While most of our wallets won't allow us to get to Brazil for the World Cup, we still have an opportunity to capture a glimpse of that country's rich culture in the form of BRAZA!, a local DJ collective and party specializing in all sounds Brazilian.
BRAZA! member and DJ Elan, represents the passion that the collective feels for Afro-Brazilian Latin beats by having compiled one of the best collections of Brazilian LPs and 7" singles on the West Coast. Already a record collector for a number of years, it wasn't until a 2006 trip to São Paulo that Elan was inspired to find a way to share his rare finds. By hustling and offering to play some records before, during, and after local band sets, he quickly became an integral part of the Bay Area Brazilian music scene.
We spoke with Elan about how he got into his favorite genre, DJing with live instruments, and organizing his record collection. He performs this Friday, July 4, at Elbo Room for COPA! with the BRAZA! crew.
We heard you had an interesting introduction into Brazilian music.
My very first exposure to Brazilian music came in some unusual circumstances. I was a freshman in college and I stumbled upon some opportunities to take Ayahuasca, which is a hallucinogenic substance primarily used in a ceremonial context amongst indigenous peoples of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. I participated in ceremonies where I was getting high and exploring the far reaches of my consciousness while singing religious hymns, some of which were in English and some in Portuguese. These experiences were kind of a coming-of-age of sorts.
A few years later I was living in Italy and was far removed from those psychedelic experiences and a friend gave me a mix CD of bossa nova and Brazilian pop music from the '70s. I listened to it for an entire summer. The incredibly colorful rhythmic and melodic music was like a dream that resonated with something deep in my conscious and unconscious imagination. The music seemed to express the full range of emotions from sadness and melancholy to joy and ecstasy. It's earthy yet highly sophisticated. I was hooked, and I had to decode the mystery, to learn the language, go to the motherland, and put together the pieces of the Brazilian musical tapestry, and grasp what it was all about.
What was the first Brazilian record you've bought?
Gosh, that's hard to remember! My first task upon returning to the Bay Area from Italy was to find out who the unknown, unnamed artists were on the random mix CD that my friend had given me. Within a few months of listening to whatever I could get my hands on I had uncovered them all, and they were primarily songs by João Gilberto, Toquinho e Vinicius and Chico Buarque. So I guess I'd have to say that those were the first artists that really caught my attention and were amongst the first records that I bought.
When did you realize that collecting Brazilian records would be a hobby?
The first time that I went to Brazil was in 2002, and I stayed for six months. I went by myself and being forced out of my comfort zone I was able to get a handle on the language pretty quickly, as in a situation like that if you don't talk, you don't eat. I rented an apartment in Salvador, and the landlord happened to have a turntable that he was willing to let me borrow for the time I was there. Everywhere I went I dug around looking for records, and by the end of the trip I had a couple of pretty large boxes full to bring back with me. Since then I've gone back to Brazil many times, and have brought back many more boxes.
How do you usually organize your vast collection?
Brazilian music is kind of like American music in that it's really vast and there are many different genres. However much of it can't be easily categorized in one genre or another. Many artists record different kinds of music, or develop a sound that fuses and combines elements across different genres. So I just organize my whole collection alphabetically by artist name rather than trying to separate things out by music type or genre, as that would be really hard, if not impossible to do.
What is BRAZA!, for those of us that don't know? When did it begin?
BRAZA! began in 2009 when my good friend and fellow Brazilian music lover Kento Tanaka secured a monthly Friday night spot at a newly opened San Francisco night club at the time called SOM. He invited myself and two other mutual friends to be the residents of the party. Each of us brings something unique to the group and we work together really well. Antonio Guedes aka DJ Zamba is a really talented Brazilian musician/DJ/producer who often takes control of the live music component of our parties. Vanka is from Belgium and he's the long standing veteran DJ of the San Francisco scene for probably more than a couple of decades at this point, and his taste and mixing skills are as solid as they come. Kento is an amazing designer, and he created the classy design and brand that has come to be associated with our party. He also plays great DJ sets that tend to be a little more tilted towards Brazilian flavored house. And of course, I've got the massive collection, so I'm the one most likely to play stuff that sometimes has literally probably never been played before in a party anywhere on the globe! SOM no longer exists, and Kento has since moved permanently to Brazil, but Antonio, Vanka and myself are keeping the party alive by throwing events like COPA! which is timely as everyone is going nuts over the World Cup.
Give us a little preview of what COPA! will be like this Friday.
Well, even though the World Cup is in Brazil and BRAZA! has always been primarily a Brazilian music event, we're going to acknowledge the international flavor of the event that we're celebrating and open up the format a little bit. Expect to hear lots of Brazilian music of course, but also perhaps some cumbia, afro-beat, and other afro-Brazi-Latin flavors from the many regions that are known for funky rhythms.
What's a jam you'll definitely be playing?
On my most recent trip to Brazil I uncovered this jam, which encompasses everything I love about Brazilian music. It's jazzy, funky, deep, and combines different musical elements like samba and the accordion as played in Northeastern Brazil. Plus it rocks the dance floor!
You guys will have live drums this Friday. What's your favorite part about DJing with live instruments?
When you combine DJs with the live music sparks fly. I think the two elements bring out the best in each other.
Since the main Braza crew is Belgium, Brazilian, and you're American, is there any friendly World Cup bets or competition?
Isn't that great? As it so happens we literally represent a few of the nations that have advanced to the later stages of the competition. Except the only difference is that in the case of this party it is purely collaborative! No bets or competition, just high-fives and good vibes.