About 25 years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger told Playboy Channel viewers that the “ass” is the best thing about Brazilian women and their nation’s culture. Such stereotypes of Brazil are exactly what São Paulo-bred “tropical mutant punk funk” group Tetine explores, critiques, exploits, and ironically salutes.
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Eliete Mejorado often takes the stage in the scant garb of a Carnaval dancer, and leads the audience through sexually charged, politically provocative songs like the Tone Loc-sampling hip-hop number “L.I.C.K. My Favela.” “It’s fun and political at the same time,” Mejorado says of the band’s ethos. “The world is an ultra-technological place and super-sexualized, but people don’t really know what to do with their bodies.”
Growing up in Brazil, Mejorado and partner-in-crime Bruno Verner felt out of place as conceptual artists and punks until they encountered a noise in the streets. Funk carioca, a favela-grown version of Miami bass, enthralled Tetine and impacted their mutant hybrid of electro, post-punk, and synth-pop. “We loved the attitude and we identified with the D.I.Y. side of the scene,” Verner says.
The duo–who have worked together since 1995–moved to London in 2001 and introduced the British to funk carioca (sometimes called baile funk) a few years later via their Slum Dunk radio show and an attendant compilation on the Mr. Bongo label. Verner laughs about how many listeners didn’t realize the rappers were speaking in Portuguese but, he adds, “the beats got everybody.”
Though they’re now Londoners, Tetine’s connection to their homeland remains strong. On their recent album, Let Your X’s Be Y’s, The Human League goes to Rio on “What a Gift to Get,” while a favela street-party element screams throughout the thrashy, baile-electro jaunt “I Go to the Doctor.” Verner says the duo became “super-aware” of Brazilian culture after they left home. “You sort of lose your identity, but at the same time, you’re so connected to your roots that something strange happens in your head,” he explains.
Tetine calls the resulting aesthetic “tropical punk,” a title they used to brand a show of radical Brazilian contemporary art they curated last year at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Tropical punk is also an apt description of The Sexual Life of the Savages, the provocatively titled 2005 collection of ’80s post-punk and new wave São Paulo bands they compiled for Soul Jazz. “We’re playing with the cliché of being the ‘savage Brazilian,’” Mejorado offers. “We celebrate the fact that we are seen by others as savages.”