Wednesday, June 30, 1999

Breaking Eggs

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 1999 at 12:00 AM

It is impossible to go anywhere today in Brazil without hearing the music of Carlinhos Brown. He describes himself as a workaholic – if you call singing, drumming, composing and dancing "work." He is so prolific that if you had to compare him to an American, only one "name" really comes to mind: the artist formerly known as Prince. Carlinhos changed his name also, but instead of selecting a squiggle, Antonio Carlos decided on Brown, a tribute to brother James Brown.

In recent years, you can find Carlinhos’ name popping up in the list of credits on what seems like every Brazilian album, including those from Daniela Mercury, Marisa Monte, Sergio Mendes, and even the rock group Sepultura. If you flip on Brazilian television, you’ll see him dancing and, of course, drumming around Toyotas. The one constant: the Bahian sound, a mix of Afro-Brazilian percussion with a touch of reggae. Carlinhos Brown is one of the leaders of a movement that takes traditional Afro-Brazilian drumming and sets it to a pop beat, with electric guitars and a brass section.

For his latest album, Omelete Man, Brown has turned to longtime colleague Marisa Monte. Brown’s touch has certainly been instrumental in Monte’s astronomical rise to the top of the Brazilian pop charts. The result is an album a little less Bahian and a little more MTV-friendly.

There is significantly more English on Omelete Man, and only bits and pieces of the roaring drumming of "blocos Afrocs" (the huge Bahian percussion ensembles, such as Timbalada, that take to the streets virtually every night in Salvador). While the drums may have been toned down, Brown has kept his trademark "vocal percussion" as first seen on his critically acclaimed solo debut Alfagamategizado. Such songs on Omelete Man as "Water My Girl" set a percussion line, not with a drum kit, but with Brown singing "Ma-la-da-ko-mala-mala-ma-la-da-ko-mala-mala." He finds irreverent ways to turn everything – including a brass section – into percussion.

Omelete Man is yet another brilliant experiment for Brown, moving closer and closer into the pop world while managing to keep his trademark Bahian beat. If you didn’t know better, listening to tracks like the electric guitar-driven "Vitamina Ser," you would think that Brown was jamming with Lenny Kravitz. There are even Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles-esque moments on the love song "Soul by Soul." Here, as in all of Brown’s prior efforts, he shows that he can tackle just about any genre. It seems only a matter of time until the rest of the world learns what Brazilians already know – that Brown is destined for superstar status.

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