Photo courtesy of the artist.
If there was a Record Digging Hall of Fame, British DJ, radio host, and label owner Gilles Peterson would be an obvious inductee. Throughout his storied career "searching for the perfect beat" (as his Twitter bio describes his pursuits), the 51-year-old has always worked to play, present, and release records that feel like they've traveled the globe to get into your headphones. It's been a theme in his apty-titled Worldwide radio show, as well as his label, Brownswood Recordings, where he's featured his own collaborative album projects and dropped solo records from like-minded artists like Mala, Four Tet, through the years.
One longtime fascination Peterson's had has been with the musical culture of Brazil. Since the early 90s, he's released a variety of compilations devoted to the South American nation, and in 2014 launched a new project, Sonzeira, dedicated to celebrating the country's musical legacy. Through the release of Brasil Bam Bam Bam, his Sonzeira band paired contemporary electronic artists like Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) with important Brazilian musicians like Seu Jorge, Marcos Valle, and Elza Soares.
Two shorts years later, Peterson has picked Sonzeira back up, with for a new record called Tam Tam Tam Reimagined. The new record too focuses on uniting Brazil's past and present, this time reimagining songs from the 1958 album, Tam... Tam... Tam!, by iconic Brazilian musician, José Prates, one of Peterson's favorites. Released on Polydor when Peterson was a child, Prates' album contained the track "Nânâ Imborô," which would become the "prototype" for beloved Brazilian anthem, "Mas Que Nada," a song that was popularly sampled by The Black Eyed Peas in 2006. In our latest installment of Diggin, Peterson shares the tale on how an adventure to Rio de Janeiro, and the house of Brazilian musician, Ed Motta—the nephew of late icon Tim —introduced him to the record, and set the stage for his own new album.
Gilles Peterson: My favorite Brazilian record is Tam... Tam... Tam! by José Prates. The story of the record was lifted and opened up for me when I went to Ed Motta's house two years ago in preparation for a recording session that I was going to do a few months later. It was a kind of preliminary session to see who I was going to work with on this album Brasil Bam Bam Bam, though I didn't know it was going to be called that at the time. I went over there with Floating Points, who I'd planned to do a recording with alongside Marcos Valle.
We spent the afternoon at Ed Motta's doing what you have to do when you go to Rio, which is go to lunch with Ed. We ended up at his house, and, in fact, one of the great privileges of life in my world is being able to spend any amount of time in [Ed's] company. I wanted Sam [Shepherd, aka Floating Points] to experience that, so we ended up having this wonderful day and eventually went into the upstairs listening room of Ed's apartment, which is a crazy collection of beer, comics, wine and records.
Ed's got a slightly different take on music compared to us DJs—slightly more academic I suppose—in his awareness of the music and the connections. One record in particular that he picked out was by this artist José Prates. It was recorded in 1957 but actually came out in 1958 on Polydor, and has an original version of a song called "Mas Que Nada" on it, though it's not actually called that on the album. Basically Ed's whole thing was: "This is amazing, a bit of music archaeology. Have you heard this?" [Sam and I] were both blown away by this version. If you were to talk to anybody outside of Brazil, "Mas Que Nada" is probably what they'd regard as the Brazilian anthem.
We all had thought "Mas Que Nada' was written by Jorge Ben, who had a hit with his cover of it, as well as Sergio Mendes who had his later on. Most recently, actually, there was a Black Eyed Peas version. In listening to this record, what was really amazing about it was that Jorge Ben is actually credited with having written this song. But obviously he didn't write it because here we've found what inspired him: Jose Prates' "Nânâ Imborô" (off Tam Tam Tam).
Which leads me to a story of a different Jorge Ben song called "Taj Mahal," which Rod Stewart lifted without realizing it, by going to Carnival while he was recording the album that had "Do You Think I'm Sexy" on it. [Rod] had been in Brazil on holiday and heard this song, so he'd then gone back and written a song with that melody, thinking it was his own.
At which point, Jorge Ben was like, "Hang on a minute, he's nicked my song." So after some legal to-and-fro, Jorge Ben got the credit and all of the publishing. So I thought it was quite ironic that we found a song where Jorge Ben had gotten the credit for it but hadn't actually written it. Ed was telling us all this and then we listened to the rest of the album.
But for me what was really so amazing about this record was that it's the best description of the two strong musical forces that came into Brazil. From Europe, there was the colonial Portuguese descendants who brought with them the European sound of opera and classical music, and then the African sound that came from the slaves. So this is a record that combines an old European kind of tradition with Afro-Brazilian sounds. For me that was mind blowing. There's also the openness of jazz, because the 50s was the era of Miles Davis' A Kind of Blue and that beautiful period of jazz.
On Tam Tam Tam you can hear this beautiful modal jazz type of sound, mixed with operatic vocal arrangements, and also with African-Brazilian percussion. It was kind of the missing link between bossa nova and samba in a way, because samba's been there since the beginning of the century, but bossa nova came out with Jobim and João Gilberto later on. So it was like, "Oh my god, so this is the music that came before that." It was a fascinating experience for Sam and I.
Basically then I looked for [the album] for years and couldn't find it. What had happened was that, because Ed's got such a huge social media following, he'd obviously written about the album and what few copies of the record existed had gone. Jonny Trunk ended up hearing the stories and re-issuing it with Ed's copy because the record—as it's over 50 years old—is public domain. Thus, [Jonny] didn't need to license it.
So with the same sort of premise, I suppose, I felt it was something that I could use to create a version that I could play in the clubs. That's the thinking behind my new record for the Sonzeira project, Tam Tam Tam Reimagined. My whole thing was I love the record, thought I could play it in certain places, but wanted to take it and rebuild it electronically. And that's what the "reimagined" is about. I wanted to incorporate things like footwork and hip-hop, as I felt there were quite a few parallels with certain contemporary dance rhythms.
'Tam Tam Tam Reimagined' is out now on Bandcamp.