Somewhere: Tecnobrega in Brazil
- Words: Bruno Natal
Brega, in Portuguese, means something of bad taste; it also refers to a genre of Brazilian popular music whose songs are usually about heartache, and include questionable use of synths and strings. Despite being virtually ignored by the media of Rio and São Paulo, brega has been hugely popular for decades with the favela dwellers of Northern Brazil, particularly in Belém do Para. Eventually, brega met electronic music, birthing the rudimentary dance music known as tecnobrega (roughly translated: "cheesy techno").
Tecnobrega revolves around various soundsystems (aparelhagem), like Treme Terra Tupinambá (Tupinambá Ground Shaker) and Poderoso Rubi (Mighty Ruby); despite hailing from Brazili's poorest regions, these soundsystems operate complex networks of computers, lights, special effects, and speakers.
The distribution of tecnobrega is similar to the hip-hop mixtape game in the U.S.. CDs are only sold in big, open-air markets; all copies are "pirated," but getting music for free isn't problem–it's the solution. Selling mixtapes at the market is an artistic boon for the DJs, allowing them to increase their popularity and get more gigs.
To get more airplay, artists make special tracks praising radio stations and soundsystems. When you go to a concert, not only can you buy a copy of the gig as soon as it is over, but you can buy a copy beforehand, then give them your name and pay to have it shouted out during the show–the ultimate in customization. CD-Rs are so yesterday in this scene; even MP3 compilations with 10 albums on one disc are being replaced by DVD-Rs that hold multiple gigabytes' worth of information.
Ronaldo Lemos, head of Creative Commons Brazil and professor at FGV Law School, believes tecnobrega is evidence of a new music-industry model. "In this scene, the 'pirates' are incorporated in the music business chain," he says. "Nobody distributes music as cheap and as fast as they do. The appropriation of technology by the ghetto is happening globally. What's cool is that they have created an environment where intellectual property is not an important factor in their business model."
Belém native Vladimir Cunha–who's directing upcoming documentary, Brega S/A–disagrees. "The only people who make money out of tecnobrega are the soundsystem owners," he retorts. "Artists get paid really badly. On average, a six-piece band gets 150 dollars a gig. At first, piracy could be perceived as a good thing, because it's spreading the artist's work, but in fact they have to rely solely on live concerts to survive."
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