Modern Brazilian psychedelia:
Boogarins play a free show in Winston-Salem Boogarins are a Brazilian band, but the evolution of their sound will make sense to American music fans. You don’t need to understand Portuguese to appreciate Boogarins, who perform a free show at Bailey Park on July 28 as a part of the Sunset Thursdays series. Likewise, you don’t need to know much about Brazilian music to have a feel for Boogarins’ bright, dreamy, melodic and slightly psychedelic rock.
Brazil and the United States have a lot in common. We make sense to each other. Both are the economic powerhouses and population giants on their respective continents. Both countries have been shaped to a large degree by the role that the trans-Atlantic slave trade played in each. Both countries have given birth to rich musical styles that have had global repercussions. Samba is an Afro-Brazilian tradition that emerged from the mixing of drumming and singing styles brought to Brazil by enslaved Africans and the blend of various other elements in an urban context. Bossa nova evolved as a sophisticated jazzy extrapolation of slowed-down samba rhythms played on a guitar. Americans are familiar with the ways that the blues aesthetic — initially a fundamentally African-American mode of expression — informed styles like gospel, jazz, rock-and-roll, and even old-time country music.
Complicating the story, Brazil also has the style known as Tropicalia, which emerged in the late ’60s, a radical artistic vision that incorporated elements of baroque Beatles-y pop, American rock, whiffs of psychedelia and a foundation of Brazilian musical elements. American artists like Beck, Of Montreal and David Byrne have all been hugely influenced by Brazilian Tropicalia, which was both academic and political in its cultural commentary and wide-ranging stylistic references. Boogarins often get labeled as a modern Tropicalia band, which is maybe helpful and also confusing, since the Tropicalia tag conjures a whole slew of connotations and a cultural moment from nearly half a century ago.
Boogarins started as a sort of bedroom recording project by guitarist and vocalist Dinho Almeida and his friend guitarist Benke Ferraz when they were high school students in the Brazilian city of Goiania. The two were into Tropicalia, but they were basically fans of ’60s music — Syd Barrett, the Beatles, all kinds of stuff. And Boogarins come out of a Brazilian underground DIY scene. They’ve been embraced by indie rockers from the U.S. I spoke to Almeida last week by phone from Austin, Texas, where the band has been performing and recording recently. The singer is quick to point out they’re honored to be mentioned along with founding Tropicalistas Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes and Gilberto Gil, who are all giants of Brazilian music, but Boogarins are equally of their own time.
“It’s hard to clarify for people from outside Brazil, because this is the most famous kind of music that we have,” says Almeida of Tropicalia.
On their records, Boogarins seem to prefer textures that are murky and washedout to those that are abrasive or jarring.
They play electric guitars but they’re not a band that stomps on distortion pedals much. Echoes are more common than crunch. Though the production on their two records is distinctive, Boogarins are a band that’s as much about tunes as anything else.
“Most of the songs start with acoustic guitar,” says Almeida. “It’s kind of easier to think about the melodies when you start on acoustic guitar.”
Boogarins began as a duo in 2013, but Almeida and Ferraz added bass and drums to the mix for their second album, Manual, from 2015. Now the outfit is a quartet, and while in the U.S. they’re working on recording new material with bits of songs sometimes taking shape out of jamming experiments and sonic improvisations. Recording themselves, like on their debut, the band is enjoying “the freedom to go in any direction.” A third record is in the works.
Even when the band gets weird, there’s something gentle and tuneful about its most trippy excursions, as if the tunes were bubbling up through something sweet and fizzy, distorting the sounds through calm rippling surfaces.
Almeida’s first experience making music was in the church. But it’s probably fair to say that an awareness of song and rhythm is part of the secular national character in Brazil; practically the entire country pays attention to annual song competitions and the festivities of Carnival, on a level that’s comparable to the near total saturation of sporting events like the Super Bowl and the World Series.
“We have this culture of party and music, and so the music thing is always going on,” says Almeida of his country’s relationship to song. “It’s like a mood.”
Musicians and fans in the U.S. may have eaten up Brazilian bossa nova and samba, folding them into American pop and jazz contexts. And Brazilians soaked up elements of American popular music, particularly in the ways that English bands filtered blues and rock through a British sensibility. But that doesn’t mean that Boogarins are a household name in their home country or that Brazilians in the U.S. are flocking to their shows here.
“It’s not everyone who likes rock music, but this is what we do,” says Almeida. “It’s still about guitars, and some Brazilians just don’t like that kind of thing.” !
JOHN ADAMIAN lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Boogarins play a free show with Estrangers at 7 p.m on July 28 at Bailey Park in Winston-Salem.