BaianaSystem – BaianaSystem (Brazilian/ Guitarra Baiana)

2010, DD album, 53m 18s


Guitarra Baiana is both a Brazilian musical style and an instrument: the instrument is a small solidbody electric guitar, derived from the cavaquinho, whose origins predate the American inventions of Leo Fender and Les Paul (although not the solid bodied Hawaiian guitar). The musical style was a 1950s instrumental genre, that used these guitars to play Frevo, the carnival music of Recife.

BaianaSystem uses two of these instruments in close harmony, and presents them in a decidedly anti-purist manner, with a sound that bears witness to its traditional foundation, but digs deep into other areas like reggae, dub and kuduro (1980s Angolan dance music). The instrumental texture employs bass and drum kit, and for the most part the guitarra baianas playing harmonised syncopated melodies, although a chord gets strummed occasionally, as when the reggae tunes require an offbeat skank.

The sound is a waterfall of beautiful, chromatically enhanced melody, played with a deep sense of groove to achieve that quintessentially Brazilian combination of shimmering tranquility with driving, inexorable danceability. And yes I know I come across like the ignoramus I am for saying that, but I hear some kind of a unifying character in all the Brazilian music I know: if someone could introduce me to some Brazilian music that is lumpen or rhythmically awkward I could ease up on the stereotyping…

The album is not all bass, drums and guitar, but incorporates some vocals, some synths, and some tastily employed processing; there are some particularly nice delays spreading the dub influence into tracks without an obvious reggae groove. The band is locked in tight, and hits its groove with a wonderfully light touch, never overcooking the beats or overplaying. The bass and percussion parts are excellently performed without drawing attention to themselves; it would be very hard to distract attention away from the guitar parts in any case, with their combination of flowing, harmonic narrative and breathtaking performance wizardry.

If you wanted to buy this band’s music, I wouldn’t be able to tell you where to go. I’ve done a bit of searching on the internet, but I haven’t found any CDs for sale, or been able to find out who their label is, though I strongly suspect they have one. If you follow the web address above you’ll find a link to a free download from a filesharing site, but that’s it. I can only surmise that they have distribution in Brazil and leave it at that, or that they sell CDs at gigs.

If I possibly could give this band some money for making this music then I would, because it’s exactly the sort of music I’d like to support: it really touches all the bases for me, by combining aesthetic accessibility, and a happy party mood, with an uncompromised artistic integrity, great musicianship and an experimental mindset. This is one of those rare albums that I think I could recommend to more or less anyone, despite my usual penchant for liking music that at least 50% of people will hate. I have to thank the excellent Oi! A Nova Música Brasileira! compilation for introducing me to this music, through the tune ‘O Carnaval Quem É Que Faz’ (also featured on this album), which remains a favourite for its trickily syncopated and furiously kinetic melody; but (unless you’re irredeemably miserable or stone dead) any one of the tracks included here should put a smile on your face and a wiggle in your butt.

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