1970s Black Soul and Funk alive and well in one major Brazilian city; James Brown would be proud!
When most non-Brazilians think of Brazil, they most often think of Rio de Janeiro because of its reputation for a good time, beautiful beaches, raucous Carnaval, scantily clad women and the Christ the Redeemer statue. When one doesn’t think of Rio, the country’s economic engine São Paulo, Brazil’s equivalent to New York, often comes in second. Still others have discovered increasingly popular tourist destinations in the northeast in cities such as Salvador, Recife or Fortaleza. But one major city that perhaps doesn’t get its due has the country’s third largest metro population area as well as the fifth largest economy. That city is Belo Horizonte, the capital city of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais.
Another thing that BH (pronounced “bay-ah-gah”) has also earned a reputation for is its allegiance to Soul Funk music and its vibe for these styles that bring back the best of the 1970s era. The popular Quarteirão do Soul (or Soul Block) party brings together predominantly black dancers and enthusiasts who take the city back to an era when everything from the music, clothes and attitudes had to be “funky” and being black and proud was something to say out loud. The popularity of this flashback party spawned a documentary and has attracted visitors from all across Brazil as well as from around the world.
As documented in our previous reports about the origins of black music dances in 1970s Rio de Janeiro and the tribute to Soul Train at this year’s São Paulo Fashion Week, black American style and music has also held a special place in the hearts of black Brazilians. Check the story and photos below and be sure to catch vibe in the videos at the bottom of the page. In the video below, the 2002 film Uma Onda no Ar, about a true story of some friends who started a community radio station, we see a re-enactment of what a typical Black Music Baile looked like in 1980s/1990s Belo Horizonte. So check it out ya’ll!!
Movimento Black Soul – Brazilian Style
By Flora Libânio, Eus-R and Alto-Falante
With great pride in every detail, from head to toe: pointed toe shoes (polished), capes, canes, necklaces and blowout afros. Those who don’t have large ‘fros wear hats and bring the flavor of mobsters. “At the time of Fred Esnel Junior (1), people from the sapateado (tap dance era) wore a hat. Then the hair parted in the middle became fashionable. And finally, (Brazilian Soul singer) Tony Tornado brought to Brazil the blow out hair, in ‘78, and blacks began to use that huge ‘fro, remembers “Loirinho”, a dancer that performs always in duo with his wife. A researcher analyzes: “They can be anonymous, like any other worker. But when preparing for the dance, they do it to shine. That night they have identity, they feel like kings.” And to bring out the swing of dancers, only jams by Brazilian Soul legends like Tornado, Gerson King Combo and our master: Tim Maia! But the sound that most gets people jumping on the floor is, no doubt, James Brown, literally “o cara (the man)”! “James is the man because, besides being a fantastic musician and having a wonderful stage presence, he was one of the first people to show that being black was a source of pride,” adds Rita. “Sometimes people make fun of me because I don’t speak English and don’t understand what Brown is saying. But I don’t care. I dance on the beat, with heart and soul,” vents the dancer and passionate fan of James Brown, Ronaldo Black.
This is how we get down
On the carpet, sprawled over the asphalt, fancy steps of the dancers were a true flashback of the bailes (dances) four decades ago when Funk Soul – immortalized by the Godfather of Soul was an absolute success in Brazil. It’s enough just to remember the choreography used by Tornado, with his black power (afro) to have a slight sense of the musical style. And everything is happening on the street. It’s almost incredible in the eyes of a visitor from Porto Alegre (southern Brazil) who closely followed every detail of the show. “What really draws my attention is that people are here to have fun and dance without ulterior motives. And even being on the street, everybody is respected and there’s no violence. I had never seen anything like it,” said the merchant who spent the whole time next to the sound desk watching the action.
Most dancers are in the age range of 50. That’s the case of Seu Marcos, known as Marquinho. He is considered the mascot and also the engine that keeps the party going. “This is the time to dance without stopping. This here is my passion and after I start, I only leave the carpet after the sound stops,” says the dancer, who works during the week as a security guard.
It’s impossible to go through the Quarteirão do Soul and not see, from a distance, a mass of gray hair decorated with a flower. It belongs to Dama do Soul (Lady of Soul), who on regular days is the artisan Maristane Rodrigues. The dancer exudes sensuality with an impeccable wardrobe and neat makeup. Her introduction to black style also began in childhood and now she passes the ideals of the movement to her 9 year old daughter. “I want to be much more than a character, I intend to make my mark and a legacy for future generations. This here can’t stop, in the future, these people will not be here anymore,” she argues.
Among the crowd that closes down the street the majority are the curious and admirers. People from various parts of Brazil and the world have already made a stop to check out the black hustle. “It’s common for foreigners to show up here photographing and filming making. People from the United States, Germany and Israel have come here to record the movement and were delighted,” says DJ Geraldinho.
Black music, suits, hats, canes, stylized hairdos, dance steps, and James Brown. The environment was like this at the Baile da Saudade which inspired the filmmaker Tomás Amaral to make his first original work, the documentary BH Soul, which originally opened in Belo Horizonte a few years ago in the Palácio das Artes.
For the first time, in 2003, the filmmaker went to the Baile which takes place monthly in the Flashdance in Venda Nova, and is frequented by fans of Black Music and Soul of the state capital. Two months later, he started filming it – with no rush or deadline. It was then that he realized that the topic he was recording was much richer and more complex than he expected.
From the US to Belo Horizonte
Little is said about the emergence of the Black movement in Brazil. According to Tomás, it began to manifest in the early ‘70s, in Rio de Janeiro, through figures such as radio host Big Boy, and Brazilian Soul music icons Gerson King Combo and Tony Tornado.
The movement reached other capital cities, such as Recife, São Paulo, Brasília, Porto Alegre and, of course, Belo Horizonte.
In the ‘80s, when rock and pop genres dominated the music scene in Brazil and the world, the Soul was weakened until it was over. Even so, Toninho Black began organizing the Baile da Saudade in that decade.
“While other clubs connected to soul music stopped their activities, Toninho continued the movement in BH,” says Lord Tuca, a dancer, promoter and president of the Comunidade do Soul (Community of Soul).
Since then, the event kept going. In Amaral’s view, Soul began to recover its strength in the last ten years. So much so that, in Tuca’s opinion, the Black movement in the state capital is the strongest in Brazil.
A fact that he is able to prove, since he has visited groups linked to the genre in Itaúna, Divinópolis, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as well as receiving these caravans of these cities in BH, such that he was impressed with the strength of the movement here.
In 2004, a group of regulars of the Baile created the Quarteirão do Soul (Soul Block). Currently, the event takes place on Saturdays on Rua Santa Catarina (street), in the state capital’s downtown, where lovers of the genre feel at home dancing to the sound of Black music.
The filmmaking process
Starting in 2003, Tomás Amaral started making the documentary. With the support of Tuca, that gave his testimony, he sought references of Soul music in BH and people who participated in the heyday of the black movement without counting on the films of the Baile and the Quarteirão.
Besides the lack of a deadline date, another reason it took so long to finish documentary was the fact of it being independent and fully funded by the filmmaker.
Tomás calculates that expenses on bus fares, gasoline, snacks and mini DV tapes have cost him approximately 800 dollars. According to him, the time and money invested has paid off.
“I have several reasons to make the documentary: Love of Soul, love of Belo Horizonte and its history. I wanted to tell the story of the city and record it, especially the memory of such a culture so peripheral and marginalized,” he said.
“In the documentary, there is the fusion of more than one type of cinematography. At the same time that it has a historical inclination, there is a subjective approach. I tried to appreciate the vision of the characters.”
Knowing that Belo Horizonte has such a strong Black music scene, or the strongest of its kind in Brazil, as Tuca and Amaral claim, it can be surprising, especially for those with who have musical references such as rock and MPB in Minas Gerais.
The filmmaker confirms that most of the supporters of the Black movement are black and come from the periphery. “As much as blacks have gone through a process of physical and cultural violence for centuries, they managed to resist and develop manifestations as strong as their African ancestors,” he analyzes.
Amaral also notes that such manifestations are rooted in the urban space, in spite of not being constantly in the media spotlight.
“It is more logical that the black Brazilian identify with the music of James Brown than with (Brazilian Popular Music icons) Chico Buarque and Caetano Veloso. The massive adoption of Soul in the country confirms that, in Brazil, the black ethnic identity is stronger than national identity.”
1. While this is mostly likely what the speaker actually said, in the context of tap dance, he mostly meant Fred Astaire Jr.
Movimento Black Soul & Quarteirão do Soul (Revival em BH – Soul Music)
BH Soul – Revista do Cinema Brasileiro – TV Brasil (20-11-2011)
Quarteirão do Soul
Deuses do Soul *Movimento Soul BH *
DAMA DO SOUL E PEQUENO MAYCON ARREBENTANDO NO QUARTEIRÃO DO SOUL