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Pioneering Brazilian rap from Criolo

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Bristolatino’s joint editor-in-chief Rosanna West tells us why the star of Brazilian rapper Criolo just keeps on rising.

Singer-songwriter, rapper and urban poet Criolo (born Kleber Cavalcante Gomes), is one of Brazil’s most acclaimed artists, and is fast becoming a big name around the world. His parents, migrants from North-Eastern Brazil, moved to São Paulo in search of a better life, so Criolo grew up in Imbuias, a favela on the outskirts of the commercial metropolis. He first gained notoriety in Brazil as the co-founder of Rinha dos MC’s, a São Paulo-based hip hop organisation that allows young MCs to improve and learn from other artists in their field through MC battles, urban dance shows and graffiti projects. However, since the release of his first album ‘Ainda Há Tempo’ in 2006, Criolo has gained worldwide critical acclaim for his solo work.  His most recent album release, ‘Nó Na Orelha’, is an adventurous and varied work that indicates a step forward for Brazilian rap and hip hop music.

In this masterful album, 37-year-old Criolo takes his listener on a rollercoaster-ride of musical styles, combining Afro-funk, dub, jazz, samba, rap and hip hop to give us a representation of Brazil’s numerous cultures and traditions. Despite many of his contemporaries refusing to draw influence from anything but life on the streets, Criolo’s newest work breaks out of São Paulo’s often insular hip hop scene. He reaches out to people across the giant nation and across the world not just by incorporating a wide variety of musical genres into his sound, but also by collaborating with musicians outside of the favelas (for example MPB musician Kiko Dinucci, on the Afro-Brazilian-influenced track ‘Mariô’).

It is not just a diversity of musical styles that Criolo encompasses in this album. Lyrically, ‘Nó Na Orelha’ breaks boundaries, as although it continues to depict the struggles of life in Brazil’s largest city, it has been applauded for its unusual diversity of socially conscious themes. For example, the surprising album opener ‘Bogotá’ is about the citizens of Colombia’s Capital city, and pleas with the listener to go there: “Vamos embora para Bogotá”. These lyrics do not limit appreciation to Brazilian favela-dwellers, but open the door to a more global fan base. The opening track is also particularly exciting due to its being essentially a funk song – a genre not much associated with Criolo until now – so the artist is immediately warning the listener that he is going to defy their expectations.

It is the combination of a refreshingly progressive approach to hip hop production (for example, its use of live instrumentation rather than sampling) and its haunting melodies that make this album so special. Criolo’s crooning voice alone, which sings as much as it raps on this bestseller, expresses the emotion behind the composition, so even without an understanding of Portuguese we can recognise the profound nature of the artist’s thoughts. It is not just for this reason that Criolos music appeals to the masses. In interviews, the composer has been revealed as a man of great compassion. When asked about ‘Sucrilhos’, a track that details the hardships of his home, Criolo calls the song ‘an affirmation that all of the people in the world that experience deprivation or tough situations are good people. At the least they deserve equal rights. Nobody wants other people’s things, we just want equal rights.’ It is this human honesty driving ‘Nó Na Orelha’ that makes it such a delight to listen to, and is no doubt the reason for its winning of album of the year at the 2011 Brazilian Music Video Awards.

 Header photo: Youtube