Beleza Tropical 2: Novo! Mais! Melhor!
Luaka Bop/Warner Brothers 9-46275-2
review by Art Menius
“New! More! Better!” it says. I might describe Luaka Bop’s compilation Beleza Tropical 2 as new, more, and just as good, but that mostly reflects the profound impact of Beleza Tropical, the 1989 Sire/Fly release, had on the then emergent world music market. Talking Head David Byrne compiled both discs as well as the intervening O Samba: Brazil Classics 2. The initial release sizzled, helping restore international stardom of Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento, Jorge Ben, and other leaders of the tropicalismo generation, who borrowed from around the globe to create distinctively Brazilian pop masterpieces during the 1960s and 1970s.
Beleza Tropical samples the rebirth of Brazilian pop in the hands of both younger, rock influenced artists and tropicalistas revitalized by the new generation. Heck, even 1960s pop icon Sergio Mendes appears with the record’s standout and only English language cut, 1992’s “What Is This.” It presents a stunning fusion of African drumming, bosa nova, and American hip-hop that’s worth the price of the entire album. On “Rios, Pontes, & Overdrives” Chico Science and Nacao Zumbi deliver a pulsating dance track that channels a Jerry Garcia guitar riff from the Blues For Allah period. Caetano Veloso’s “O Estrangeiro” mentions Steve Wonder, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Paul Gauguin in the same lyrics over a funky, urban groove that includes surprising pop references. “Balanca Pema” from Marisa Monte melds funk and neoclassic Brazilian female pop jazz vocals with dance instruction lyrics from 1963. “O Seu Olhar” by Arnaldo Antunes consists of emotionless male female vocals so spooky the cut could have fit into “Twin Peaks.”
And that merely suggests the variety of 1990s Brazilian pop served up on these 15 carefully selected tracks. Even if only “What Is This” makes the immediate impact of the very best tracks of Beleza Tropical, the second edition comes highly recommended as exceptional world pop music, enlightening cultural artifacts, and fun and often danceable listening.