music, filmmakers making music, and skateboarders, and everyone was combining their influences together, and that was what we really wanted to do.
What were those early band rehearsals like?
We got a space to play from midnight to 5 am. Sometimes it was just me and Go. We would ask people to jam with us during six-hour sessions every two weeks, with five or six people. Friends would come in and out. We were not writing songs yet. I didn’t know how to write music. I didn’t know how to play guitar properly but I didn’t care, I could just play with feeling. I didn’t care about music theory. I didn't even know the 6th string was an E string. I would just listen and play. It was really loose.
What was it like playing Tokyo when you first started out as Kikagaku Moyo?
We started a monthly psychedelic music event called Tokyo Psych Fest. Psych music is filled with so many influences that combine together, and we wanted to meet all the people in Tokyo who like the things we like. We started our record label to put out compilations from the festival. We started releasing LPs and cassettes, it was so much fun. We really wanted to play the Austin Psych Fest, and got offered to play there after a year of doing Tokyo Psych Fest. Then everything changed, and soon we got invited to play in Europe and the UK.
What were those early touring experiences like for the band?
Around 2013 or so, some members were still in school or had jobs. We would try to get a week off work or school, but had limited time to tour, so it went slowly. We worked and started saving money a year in advance to get Visas to tour the US.
At the beginning, we had no record label, so we were pretty much DIY. We asked bands we liked in the US to gig with us, like Moon Duo from San Francisco and Eternal Tapestry in Portland. We helped Moon Duo book their Japanese tour, and they taught us so many things and said we should tour in the US; then we got more confidence to try it.
There’s a spiritual, meditative quality to your shows because they ebb and flow between quiet moments and aggressive, loud ones. How does the band approach live performances?
We want to enjoy ourselves when we play music, and for that to happen we need space for improvisation. We don't play the same set at every show; no show is the same. I make the set list different every night — I think about my vibe, and bandmates’ vibes, and I try to make a storyline, kind of like a DJ mix of our songs that I can enjoy from all of our albums. Then we look at it and do it. It’s always challenging because we don't decide anything in advance.
This is the end of an era for you and your bandmates. What’s next?
I really have no idea yet, I just know we want time to think. Each member will probably work on new projects. I took a guitar lesson for the first time this year. And I’m recording a radio show on Worldwide FM called the Bootleg Bunny show, where I play soul, psychedelic, and jazz 7-inch records and I love it.
Up Close & Personal: Shaggy And Sting Discuss Their Musical Beginnings, Songwriting Processes And GRAMMY-Winning Collaboration
Two GRAMMY-winning musical legends joined together in this Nashville Chapter member-exclusive program, which was filmed at Nashville's Ocean Way and moderated by Chrissy Metz.
Friends and collaborators Shaggy and Sting came together for a conversation at Nashville's Ocean Way Studio recently — and the result was a lengthy discussion about the way they write songs, the backstories behind some of their biggest hits, and of course, their GRAMMY-winning work together.
In an in-depth installment of Up Close & Personal, presented by the Recording Academy's Nashville Chapter and moderated by "This Is Us" star Chrissy Metz, the member-exclusive program presented an informal conversation that took fans through both artists' careers to date.
The two stars hail from very different parts of the world — Sting grew up in England, and became the frontman for legendary rock group the Police, while Shaggy was born in Kingston, Jamaica. but over the years, they've found layers of commonalities in their work.
In speaking about his songwriting process, Sting — who has written classic-rock hits like "Roxanne" and "Every Breath You Take" — notes that he mostly writes solo, a rarity in the famed songwriting collaboration hub of Music City.
"I've always been envious of people who have a writing partner," Sting says. "Lennon and McCartney, they were constantly playing off each other, competing with each other, and that was one of the engines of their success."
"But I never actually found that person, and I'm still alone," he adds, with a joke: "Isn't it sad?"
But he found an unlikely but fruitful creative partner in Shaggy for the two collaborative albums they've released together. One of them is 44/876, which won Best Reggae Album at the 2019 GRAMMYs — and includes a number of songs that the two artists co-wrote.
Shaggy explains that one of the reasons their songwriting partnership was so successful was because of their friendship: Where songwriting can be a tedious, solitary struggle, the two artists found that heading into the writer's room together broke some tension.
"I write a lot of songs, I'm pretty successful at it, but I don't particularly love it," Shaggy notes. "I like the live aspects of it. That's why I like working with him, because it's not as intense. It's more [like] we laugh, and out of that laughter comes something that works, that we hopefully both like."
To learn more about the two artists' creative processes — plus Shaggy's stint on The Masked Singer, and why they think the original James Bond might have been Jamaican — press play on the video above to watch the full episode of Up Close & Personal.
Photo: LaQuann Dawson
Durand Bernarr's 'Wanderlust': The R&B Singer Explains Why He's "Constantly In A State Of Arriving"
With Durand Bernarr’s 'Wanderlust' out now, the singer/songwriter speaks about leading the next wave of inclusionary R&B, merging comedy with his crooning, and why joining his congregation makes you family.
Singer/songwriter and all-around tour de force Durand Bernarr has long excelled in showing how dope he is.
Born into a musically rich family — his mother was a professional music teacher and vocal coach, and his father did sound production for Earth, Wind & Fire — Bernarr not only had the chops for singing, but a larger-than-life personality.
Performing under the moniker "alcholharmony," Bernarr became one the YouTube’s first ever viral singing stars in 2007. Following the release of 8ight: The Stepson of Erykah Badu, Bernarr joined Badu as background vocalist, which elevated his profile leading up to his insta-classic album, Dur&, in 2020. The release netted Bernarr into a slate of notable appearances and viral offerings, as well as a legion of "cousins" who have joined his congregation of love, laughs, and lusciousness.
Fast forward to present day, and "the version of Little Richard that religion did not get to," has become a mainstay in R&B. His recently-released Wanderlust features 12 immersive songs ranging from self-reflective and confessional stylings ("Vacancy" feat. Just Liv) to the bouncy and boundary-setting like ("Boundaries," "H.I." feat. Devin Tracy), alongside instrumental work from Frank Moka and Braylon Lacy.
The first single, "Lil Bit," produced by ActzMusiq and featuring Metta, finds the Cleveland-to-Los Angeles crooner looking for someone who is "little bit ugly."
Bernarr and his brand of gangsta musical theater has made him become one of the inescapably popular voices in R&B, collaborating with The Internet, Ari Lennox, Patrick Paige II, Knxwledge, and Kaytranada. Add to the mix that Bernarr’s sold-out "Step Into My Office Tour" kept the summer active for many. The singer spoke with GRAMMY.com about Wanderlust, finding grace throughout the process and growing into his place as a playlist mainstay.
Whenever someone is around you, they’ll notice just how much your congregation flocks to you and appreciates your presence. What do you think it is about the Durand Bernarr Experience that connects so strongly with others?
First and foremost, I think people love it when someone has a very good attitude. They like it when they can come experience someone — whether in person or virtually — and feel uplifted by them.
With me having that familiar presence and feeling like a family member or best friend, it has that Midwestern/Southern charm that connects people to me. I feel a balance between them and me as a human being that goes a bit beyond just the music.
There are quite a few lyrical gems on Wanderlust that will surely find their way onto social media. "When the journey ain’t s—t, but the destination is lit," is affirming to those who are a work in progress. What inspired the hook for "Destination"...? What did giving yourself grace look like while putting together this album?
It came from a conversation I was having with someone; I was just trying to encourage them. This process of growth and getting out of one’s comfort zone is never comfortable at all. It takes going somewhere to get something. We sometimes forget to be present so that we can appreciate this journey from grinding to hustling to a space of arriving.
I’m constantly in a state of arriving, in a constant state of being in the journey. But these destinations are kind of like pockets, there is always going to be something else that we can learn and discover. And giving myself grace looked like not being so hard on myself. Grace looked like knowing I’m not going to get it right the first time and to allow myself to be a human being.
There’s this quote that I saw where it said, ‘When you’re talking down to yourself or negatively, your inner child is listening.’ We have to be careful of how we speak about ourselves to ourselves because we are always listening.
How would you describe your growth from your humble beginnings to now?
Dur& is my ninth project and I understand that overnight success is actually 10 years. From putting out mixtapes to a compilation project to the actual albums and EPs, I’ve built a brand from Alcoholharmony to now, and I let the music really tell the story. [With Wanderlust] I think I scaled back a bit on the vocal gymnastics and reveled in moments of simplicity.
There’s a song on there in particular where I don’t adlib on the chorus at all, only on the bridge, and it is a bit more simple as opposed to my earlier approach. It’s like each instrument on the song has its part and that’s that. So, you’re able to catch things easier with this album.
Wanderlust is the first time you had a band joining you in the studio. Can you delve into the production and who joined you for this joyous revival?
I was talking to [producer and musician] Sam Hoffman about this. He did all of the interludes on Dur& and produced two songs on this project. Up until this point, I’ve had boot camps that were just full of musicians who loved to create moments. We did that constantly during a Monday night jam session and it ended up being something that turned into a project.
I cannot ever not do that ever again, because to be in the room with all these musicians was great. The first time I did that was with the Free Nationals back in 2019. I got a chance to create from scratch working with them in the studio, which really inspired the need for me to do that with Wanderlust. So, playing with me are guys who I’ve been playing with for some time now. We were able to create so fast and get off so many different ideas.
It was dope to have these different perspectives. From Frank Moka, [the] drummer with Erykah Badu to Brother B, who played on Mama’s Gun, to Daniel Jones — we have very strong vibes and a different musicality that came together to create Wanderlust. I’m so proud of it and proud of them.
I know which song is going to be the one that’s going to take off — and it’s not even the first single. I’ve been listening to it nonstop and if I have been sure about nothing else, it’s this — Wanderlust is a beautiful moment that I’m grateful to have had everyone a part of.
I hate to say that I’ve outdone myself because I wasn’t trying to do that, but I definitely outdid myself [laughs].
Wanderlust also features the voices of Just Liv and Devin Tracy, who offer some more range and color to the album. Did they share any lessons or words of advice that helped during the recording process?
My main struggle was just the timing of everything, making sure that we loved the song. I wanted us all to love them. It reminded me of something that Teedra Moses told me a while ago about her music: "I don’t like people to listen to my stuff until it’s completely done," she said. "I’ve done everything that I need to and put everything into it. So, if I release that and you don’t like it, well, hey, I get it. But if you don’t like it because I didn’t get a chance to really love it myself, then that affects me."
I’m in a space now where I love these songs on Wanderlust — from the nuances to the things I want to pout when people hear it.
This album is made for your headphones, for your cars. It is really to immerse yourself like my CoronaJournal, which is also recommended listening because you’ll get some laughs or ‘I know that’s right’ moments when you listen to it [laughs].
How would you describe Wanderlust to someone who’s just becoming familiar with your sound?
I’d say that Wanderlust is still in the realm of gangsta musical theater. There’s humor in it throughout and full of perspective and sonic adventures. The album takes you on a myriad of different genres from African funk to ‘80s video games, where I tap into my Sault bag — I love me some Cleo Sol — to New Orleans church vibes.
The quality of the music on Wanderlust has beautifully evolved. I feel like I can still go back to albums like Sound Check and Dur& and sing these songs 20 years from then.
There’s still things that are adult enough or age-appropriate enough for me to still be able to dig back into. Dur& has aged very well and on its two-year birthday; I love that people are still getting into it. Getting into songs like "Stuck," and I love that.
Tyler, the Creator had recently said that one post about your art isn’t going to be enough. Every day is a new opportunity to introduce people to your work. And while I thought that Dur& was the masterpiece — and it was — Wanderlust came along and was like the Voodoo to its Brown Sugar.
It’s no secret that there’s a rise in there being more gender-fluid and inclusionary artists who are breaking through and impacting the charts. How does it impact you when people see you as a leader of this new wave? Do you view yourself as such?
I have to remind myself that I’ve been out here for about 15 years. My first YouTube video is about to be 15 come this December. [Laughs] This means that it is now legally able to work. When I get approached by others or told that my music is being studied, I love it. To open people up to achieve agency to be themselves, to write the songs that they want to sing about is a powerful feeling. If Durand can say he’s in love with somebody’s grown ass man, then I can write my story about whatever because it is also important.
You never know the impact that you have on someone by just being yourself. Hopefully, by you being yourself, it can be seen as a positive thing. It is an asset to the space and not a liability. I’m grateful to …even have a moment where Lil Nas X and Normani are getting big eyes. I’m excited to see how much further being who I am can take me and what that can do for other people in their journey.
How much of this music that I’ve put out is going to be the soundtrack to their lives, their adventures of self-discovery, and taking chances and believing in themselves? It’s an amazing and beautiful thing to think about because it’s such a tangible thing that I can feel [within].
It’s really showing that you’re laying the groundwork for others to follow. How do you deconstruct yourself to pull out these raw truths that make it into your lyrics?
I have to be in a space where either I’ve already worked through what it is that I’ve experienced and now I can tell the story, or I’m writing to work through it and get it out.
I’ve mastered the art of being able to tell a story without really telling a story. It’s worded in a way where it is ambiguous enough to get a reaction, but depending on where you are in your life and what you’re going through, a person might interpret it in a completely different way than what the reality is for me and where it stems from.<em></em>
A few months back you drove the internet into a tizzy with your "Vocal Charm School" post, which namechecked some notable voices in the industry. When the spirit moved you to make the video, how did you respond to the reaction you got?
I was almost not going to post it because I felt like I needed to be focused on other things. But at the same time, I am a consumer, I’m a comedian, and this is funny [laughs]. I love to make people laugh and my whole thing was I don’t like to complain about something if I don’t at least have a solution to go with it. So, [for the R&B Verzuz,] if I see someone with shaky breath control or needs to work on their blending, I just put it out there that I’m willing to assist. [Laughs] That’s the thing: Hit me up, let’s work together, and we can get this moving in the right direction.
I was serious [in the post] when I said come to the show. I wanted them all to be there. They would’ve been taken care of and have a great seat. They would get a full comprehension of what it means to use your voice as an instrument. When you spend time with it, when you really take it serious, then the results are going to show. For a lot of us, if we did not have music or our voices, we would’ve pressed eject on this motherf—ker a long time ago.
After it was all said and done, has anyone taken you up on the chance to stay after altar call and workshop with you?
There were people who wanted to be in it, but as far as [those who were on Verzuz], ain’t nobody responding [laughs]. It’s OK, I’m just gonna send them the DVD.
For those who missed your Step Into My Office tour, but are excited to delve into Wanderlust — sum up why this project is important to be placed into audiophiles’ rotation?
We are in dire need of some razzle dazzle in the music scene right now. Everybody is so sad. Everything is so dark. Don’t nobody know how to love. Their discernment is off. Mercury is in retrograde and I just want everyone to pop their shoulders effortlessly to this album. That’s why [on Wanderlust] there’s only three-and-a-half songs out of 12 songs that are below 80 bpm. Anything else that you hear is going to move the body, hell, even the slow stuff got some knocks to it [laughs].
I’m really interested in people dissecting "New Management," which was inspired by the end of Lil Nas X’s "Call Me By Your Name" video, and started out as a joke. But then as I’m writing the song, I made it into a song and started to dive into my childhood traumas, which led into realizing that everything I was taught to be afraid of was a fear tactic. Now, I’m able to live my life happily as a human being and revel in this opportunity to experience this beautiful thing called life.
Photo: Maria Gabriela Stempel
Global Spin: Singer-Songwriter And Producer Ferraz Offers A Minimalist, Soulful Performance Of "Espérame"
The singer-songwriter, DJ and producer pulls from a variety of different styles to create his own signature blend of Latin R&B — and in this performance of "Espérame," he leans into his soul influences.
Venezuelan singer-songwriter, producer and DJ Ferraz draws from various elements and sonic styles to create his signature blend of R&B. And in "Espérame," one of the tracks from his 2021 album Fino, he leans into gentle, lilting soul.
In this episode of Global Spin, Ferraz delivers a laid-back live performance of his song. Flanked by his gear and set against a plain white backdrop, the singer accompanies himself on electric guitar.
This minimalist, self-contained performance proves that Ferraz can create a sound-world all his own. Ferraz incorporates elements of Latin folk-rock and bossa nova into his performance, with classic R&B rhythms kicking in in the chorus.
Funk, house and hip-hop further influence Ferraz's music-making process, coming together to form a style of R&B both versatile and pliant.
As one of the singer's more reflective and laidback tracks, "Espérame" exemplifies his easygoing, luminous vocal delivery — a signature element of even his bouncier tracks, like 2022's "Seratonina."
Ferraz debuted in 2019 with his Rumbo album, and continued to grow his sound and style with the release of Fino two years later. Most recently, he put out Remixes FINO, a collection of reimagined versions of the songs from his Fino project.
Press play on the video above enjoy Ferraz's soulful "Espérame" performance, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Global Spin.
Photo: Donald Stampfli/RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images
11 Essential Brazilian Albums: From Bossa Nova To MPB
The South American giant has always boasted a voracious appetite for assimilating foreign influences into its own, vibrant cultural stew. From samba and bossa nova, to Música Popular Brasileira, here are 11 essential Brazilian albums for your playlist.
You would need at least 500 albums to delineate a comprehensive aural snapshot of Brazil — one of the most passionate nations in the world when it comes to creating and consuming music.
From the foundational samba and its cosmopolitan cousin, the bossa nova, to the fertile movement of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), the funky axé and the rich fields of Brazilian rock, metal, hip-hop and electronica, the South American giant has always boasted a voracious appetite for assimilating foreign influences into its own, vibrant cultural stew.
Leaving aside the more obvious choices — we assume you’ve already heard "The Girl from Ipanema" once or twice — this list focuses on 11 legendary LPs that distill the essence of Brazilian music.
Sylvia Telles - The Music of Mr. Jobim (1966)
When we think bossa nova, the name of Elis Regina comes instantly to mind, especially because of the classic Elis & Tom LP that she recorded in 1974 with genre architect Antonio Carlos Jobim. Before Elis, however, there was another singer who summed up the frothy lightness and poetry that make people fall crazy in love with the bossa.
Born in 1934, Sylvia Telles had an unforgettably jazzy and mercurial voice. This, her last album, was recorded in 1965 expressly for the American market and includes definitive renditions of standards like Dorival Caymmi’s "... Das Rosas" and Jobim’s exhilarating "Samba de Uma Nota Só." Telles has been unjustly forgotten by everyone but bossa collectors because she died, together with her boyfriend, in a car accident in 1966. She was 32.
Roberto Carlos - Roberto Carlos (1969)
A misunderstood genius, Roberto Carlos is widely known as the Brazilian equivalent of Julio Iglesias. Before he went pop, he was part of the jangly jovem guarda movement in the late ‘60s, as South America fell in love with the Beatles and the Stones.
This transitional album finds his songwriting partnership with Erasmo Carlos (no relation) in full bloom. From the feel-good sunlight of "Do Outro Lado da Cidade" and the defiant funk of "Nao Vou Ficar," to the torrid balladry of "Sua Estupidez" (made famous by Gal Costa in an epic live version), this 1969 masterpiece pulsates with an indelible sense of nostalgia. Some of these songs were included in the film Roberto Carlos e o Diamante Cor-de-rosa, a colorful riff on the Beatles’ Help.
Wilson Simonal - Simonal (1970)
A teen idol throughout the ‘60s, Wilson Simonal has been altogether ostracized from Brazilian cultural history due to his alleged political decisions during the ‘70s — a time of darkness and turmoil in South America.
This is somewhat unfair, as the man died more than 20 years ago at age 62. He left behind a prodigious discography that places his soulful vocals at the service of ballads and boleros, brassy funk and samba-rock. The brio of opening cut "Sem Essa" is worth the price of admission.
Vinicius de Moraes with Maria Creuza and Toquinho - En La Fusa (1970)
There is something endearing about Argentina’s ongoing love affair with Brazilian music. When the royalty of bossa nova — lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, guitarist Toquinho and singer Maria Creuza — descended on Buenos Aires for a season of shows at the bohemian La Fusa club, it was quickly decided that the show should be recorded for posterity.
The resulting album was taped live in a studio, then augmented with audience noise from the actual venue. Few albums have captured the disarming beauty of this music so effortlessly. The unavoidable standards (yes, even "Ipanema") are enriched with light-as-a-feather gems like Jorge Ben’s "Que Maravilha" and Caetano Veloso’s "Irene."
Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges - Clube Da Esquina (1972)
Hailing from the state of Minas Gerais, Milton Nascimento doesn’t really make records.
They’re more like a religious ritual, a celebration of sadness and joy, the flesh and the spirit. This transformational double LP was made by Nascimento and a collective of like-minded musicians, including the brilliant — if slightly esoteric — Lô Borges. There’s samba art-rock, psychedelia, Beatlesque melodies and a smoldering cascade of longing that permeates every single moment and refuses to let go. Its sequel, released in 1978, is just as good.
Chico Buarque - Meus Caros Amigos (1976)
Look up the word warmth in the dictionary and you will probably find a picture of this album, dripping analog goodness and a million smiles.
The young Buarque’s 1966 hit "A Banda" was a defining moment in the emergence of the MPB sound. By the time he released this 1976 session, he was an established master of the Brazilian groove. Every track here is a classic: the fairy tale sweetness of "Você Vai Me Seguir"; the carnivalesque swirl of "Passaredo"; the homeric sorrow of "Mulheres De Atenas." Milton Nascimento guests on the samba-with-strings movie theme "O Que Será."
Gal Costa - Gal Tropical (1979)
The bluesy voice of MPB diva Gal Costa is one of the most gorgeous sounds ever to come out of Brazil. Even though she appeared during the tropicália boom of the late ‘60s, the ‘70s was her best decade, with classic LPs such as Índia (1973), Cantar (1974) and this lavish session of tropi-pop that sold a million copies.
An eclectic song selector, Gal can focus her attention on a carnival march from the 1930’s ("Balance"), then melt hearts with a sparse ballad penned by Caetano Veloso ("Força Estranha.") Betraying subtle hints of post-disco decadence, her sultry reading of the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Dolores Duran oldie "Estrada do Sol" is haunting.
Karnak - Karnak (1994)
Brazil was missing an album matching the ambitious scope of a Sgt. Pepper’s, and it arrived with the debut of Karnak, the cosmopolitan, genre-bending orchestra of musical globetrotter André Abujamra.
So many years later, this criminally underrated masterpiece sounds as fresh and inventive as it did in 1994. It combines field recordings of citizens from all over the world with fragments of reggae, funky Afro-pop, Arabic scales, tribal drums and operatic chanting in fictitious tongues. Delirious and exhilarating, it serves up the delights of a thousand records all wrapped up into one.
Tribalistas - Tribalistas (2002)
Decade after decade, Brazilian music has always survived the decay of time by knowing when to renew itself. The life-affirming debut by MPB supergroup Tribalistas was one such sleight of hand, as was their self-titled collection of translucent songs for idealists of all ages .
Singer/songwriter Marisa Monte had already proven herself as MPB’s bright new hope through her solo work. But there’s power in numbers, and the addition of percussion genius Carlinhos Brown and the gravelly-voiced Arnaldo Antunes resulted in one dazzling song after another — and over three million albums sold.
Los Hermanos - Ventura (2003)
There are no grandiloquent gestures in the third album by this Rio de Janeiro indie-rock quartet. The songs are tuneful, emotionally direct and oddly bittersweet. Enriched by a brass section, arena favorites such as the punchy "Último Romance" and the jagged "O Vencedor" show how seamlessly the influence of Anglo rock can find fertile terrain layered into Brazil’s melting pot. Many critics have singled out Ventura as one of the best albums in Brazilian history, and it’s easy to see why.
Céu - Tropix (2016)
Originally from São Paulo, Céu appeared on the scene at the same time as a large wave of neo-bossa singers — but the sound of her 2005 self-titled album went against the grain. Jagged and unpredictable, her MPB futurism draws from dub and Afrobeat, post-disco and indietronica.
Céu’s songwriting was remarkably sharp from the beginning, but she found a state of grace on Tropix, her fourth LP. The digital beats throb and quiver on elegantly sculpted tracks like "Perfume Do Invisível" and "Varanda Suspensa," while the quiet fire in her voice ignites a delicious kind of tension — as eye opening as the Brazilian classics of the ‘70s.