How Kafundó Records is Preserving the Marginalized Cultures of Brazil in a Changing Political Climate

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Collage by Valentina Montagna.

Maga Bo and Wolfram Lange’s relationship with Brazilian music and culture dates back almost two decades when both immigrated separately —Bo from the United States and Lange from Germany—to the South American nation to immerse themselves in Rio de Janeiro’s ever-expanding music scene. Lange, who shares found sounds and posts mixtapes on his popular SoundGoods blog, arrived to Brazil with a passion for jazz, bossa nova, and samba, while Bo was immersed in percussion-based genres, like batucada, through his work as a musician in Seattle with pianist Jovino Santos Neto.

While their shared love, knowledge, and passion for Brazil’s musical output may have brought them together, one of the main practical engines for the creation of Kafundó Records was…  backgammon. “We live really close to each other, so we play backgammon a lot,” Bo says. “We would play and listen to music, and be like, ‘Hey, check this song out,’ or ‘Love that song,’ or ‘Can you send me that song?’ So, we were constantly trading music and researching and sharing. Finally, we thought, ‘We should put something together a little more official than just trading MP3s,’ so it became a label.”

Since its establishment in 2014, Kafundó Records has played a pivotal role in the musical landscape, directing the spotlight toward the music on the Brazilian periphery, like the the sounds emerging from the favelas or those from regions far from well-known city centers like São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. As Lange explains, kafundó is a term for isolated, faraway places. “I often relate this to a non-geographic cultural space, where this music is coming from,” he says. These spaces are also intrinsically related to Afro-Brazilian culture and its expressions, like the candomblé religion, that were undeniably brought by the Portuguese slave trade and that have been kept alive—against all odds—by the African diaspora.

Bo and Lange’s research interests, curatorial work with the label, and their involvement in Rio de Janeiro’s music scenes, have resulted in the Kafundó compilation series, important documentation focused on highlighting the intersection between Afro-Brazilian folk rhythms and popular music styles like moombahton, bass and dub. “We’re talking mostly about Afro-Brazilian rhythmic cells, and how these rhythmic cells migrate, evolve, transform, how they’re shared… essentially, how people grow and expand upon these very original rhythmic cells,” Bo explains. “What we’ve been seeing is that, essentially, Afro-Brazilian culture has been oppressed throughout history, and this happens also in music. Capoeira was a prohibited music—you could be arrested for it, thrown in jail, you might ‘disappear,’ so to speak. The same thing with samba. There were different kinds of apartheid here in Brazil, and the music was affected. Nowadays you have baile funk, and you have funk prohibido —prohibited funk. Those are the kinds of things that we’re interested in.”

Treating these genres and styles as a living, breathing thing and placing them in careful context are essential to Bo and Lange’s mission when it comes to assembling the Kafundó compilations, avoiding memorialization and reckless musical referencing. Their latest installment, Kafundó Volumen 4: Carimbó, Baião and Beyond, stands in stark contrast to the the record that introduced the series, Kafundó Volume 1: Digital Roots Music from Brazil. The the latter was closer to the global bass current, with artists like Omulu, Lucio K, Tropkillaz and Mauro Telefunksoul mixing dancefloor heavy genres like tecnobrega, rasteirinha and funk carioca with dancehall, dub and trap.

Kafundó Volume 2 and Volume 3 veer into even more introspective territories, with the artists who bypass the global dancefloor in favor of more nuanced reinterpretations of Brazilian-Caribbean genres like maracatú and acoustic styles like the beautiful and melodic and guitar driven baião. It’s even closer in scope to the beloved Brazilian pop music style known as MPB. The common thread shared by all of the installments is their willingness to pull apart genres typical especially to Northern Brazil.

Maga Bo and Wolfram Lange, founders of Kafundó Records.

Maga Bo and Wolfram Lange, founders of Kafundó Records.

“The thing about the Northeastern music that may be really interesting for us —at least at this moment—is that the rhythmic cell of it fits in with a lot of different types of music,” Bo explains. “You’ve got their basic rhythmic base that fits in with ragga, reggae, and hip hop. It even fits in with like Indian bhangra kind of vibes. So it’s a very malleable rhythmic cell which, on one hand, can maintain it’s original identity and all the nuances of Northeastern folk music like côco, baião, maracatú, this kind of stuff with the same rhythmic pulses. But it can also transform into being more electronic, and using a whol series of music language codifiers—like the airhorn, which brings up the ragga/dancehall/soundclash kind of thing. But if you put that in the context of côcoit’s saying something new.”

Kafundó Volume 4: Carimbó, Baião and Beyond features standout tracks like opener “Juanita”, by Coutto Orchestra, which sets the tone by combining samba, lambada, and a little bit of swing. “Mané Bolimm” is sung by the legendary MPB singer Totonho, who hails from João Pessoa, the Northeasternmost city of Brazil. The track, a breezy, electroacoustic jam, is heftier in lyrical content than its style might first suggest, dealing with social injustice, corruption and systemic abuse.

“The musicians are doing interesting stuff that is super cinematic,” Bo says. “It’s almost hard to describe, stylistically, the kind of music they’re doing because there’s so many different elements to it. There’s the Rimas.INC track, which is almost a moombahton track, sampling Northeastern côco stuff and really tripping it out, turning it into a psychedelic côco kind of stuff.”

Volume 4 also features tracks from Recife’s Silvério Pessoa, Seu Pereira & Musa Caliente, Forró Red Light, and Ben Charles, among others. According to Lange and Bo, Dirimbó’s contribution, “Cacarimbó”, which focuses on updating baião, a Northern acoustic genre, is the most representative of the compilation’s direction.

“Our compilations, if you look at each one, are kind of an evolutionary step in our exploration of Brazilian music,” Bo says. “We kind of want to have everything flow. So, you can listen to the first compilation, all the tracks in order, all the way through to the last one, and it kind of has a narrative to it. Each track is somehow related to the next, and the one before it and the one after it form kind of a story. This fourth volume is going in one direction in Northern Brazil, an Amazonia kind of sound, but it also covers stuff from the coast and from the interior.”

Volume 4 arrives on the heels of period of political and social upheaval in Brazil, also crucial to its context and composition. Last May, then-President Dilma Rousseff was impeached amidst charges of corruption, and replaced by  Michel Temer, who lacks favor from the public, and who’s been systematically implementing austerity measures that have negatively impacted students, artists and poor favela dwellers, among other minorities and marginalized groups. Afro-Brazilian culture, according to both Lange and Bo, has also been one of the new government’s main targets.

“It’s strange, because on one level you can find that a lot of Afro-Brazilian culture has been appropriated, or sort of transformed into acceptable aspects of society,” Bo explains. “If you look at samba during carnival, that’s one of the biggest cultural patrimonies of Brazil, which is a weird thing, because the powers that be are the ones that have kind of appropriated that power and culture, and are making money off it in the most ugly way. Then, at the same time, we just had a coup d’etat here. The last few days, there’ve been reports on Facebook about drug traffickers in some of the favelas who have converted to Christianity. These born-again Christian drug traffickers are expelling people who are practitioners of candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion, out of the favelas. They’re even murdering them. There’s kind of a persecution of Afro-Brazilian religion and culture that’s happening right now connected to the rise of the new extreme right here.”

“A born-again pastor just won the election for mayor here in Rio,” he continues. “He’s a racist, homophobic guy. A lot of the same things are happening in America right now with the election of Donald Trump, and all of this stuff is affecting the survival of Afro-Brazilian culture.” By starting Kafundó Records and compiling the country’s less-popular but equally-important musical genres, both Bo and Lange are not only doing their part in paying homage to a deep and rich Afro-Brazilian culture, but slowly rebuilding a necessary cultural bridge between the larger African diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean and popular music and culture. In its entirety, Kafundó Volume 4: Carimbó, Baião and Beyond not only functions as a novel historical record, but as a celebration of Afro-Brazilian culture, which is necessary now more than ever.

Amaya Garcia

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