In 2020, what we call Afro-Brazilian music is a sophisticated multiverse, entangling sounds and experiences that go way beyond samba, maracatu, or axé. The contemporary Afro-Brazilian music scene has no boundaries, and under the radar artists have been essential in building this new paradigm.While most of these artists, including
Tuyo, Gilsons and Majur, are out of the international spotlights, their creative genius, talent and authenticity are no less fantastic than those of established names like Elza Soares.
By thinking outside of the box, these singers, composers, and multi-instrumentalists are consolidating a different perspective on Afro-Brazilian music: one that refuses labels and experiments with all possible sound textures. From a Southern Brazilian futurist folk trio to the empowered R&B songs of a non-binary singer from Bahia, the list below introduces you to 11 non-mainstream Afro-Brazilian musicians you probably haven’t listened to, but definitely should.
The name says it all: Gilsons is a trio composed of José Gil, João Gil, and Francisco Gil, the son and grandsons, respectively, of Gilberto Gil, one of the most prestigious composers of Música Popular Brasileira (MPB). Even though the trio was born in 2018, it was only last November when they launched their first EP, Várias Queixas. The EP title is also Gilsons’ most famous track, a cool, pop version of the namesake and original song by Olodum, the famous “bloco Afro” from Bahia. The EP also includes the own compositions of Gilberto Gil’s descendants, such as “Vento Alecrim,” a similar vibe to “Várias Queixas,” and “Cores e Nomes,” a slow-paced one.
Mestrinho do Acordeon means “Little Master of the Accordion” in Portuguese, The name is not at all an exaggeration: he absolutely masters the art of forró music, one of the most important genres representing the music identity of Northeastern Brazil. A strong advocate of the Brazilian regional music, the singer, accordionist, composer, and a Sergipe countryside native, Mestrinho has already played with big names like Dominguinhos and Gilberto Gil. In 2018, he won a Brazilian Music Award for best Regional Male Singer. Even though his music is deeply rooted in the forró aesthetics, the 32-year-old artist also embraces other music genres. His latest and third album, Grito de Amor (2019), is not only inspired by the music of Stevie Wonder, but dives into an interesting fusion of American jazz, pop, and, of course, forró music.
The pagode music is predominantly male, but Marvvila, a 20-year-old woman from Rio with a low and soulful voice, came to stay as a remarkable exception to this music scene. Even though the singer has first gained visibility as a participant at The Voice Brasil in 2016, her career reached a new level just a few months ago when she participated in a livestream with Ludmilla, a huge pop-funk star in Brazil. Marvvila’s performance in Ludmilla’s show has been so outstanding that she has recently signed a contract with Warner Music. Não é Por Maldade, a featuring between Marvvila and Ludmilla, has already been ranked among the Spotify’s Top 100, and is now among the most heard pagode songs in this platform. Apart from pagode, Marvvila’s music entangles pop, funk, and other urban genres.
For the enthusiasts of “samba carioca,” listening to Nego Álvaro is a delightful surprise. A composer, singer, and samba percussion player, Álvaro is also a longtime member of Samba do Trabalhador, one of the most famous “roda de samba” groups in Rio de Janeiro. The artist has two albums recorded, the last of which, Nego Alvaro Canta Sereno e Moa, was nominated at the 2019 Latin Grammy Awards for Best MPB Album. Even though samba stands as his main music genre, Nego Álvaro brings a variety of Brazilian and Latin rhythms to his last album, ranging from merengue to a “samba de roda.”
If the contemporary Afro-Brazilian music has no boundaries, Tuyo is the personification of this new movement. Composed of the sisters Lay and Lio, and Lio’s boyfriend, Jean, the trio from Curitiba (Southeastern Brazil) has accommodated their taste for pop, R&B, and experimental electronic music into one single creative process. With these influences in mind, and the help of synthesizers, Tuyo gave birth to an innovative sound in Brazil. Now, their music is known as futurist Afro-folk. While Tuyo’s first album (Tuyo, 2016) bets on a lo-fi vibe, their most recent work expresses a more intense dialogue between pop and electro elements. Having already recorded with Oshun, the female duo from DC, Tuyo has fantastic remix versions of their most recent albums, Pra Doer and Pra Mentir. Their latest single, Sem Mentir (2020), invests in futurist lyrics and a good dose of synthesizers.
Sérgio Pererê is like an alchemist that transmutes the sounds of nature into something never heard before. Combining unique percussive arrangements (which includes instruments like djembé and mbira) with a majestic vocal timbre, the music of Pererê has a sort of sacred aura that is hard to explain in words. With progressive rock and blues being his early influences, the singer, composer, and multi-percussionist from Minas Gerais experiments with a myriad of Afro-Brazilian and African musicalities to tell stories about life, memory, affection, and the African ancestry. Despite the pandemic, Pererê has planned to release five new albums in 2020. Two of them, Maurício Tizumba and Sérgio Pererê Ao Vivo and Revivências, are already available on streaming platforms.
“Sounds that make your ass bounce,” the description on Heavy Baile‘s Facebook page couldn’t be more accurate. Just listen to Heavy Baile and you’ll feel it: the powerful energy of funk carioca, interfered by electronic music elements, is pure gold. Conceived by DJ and music producer Leo Justi, and composed of MC Tchelinho, DJ Thai, and dancers Sabrina Ginga, Ronald Sheick e Neguebites, the group is also famous for speaking up on themes like female sexual empowerment and weed legalization. It also highlights the “passinho” dance culture in their videoclips. In 2019, the clip “Ciranda” was nominated on UK Music Video Awards for “Best Choreography In A Video”.
Everything about Doralyce is political. She is a Black, lesbian, feminist woman from Northeastern Brazil, a law graduate and former friends with Marielle Franco. In music, she found the most potent expression for her political activism. Released in 2017, Doralyce’s first and most famous hit, Miss Beleza Universal borrows the beat from funk carioca to question the beauty standards in society. Her latest release, Festa Boa, celebrates gender diversity and sexual freedom with a blend of funk, brega, and electronic music.
Urias‘ career began with the right steps. It hasn’t even been a year she launched her very first EP and she’s already a sensation in the LGBTQIA+ scene. Also known for being friends with the transgender pop star Pabllo Vittar, Urias doesn’t worry about fitting into a music genre. While her EP brings together pop, hip-hop, and electronic traces, she also covers MPB, reggae, and pagode artists on YouTube. Urias songs frequently revolve around what it feels like to be a transgender woman in Brazil. “Diaba,” Urias’s most famous hit, is a lyrical and audiovisual protest against gender discrimination and violence. The “Diaba” video clip was awarded on the Berlin Music Awards 2020 for “Best Art Direction”.
The virtuosity of Tiganá Santana is unquestionable. A singer, composer, and guitarist from Salvador da Bahia, Santana, who is also a philosopher, uses music to break eurocentric traditions and enhance the African heritage and its values. This movement happens acoustically, when he uses his guitar both as a percussion and harmony instrument, and verbally: a polyglot, Santana is considered the first Brazilian musician to compose in African languages, such as kikongo, kimbundu, wolof, and mandinka. In Tiganá’s music, the pieces are so perfectly harmonized that sometimes it is hard to say what is sacred and what is profane, what parts were inspired by the sounds of Bahia or by the sounds of Guinea, for example. The depth of Santana’s music research has already earned him international recognition: According to the World Music Charts, his album Tempo & Magma (2015) has been the fourth most downloaded album in Europe. Santana’s latest original album, Vida-Código (2019), is already available on streaming platforms.
Also from Bahia’s Salvador is Majur, a non-binary singer, owner of an R&B-diva-voice and composer of lyrics that challenge current power relations. A singer from a very early age, Majur has gained significant momentum in the last two years, after singing with names like Caetano Veloso, Daniela Mercury, Emicida, and Liniker, another famous non-binary artist and one of Majur’s big idols. Colorir, her first EP, was launched in November 2018. Combining the sounds of R&B, “guitarra baiana,” funk, soul, pop, and Afro-Brazilian drums, Majur’s music is eclectic—defined by the singer herself as World Music and Afro-futurist. Racism, cultural appropriation, and relationships are some of the common themes in songs like the hit Africaniei.