DJ Paulão
Music According to...

Hot on the heels of his blistering mix, Então Tome! Feira Livre Vol. 1, Spannered interviews Brazilian DJ and music researcher DJ Paulão

By Al Fresco

Some months ago, São Paulo-based Paulo Sakae Tahira, aka DJ Paulão, provided Spannered with an incredible DJ mix of rare and classic Brazilian music. A researcher of '60s and '70s music from his country and a much-in-demand DJ both in Brazil and abroad, Paulão showed off some serious record shop digging on Então Tome! Feira Livre Vol. 1, not to mention razor-sharp turntable skills and a clear understanding of what it takes to rock the party.

Currently touring Europe with a mighty big record bag, Spannered caught up with him in London, where he played two dates at the capital's Guanabara venue. The following interview touches on Paulão's musical history, the rarest and most influential records in his collection,  the spread of music in Brazil, and his favourite Brazilian artists of recent years.

For a brief biography on DJ Paulão, go here. Many thanks to Mariane Arake for help in translating the recording from Portuguese into English.
Tell us about how you got involved with music. When did you start DJing?
I became involved with music quite late in life. In my house we didn’t listen to music — and my friends didn’t listen to much music. When I went to college at the age of about 17, I started getting involved with people who were more into music, and in 1992 I got involved with a radio programme with some friends. It was a real mix of musical knowledge — it was a college radio, but quite experimental. We started to do a programme at the end of 1992 and from then on I started to be in touch with a lot of music via the programmers and other people there. In 1994 began to DJ.
You are particularly drawn to Brazilian music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. What is it about this period that captivates you?
I think the most interesting thing for me, if I take a look back, is that historically the music recorded in the ‘50s was aimed at older people. There was no music for young people. Nobody was experimenting. It was technically poor; you couldn’t sing in a low voice — it wouldn’t get picked up in the recording. There were limitations with instruments. Most of the instruments were acoustic — electric instruments were still not common. From the ‘80s the commercial aspect of music started to play a big part in the music industry, so when people started thinking about forming a band or starting in music they had this ambition that they were going to be able to make money from that.  So that’s what makes the ‘60s and ‘70s more interesting. It was experimental rather than commercial… well, a little commercial, in the sense that records were being released, but many of the albums being released didn’t sell much. Today some of those records are extremely important — such as the first few records from the tropicalia movement. Artists such as Tim Maia and Jorge Ben never sold hugely, but what was important in that time was the quality of the music being made, rather than whether it would sell or not — and that gave the artists a huge freedom. And the electrification of the instruments — electric guitar, or keyboards, or bass, for example, modernised the language of the instruments. There were a lot more possibilities with an electric guitar than an acoustic one, so the search for different languages in music is very much present in the music of those years.
A lot of good Brazilian music from the ‘60s and ‘70s is deleted and really hard to find in Brazil…
Yeah, actually I think it’s easier to find it here than in Brazil.
What were the rarest Brazilian records you managed to find on your trips abroad?
I found this record called Mancini Também É Samba, a record from this old label called Mocambo — very rare in Brazil. I also found a record called Alucinolandia from 1969, which was definitely the most expensive record for the dancefloor from Brazil in the ‘70s. I found records from Wilson das Neves — a drummer I really like. The first record from Trio Mocotó I found here. It’s a shame — it’s a period that so many people are interested in buying; there’s market interest but there’s nothing being done in Brazil about it. For example, this record bought here — the musicians are not being paid. It’s released and they are not paid. So, maybe if they were being released in Brazil, they would get paid. It would be a way to help the veteran musicians — people who have been around for such a long time. It would help them to continue with their artist career, or perhaps allow them to have a more tranquil retirement. A lot of good musicians in Brazil die very poor.
Music, like most other imported products in Brazil, is subject to 60% import tax. To what extent would you say this has prevented people in the country from expanding their knowledge of music?
Well, firstly this is a very unfair taxation, because records are a cultural product like a book — and books are not taxed. The taxation on records makes the record cost twice as much for someone as they would pay here. The internet is publishing rare material in a way that has never been done in Brazil, so I don’t think it’s the tax exactly that makes it difficult today. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, before CDs came along, the taxation was making it impossible, but nowadays many people are able to get to know this music through different means. Without doubt, it’s a ridiculous tax though. DJs that play with vinyl these days are rare. If the tax was a bit lower and the cost of a record for the DJ was lower, a lot of them would play vinyl again. The DJs are the ones that suffer the most with the tax.
How is the situation in Brazil for people who live from music?
It’s really hard, really hard. Electronic music in Brazil has magazines, websites… it’s very well divulged. Many Brazilian DJs live in Europe, such as DJ Lukas, and they’re very successful. Outside of electronic music in Brazil it gets harder — you have to work twice as hard to achieve the same level of success as an electronic music DJ.
Can you name two Brazilian artists for who you’d like to open a show?
One of them I’ve already played with — Jorge Ben. Jorge Ben is the guy that modernised samba. Today he’s the big name of samba rock, without having even released a samba rock record — basically the DJs used to get hold of his songs and play them at parties. He is one of the central musicians in my musical research. I always play at least one of his songs every time I play, and I admire and respect him very much. I was lucky to play with him more than once, and he’s always impressive. He’s a huge reference.
I would have loved to play with Tim Maia, but he died, so… the other, with whom I haven’t played yet but hope to one day, is Elza Soares. She’s a great singer. If she wasn’t from Brazil I believe she would be a world reference. We always talk about the vocal capacity of Ella Fitzgerald… well, Elza Soares — not today because she’s almost ‘70, but in her heyday when she was about 40 — had at least half an octave higher than the famous three octaves of Ella Fitzgerald. She’s a fighter. She has experienced a lot of suffering in her life. She’s a warrior and that’s something Brazilians identify with — people that go through tremendous difficulties but become successful. She’s quite influential to my work, so I had to choose two I’d choose those two.
You recently put together a set entirely comprised of music by Jorge Ben. Tell us about the mix.
The set was commissioned by a great friend of mine — a journalist called Ramiro Zwetsch. He asked me to do something about Jorge Ben and I thought of doing something that would appeal to musicians in a research sense. There is no mixing — it’s more one song after another — but the idea was to show that his work is very interesting, very vast, that there are a lot of things to still be discovered — and that 45 years later his music could still sound modern. When you listen to it you think, wow, that’s so cool — things from ‘63, from ‘65… so that’s very important — it’s an informative thing. It’s on a site where many people go to research music, so the central idea was to basically make the programme a research item.
What’s good in terms of new Brazilian music, in your opinion?
In the last few years, from 2000 onwards, I’ve heard a lot of quality stuff — like I didn’t see in the ‘80s or ‘90s. I think that due to lots of record labels being on the brink of bankruptcy because of mp3s and piracy, independent record labels — people that make records at home, in the bathroom, in home studios — I think they are again in touch with things in the way musicians were in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The idea of prioritising what you want to say. For example, bands like Curumin, like Funk Como Le Gusta, bands like Instituto, which is a collective of people who work in studios... You see all these collectives increasing — like Digital Dubs and Apavoramento Sound System in Rio. You also see a lot of modernisation of samba rock, when Clube do Balanço appeared for example. They revitalised samba rock in São Paulo and then in the world, and behind them, a lot of bands came, like Farufyno, Sambasonics, Sandália de Prata, Os Opalas — the bands that are bring a new quality to the samba rock parties, which were before becoming a little repetitive. When these bands appeared, they allowed samba rock to explode again.

There are also people working with hip hop, such as Black Alien, B Negão, and some other people from Rio, and Ultraman in Rio Grand do Sul. In São Paulo you’ve got Parte Um and Mamelo Sound System. You’ve got a lot of people doing interesting things in Recife, like bands that mix rap with rhythms like maracatu, traditional rhythms from there. There’s a very interesting mix of Brazilian styles with hip hop.

It’s a very interesting time for music in Brazil. There are a lot of new things coming up, made by people who don’t have this illusion of getting rich with music. Nowadays people make music because they need to make music. I think this is important; this is going to guarantee the quality, at least for now.
You've been described on websites as 'one of the most important DJs who is into Brazilian music nowadays'. Which other DJs who play mostly Brazilian music would you say are important?
There are less and less DJs playing exclusively Brazilian music these days. Personally I like DJ Magrão — he’s a DJ who does a lot of digging into Brazilian music, but who also mixes it with his background in dub. There are also some DJs mixing it with drum and bass… but people who research old Brazilian music are few. I especially like Tony Hits — a DJ who’s been playing since 1971 and was very important in the building up of the samba rock scene. I could mention some DJs on the samba rock line, like Tadeu, who’s very active and does a lot of mixes of older material. There are a lot of people who play traditional Brazilian music, at friends’ parties and the like, but few professional DJs.
You recently purchase Serato. How do you see this technology affecting your sound and the way that you play?
Actually, I’ve just bought it. My idea with Serato isn’t to play the things I normally play; it’s not a question of practicality — I think I will play with vinyl until the day I die — but it opens up possibilities to me in the sense of playing with musicians, or if I want to play loops and samples live, things that are especially produced. I don’t want it to have my whole set inside of my computer or anything like that, but to try to use what Serato has to offer me, such as preparing lots of loops of Brazilian music and using it to play with musicians. What interests me the most in music is to give my personal touch to things. I don’t want to use Serato in the way that everyone else does, but rather look for alternatives and experiment.
This final question may be a little tricky. Can you list five Brazilian albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s that you consider essential?
I’ll try… One: it’s a Jorge Ben record, from 1969. It’s affectionately known as Flamenguista, because there’s a symbol of Flamengo [a popular football team in Rio] drawn on the cover. It’s a record that in my opinion is a tropicalista, for all reasons possible. It’s the record that brought Jorge Ben back to the hit parade, after five or six years during which he was almost forgotten, and in this record there are songs that, up until today, you can hear on several dancefloors, like Take It Easy My Brother Charlie, like Cadê Teresa, like Charles Anjo 45 — they are standards of Brazilian music. It’s undoubtedly an important record, and I believe it has influenced one of every two well-known Brazilian musicians of the last 30-35 years.
Another one: a Tim Maia record from 1974 — the first record of his ‘Rational’ phase. It’s a phase when he got into a kind of religious delirium that lasted two years. There are a lot of funny stories about this period — he painted his car with a white gloss paint; he threw all clothes that were not white away, including those of his friends. He stopped taking drugs — he was known throughout his career for taking a lot of drugs — and recorded this album that influenced a lot of musicians, both in Brazil and abroad. It’s a record that’s highly valued abroad. The internet helped a lot to divulged this album — in spite of being rare, nowadays it’s considered one of the fundamental records; for example, in Barcelona last week, there were some people that were forming a band just to play Tim Maia’s Rational album. It’s something that is still very present. The lyrics are quite crazy, but the groove is impressive. I think too that the most important song on this album is in English, and that made people outside of Brazil pay attention. So, that’s the second.
Another three please!
I’ll put down one of samba that’s really important. Until the middle of the ‘60s, samba was a really exclusive to the morros [the hiils — Rio's favela neighbourhoods] or the samba schools. At the end of the ‘60s there was a modernisation that allowed other instruments to feature in samba. One of the records that marked this modernisation for me was a record by Paulinho da Viola, who’s a very important figure in the history of samba. He might want to kill me, but this is the record where he distanced himself the most from samba history. It’s called Foi Um Rio Que Passou Em Minha Vida [A River That Passed Through My Life]. The experimenting that was going on at this time allowed them connect with several different rhythms, and I think that in that record he tried to mix everything up a bit, to create a samba with a little more of himself in it. He’s a guy that’s known for rescuing samba. This is a very personal record for him; it’s got his face all over it. I think it’s perhaps the first or the second record when his own style becomes more obvious. It’s something that influences a lot of people today. It’s also important because it’s an album that was made during one of the most difficult times in Brazil politically; people didn’t used to get together at this time… Paulinho da Viola, especially around this era, was in touch with student movements, communists, etc., so it was a hard time for him. But above all it’s a beautiful record, and one that deserves to be checked out. He’s the guy that linked the morro people, like Cartola, Clementina de Jesus, Nelson Cavaquinho and Elton Medeiros, with whom he made his first records, with the newer, younger audience.

The fourth album is a soul album. Soul only arrived in Brazil during the second half of the '60s. When Tim Maia returned to Brazil deported from America, he was impressing people with the new music he was showing them. But then there’s this other guy, nearly two metres tall, a man with a huge influence: Toni Tornado. When Tim Maia started he was trying to mix soul and MPB with forró and Brazilian rhythms in general, but Toni Tornado was the first to do stuff that focused more on styles such as James Brown — more focused in the Motown soul tradition — and he made this impressive record in 1972, the second album from him [eponymously titled Toni Tornado], where he clearly shows this influence. It’s the first great funk album in Brazil in my opinion. It’s not exactly Brazilian funk, but it’s not a copy of American funk either. It’s a James Brown style of music but more Brazilian.

The last record I believe should be MPB — an album from an artist who was hugely influential, an artist that was very important until she died. She was a difficult person, but she was an amazing singer, at the level of Elza Soares but more influential than her: Elis Regina. She started in 1961 when she was only 16, so her first albums were still following that tradition of music for older people; and in 1966 she breaks from that with bossa nova and develops a great deal. Within two records she develops a very personal style — and those two records are Em Pleno Verão and Como & Porque. I’m going to have to choose one of them, so I choose Como & Porque from1969. It has one of the best bands ever put together to play Brazilian music — Wilson das Neves on the drums, Roberto Menescal, who is a wonderful guitar player of bossa nova, and Antonio Adolfo, one of the greatest keyboard players of bossa nova, a very influential figure, who, in the beginning of the '80s was fighting for independent music in Brazil with Hermes Contesini. A fantastic band, all at the top of their careers. The drumming of Wilson Das Neves is inimitable — it’s impossible not to move to it. They make versions of songs like O Barquinho — a very slow song — and turn it into something crazy. It’s not the biggest record of her career but it’s the one best in my opinion — from a singer that influenced practically every musician in Brazil.

If you ask me in two hours I’ll probably have five other ones!
 Listen to Então Tome! Feira Livre Vol. 1 by DJ Paulão
 Listen to Jorge Ben by DJ Paulão on Radiola Urbana
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