Bravo Brasil!

Brazil and the UK don’t have too many things in common, sitting as they do on opposite sides of the equator; one a huge landmass in the tropics, the other a small temperate island in the North Sea. But one thing they share is an incredible ability to create music so vital that it has spread its influence across the globe.

Paul Nichols headshot
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 19 Dec 2011
  • min read
Brazil and the UK don’t have too many things in common, sitting as they do on opposite sides of the equator; one a huge landmass in the tropics, the other a small temperate island in the North Sea. But one thing they share is an incredible ability to create music so vital that it has spread its influence across the globe.

‘In Brazil, music is the most important thing. There is nothing else, except maybe football. It is non-stop everywhere in our country and it connects people in ways that nothing else can,’ explains Marisa Gandelman, Chief Executive of Brazilian collecting society UBC. Herself an accomplished pianist and ardent music fan, Gandelman believes that Brazilian music has the ability to reach out across social, economic and ethnic boundaries to unite a country that has one of the most complex cultural ecosystems on the planet.

It is this unifying power that makes Brazilian music such an exportable proposition. Traces of its intricate poly-rhythms, romantic melodies and jazz-based chord progressions can be found in local music all around the world. Its diversity and dynamism has influenced some of popular music’s biggest movements over the past 50 years, including American jazz and European dance culture.

It is the result of a long and rich cultural heritage, which combines the pulsing beats of its indigenous northern peoples and African slaves with the romantic idiom of the early Portuguese colonisers. These elements have incubated over hundreds of years to produce some of the most potent musical genres of the present day, including bossa nova, samba, lambada and batucada.

Bossa nova and samba are now solid features of the international song repertoire, with its leaders João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Silvio Caldas and Marcus Valle now household names around the world. Meanwhile, Jobim is widely held to be one of last century’s most popular songwriters.

‘The old bossa nova songwriters said that people can suffer, they can be poor, they can work a lot, but still they are happy people. This music is very sensual, it moves you,’ says Gandelman.

Celebrated producer, composer, arranger and performer Eumir Deodato began his career in the 60s bossa nova scene of Rio de Janeiro, before moving to New York to cast his musical footprint further afield. He believes the power of Brazilian music lies in its introverted stance and strong roots.

‘There became a distinct style from the states up north, especially Bahia,’ he explains. ‘Bahia created its own thing, and some of the most notable writers from the region, such as Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, became popular forever.’

Deodato came of age amidst this strong musical leadership, and later went on to help to revolutionise the US jazz scene. His music has since been credited with the birth of house music and the emergence of bossa-crossover styles appropriated by British and European DJs in the early 90s.

‘But the influence of British artists in Brazil was also gigantic,’ he explains. ‘Some of the major groups, such as Moody Blues and Yes, Eric Clapton and Pink Floyd of course; these were very important groups.’

Since the 50s, Brazilians have expressed a great interest in British music and culture, which continues to this day. Programmes such as Later with Jools Holland are regularly shown on national TV, and many major British acts have toured the country in recent years.  Presently, foreign music makes up around 38 percent of the market, and most multi-national record companies have a presence in the country.

But the influence of UK music extends beyond our most legendary songwriters. Electro-indie exports CSS champion more niche British music, citing its unique influence on their sound. The band hail from São Paulo but are signed to the US label Subpop and have joined PRS for Music. Their eclectic hybrid  of  electronic sounds and traditional guitar riffs has earned them critical acclaim all over the world.

Guitarist and drummer Luiza Sá recalls all the UK bands that soundtracked her teenage years: ‘We loved Brit pop. There were parties playing Pulp, Suede, Blur and stuff like that all the time, but it was still fairly niche and did not define my hometown of São Paulo at all. But then there’s the UK music that influenced everyone; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.’

It is this enduring popularity and universality that makes UK music an important force in the country.

From Rio to royalties

Brazil is home to nine separate collecting societies, all of them linked to a central office, ECAD, which collects and distributes royalties on their behalf. PRS for Music represents members from seven of these societies in the UK, and has a reciprocal agreement with one, UBC. This means that PRS for Music receives royalties from Brazil on behalf of its members and sends money to UBC when its members’ music is performed in the UK.

Last year, PRS for Music received £1.9m from UBC, an increase of 211 percent over seven years. The main sources of income are from live performances and music broadcast on TV, and with both revenue streams set to grow, member royalties from Brazil are likely to stay healthy.

The live sector has been buoyed by a growing middle class, which has mushroomed over the past decade. Last year, Brazil’s economy grew by 7.5 percent to overtake Italy as the world’s seventh largest economy. Slowly the population is rising out of poverty and developing a new consumer spending power.

Increasing demand for concert tickets, coupled by consolidation within the live music industry, has meant a rise in the number of medium-to-large high-grossing concerts. Meanwhile, unprecedented investment in the development of new venues has been fuelled by the country’s successful bids to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games 2016.

Over the past two years, British performers as diverse as Joss Stone, Erasure, Motörhead, Two Door Cinema Club, Paul McCartney, The Cribs and Joanna MacGregor have all played to packed audiences in a range of cities including Rio, Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Recife and the capital Brasilia. In 2006 The Rolling Stones played to more than one million people on Copacabana Beach - one of the world’s largest gigs ever.

‘The economy is growing so much,’ confirms Gandelman. ‘Everyone’s idea of how to enjoy life is changing, and people are consuming more and more. In Brazil we don’t have a tradition of saving, so people who once were extremely poor are now putting their money into holidays, going out, attending more concerts.

‘We see the live music revenue figures doing well, especially as more and more foreign artists come to Brazil. Going to concerts and having fun shows the world you are better off.’

Meanwhile, there are 76 million internet users in Brazil, out of a total population of 201 million. Broadband and mobile phone subscriptions have exploded, while the burgeoning ringtone and online music operations have become ubiquitous, much to the surprise of Gandelman, who ‘never believed this could happen’.

‘People are attracted to Brazil. The currency is very strong here, so if you make a lot of money here in [the local currency] Reaïs, its good money,’ she adds.

However, there is still work to be done to improve prospects within the live sector and build a sustainable future. The sheer size of the country can make it complicated to organise a tour, and most foreign artists are drawn to the infrastructure and guaranteed audiences within the largest cities of Rio and Sao Paulo.

It can be difficult to arrange events elsewhere and some regional promoters can be less reliable than their metropolitan counterparts. Some prefer to make licensing arrangements directly with songwriters and their managers, circumventing the collecting societies and sometimes leaving the touring party out of pocket.

Ticketing can also be an issue, as national law dictates students can gain half price entry to live music events; a privilege often exploited by most gig-goers, not just those in full-time education. But Gandelman is quick to point out that, despite these difficulties, royalty collections have grown at a tremendous rate.

‘It’s incredible when I see the amount of money we at UBC are paying out to songwriters. If I compare last year with this year, we have made three payments to our members and there’s still one to go, but we have already sent out the same amount already as we did last year.  Money is flowing.’

So, while the UK and Brazil will always be divided geographically, linguistically and culturally, the strength of both territories’ musical repertoire will undoubtedly continue to leave its mark on the rest of the world, and should keep royalty payments flowing at a healthy rate too.

Ady Harley, Director, Digital Marketing and International, Sony Music Entertainment Brazil:

‘There has always been a thirst for British culture in Brazil. For instance, I was at a Primal Scream concert on 23 September; exactly 20 years to the day since their album Screamadelica was released. It was the first night of Rock in Rio, the biggest festival in the world, and there were 100,000 people watching Rihanna and Katy Perry on one side of the city. Then, on the other side of Rio, there was a crowd-funded gig of the Screamadelica album. It was amazing – a packed house of 1,000 people on the worst day of the year to put on a show, and everyone was singing the lyrics.

‘The album was such a big phenomenon for us in the UK, but if you think about Brazil in 1991, they didn’t even have democratic elections. They didn’t have free press. If you wanted to get music news from the UK you would have to buy an overpriced magazine that arrived four months late. They had 2,000 percent inflation, the president robbed the national coffers and was impeached. It was a very different place than it is today. I was thinking on that night, as I was looking around me at an audience of my age or above, how thirsty they must have been for British music, to go out of their way to discover Primal Scream and spread mix-tapes around their friends, making them a band that became well known here. Incredible.’

Read M's in-depth interview with the godfather of house music Eumir Deodato here.

Hear from CSS about their new album here.