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The music of Brazil’s Tribalistas imagines a more harmonious and joyful culture

The music of Brazil’s Tribalistas imagines a more harmonious and joyful culture
Tribalistas' Arnaldo Antunes, left, Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown will appear this week at the Orpheum. (Marco Froner)

In October 2002, the debut album by the collective known as Tribalistas signified a before-and-after moment for Brazilian music — as moving and transcendental as the emergence of tropicália in the late ’60s or the new wave of rock that shook Brazil during the ’80s.

In the ensuing decade and a half, it has been celebrated as a contemporary classic — in part because its three singer-songwriters are all accomplished and beloved artists in their own right. While a second album wouldn’t arrive until 2017, both records possess a casual air of domestic bliss, as if the three stars had improvised an afternoon of tea and songwriting and we just happened to be listening in.

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A tour will bring the act to the Orpheum Theatre on Friday, a dream come true for Brazilian music fans in L.A. In a way, the first Tribalistas record was even grander than the sum of its part; a lilting collection of songs about community and universal love, it pulsates with a psychedelic sunshine of its own, overflowing with relaxed harmonies and gorgeous melodies.

“What we do as a band reflects our relationship, the friendship that we share,” says Marisa Monte, who has been hailed as Brazil’s most gifted female vocalist since the mid-’90s. “We experiment and learn from each other. It’s a true collective process, as we enjoy the best aspects of our individual talents.”

Monte is joined in the group by Bahia-born percussionist Carlinhos Brown, who developed a stellar career honoring the Afro roots of Brazil, both with group Timbalada and by himself. Rounding out Tribalistas is Arnaldo Antunes, who is known for his deep, richly textured singing and experienced fame during the ’80s as a founding member of São Paulo rock group Titãs before launching a solo career.

The brevity of the band’s debut — a little over 40 minutes — evokes the effortless glow of the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul.” Not surprisingly, it topped the charts in Brazil and Portugal, became a massive hit in Europe and has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide.

“I loved the first Tribalistas album because its songs were like bubblegum — light, fun and groovy,” says Katia Moraes, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter from Brazil who has released a number of acclaimed albums throughout the past two decades.

“Being a fan of all three and their solo work, when they formed a band together it was like a cherry on top of the cake,” Moraes says. “The first album makes me think of a different Brazil, one that was less divisive. Maybe there was a more joyful vibe among people.”

Brazilian supergroup Tribalistas: Arnaldo Antunes, left, Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown.
Brazilian supergroup Tribalistas: Arnaldo Antunes, left, Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown. (Marco Froner)

Moraes’ reference to a divided Brazil echoes the South American nation’s recent switch to a deeply conservative government, with controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro sworn in Jan. 1.

But you wouldn’t know that Brazilian society is in a state of turmoil by listening to the band’s sophomore effort. Musically, “Tribalistas 2” is imbued in the same hazy mood of tenderness and placid contemplation that defined the band’s debut. If it wasn’t for the dazzling quality of the new material, the entire record could be dismissed for rehashing the same formula. In fact, it was criticized as a superfluous follow-up by the majority of the Brazilian press.

“In our hearts, we carry a genuine desire for harmony and respect,” says Monte, who forgets a request of an interview in Spanish, and switches to Portuguese at full speed. She sounds positively exuberant compared with the soft-spoken Antunes.

Tribalistas thrives on the art of performing beautiful songs. Toward the end of the album, the track “Feliz e Saudável” begins with the exuberant, rockish vibe of a ’60s romp, the retro, wide-eyed innocence of channeling the Beatles with a samba aesthetic.

Following the initial chorus, the song dissolves into a new melodic line, Brazilian to the core, sophisticated and nostalgic. Decades ago in Rio de Janeiro, the term MPB (música popular brasileira) was coined to describe the flux of Brazil’s pop — a hybrid of rock and reggae, samba and bossa, baroque pop and protest song. Tribalistas’ recorded output posits MPB as an ever-thriving movement, still at the top of its game.

The lyrics on the second album are more political. In our current global crisis mode, however, its messages of universal love may appear out of step.

The current times demand that we reaffirm a discourse that addresses diversity, tolerance and collaboration. Those principles are at the core of Tribalistas.


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“Those messages are not anachronistic; they’re timeless,” Monte emphasizes. “We use the tools at our disposal: art, music, words. Love can be a revolutionary force. Jesus Christ and Gandhi brought with them the possibility of love as transformation. We don’t have the gift or the intention of those great leaders. But we have our music. The current times demand that we reaffirm a discourse that addresses diversity, tolerance and collaboration. Those principles are at the core of Tribalistas.”

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To devoted MPB fans, the long wait between albums seemed like an eternity. The way Monte and Antunes describe it, time just flew by.

“People talk of the 15 years between albums, but we experienced that time very differently,” Antunes says. “We kept getting together to write songs and guest on each other’s records. Our collaboration spans 25 years, and we wanted to tell that story on this tour. It’s a dream come true.”

“When the first album came out, I had a 2-month-old baby to take care of,” adds Monte. “Because the rhythm of our respective careers is so intense, we went right back into them. Since then, we continued working together in different ways without playing a single show as a band. Eventually we realized that we had 15 new songs that could be turned into a second album. At this moment there were no obstacles in sight; we had the will and the circumstances to hit the road.”

In April, the band will end the tour in São Paulo with an appearance at the Brazilian edition of Lollapalooza. Even though there are unofficial talks of a possible trilogy of albums — and a final tour — the three musicians are contemplating a return to their individual careers.

“We have plenty of dreams and many desires,” says Monte with a laugh. “But no plans to speak of, and no deadlines.”

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♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Tribalistas

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway

Tickets: $70

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