Beats across the diaspora: Hybrid sounds of Jorge Ben Jor

Africa Brasil is the 1976 album by Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor

As a mixed black person I am always interested in showcasing the intersections of art and culture; the blending of identity that has occurred with colonization and the development of capitalism globally. Race is a social construct that exists out of the need to compartmentalize people within capitalist society. I am black, but I am also African. Indigenous to, but removed from, a land that my ancestry was stolen from, and then placed on land stolen from the indigenous peoples of the Americas. I am also mixed. Portuguese from Cape Verde and the Azores. I am othered. Placed within the margins of a system that socializes people into identities that meet the need of a profoundly oppressive and exploitative division of labor, which provides the foundation and engine of capitalism. What does it mean to be black? What does it tell you about a people? Anyone black growing up in this country can speak to the diversity of the experience, but the bourgeois racist ideology that socializes us fetishizes this history. It doesn’t reveal how that identity was birthed out of the rape of Africa and the Americas. It doesn’t speak to the fluidity of that identity; how blackness transcends borders. There are African american, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Latin, and Afro-Carribean people all across the Americas. Growing up mixed and poor politicized me and and lead me to question much of what was presented to me in school and in society. My consciousness was nurtured through black history, struggle and art; all material manifestations of consciousness. It gave me the courage to confront my own alienation in practice through creating art and participating in struggle.

As a way to transcend the material and spiritual divisions of society and race, I like to feature artists and art from all over the diaspora. I appreciate seeing the intersections of one’s own identity and culture expressed through their art. The interaction and relationship between oppressed people has always been expressed through struggle and new art forms, all interacting and strengthening each other. I have written about this before when looking at Fela Kuti and Afro beat, and its relationship to American jazz and funk and African music. Or the Cape Verdean musical genre morna and its connection to the blues and the Portuguese fado, made popular through the music of Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora. Today we will explore the fusion of samba, funk, tropicalia, and rock through the music of popular Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor.

There is a large African presence within Brazil, one of the largest populations throughout the diaspora. Like the majority of black people in the states, black Brazilians live in poor conditions. United States or South America, black is still associated with poor under capitalism. These are the results of slavery: generations of black and brown people living with less access to material wealth. Our lack of access exists so that others may dominate and use it for their own opulent rule and lifestyle. Jorge Ben Jor was born March 22nd 1945 and grew up in Rio de Janeiro among working class Brazilians. His mother was African with Ethiopian origins. He begin making music as a teenager performing in clubs that would eventually lead him to recording success. Known as a musical alchemist, his style was grounded in hybrid sounds that mixed rock n roll with traditional samba, and bossa nova, which is a fusion of jazz and samba. Ben Jor released his first album in 1969 amid the rise of Tropicalismo. He collaborated with Gilberto Gil, but was not actively involved in the development of Tropicalia as a cultural and political movement. However, the 1970’s marked an experimental turn in in his career, where he released several albums, the most noteworthy being ‘Africa Brasil‘. The record is an incredible explosion of funk, samba, Afro-Brazilian beats, and guitar. It is a classic and often hailed as one of the best Brazilian recordings from the 1970s. When I listen to it I hear other musical genre’s, such as funk, soul and disco, enmeshed within the Brazilian sounds. I see this piece as an important contribution to funk music, black music,  and music in general. It demonstrates arts abilities, like revolutionary struggle, to convey truth and connect people. Below are a few samples from the album: the raw opening track Ponta de Lanca Africano and my favorite the seductive Xica da Silva. Both tracks have a lot of rock n roll energy with guitar riffs centralized throughout both songs. It reflects the influence of rock on funk music, and the origins of the blues running throughout it all. Africa Brasil reminds me of the american funk classic ”Maggot Brain‘ by Funkadelic. Released in 1971, Maggot Brain is known for its mixing of rock n roll and gospel within its funky sound. Xica da Silva is a perfect example of the many layers of musical styles interacting to create a sensual yet funky atmosphere. The track opens to the scratch of a bass strum leading into a grooving guitar riff, which crashes into the Afro-Brazilian percussion that greets Jorge Ben Jor’s intimate and alluring vocals. A song you must feel in your body. It also tells the story and myth of Xica da Silva an Afro-Brazilian slave, who was freed by her Portuguese lover, and able to acquire material wealth in society through their union. There are many opinions around her that are reminiscent of La Malinche in Mexico. She is seen as a powerful symbol of racial justice or as a loose woman who used sex to achieve more social power. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Or within the margins…Below you will find the two tracks from Jorge Ben Jor, and to honor some of his influences I have included the classic, Can you get to that, off of Funkadelic’s Maggot brain. Enjoy!


strangely familiar

Your words spark much movement within me

unearthing stones

buried deep

the heaviness sometimes

unrecognizable

but you

your ever evolving

lightness

offers much inspiration

for what could be

leaving me

so

breathless.


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