Following the pouring rain on Friday, a brief spell of bright sunshine greeted the afternoon at WOMAD UK 2015. The moment could not have been better for Criolo’s gig. From the Open Air Stage, he started singing to a small gathering, but it did not take long for his uplifting beat to attract a much larger audience. Sunshine, energy and a magnetic performance were embraced by an animated crowd of cathartic revellers. Many of them might not have heard about Criolo before, but the green and yellow flag waving proudly in the front row marked the presence of those who were there to celebrate and support one of Brazil’s best export: its Music.
Criolo’s incisive and poetic rhymes are not constrained by one unique musical style. He navigates seamlessly through reggae, hip hop, samba and even to the borders of Jazz. When I interviewed him at WOMAD’s Press Centre, he highlighted this plurality which is so typical of Brazilian culture: ” The Brazilian rap is very serious, very strong, very intense and very plural.” The way he described his work, is the same way the he came across: as a very serious artist, with an overpowering strength and with an intensity that could be seen through his eyes like fire burning. Nevertheless, in contrast to the expressive stage presence, in person he is extremely humble and self-conscious.
With the same ease that he moves through musical styles, he also manages, through his work, to break through social barriers. In Brazil, he is admired by low-income fans from the overcrowded enclaves as well as by the inner-city bohemian élite. The secret of such success is in the honesty of his lyrics, which talks directly and eloquently about crack epidemic, gun violence, consumerism and social exclusion – all problems that are blighting the lives of a generation that could be living in São Paulo, as much as in a Council State in London or a Housing Project in San Francisco. Some would consider him as a pessimist. But there is nothing pessimistic about Criolo. Like any other striver, he sensitively acknowledges the reality he has seen around him, without preaching and without pretenciously trying to come out with solutions. Composing rap songs, which he started at the age of 11, was the way he found to express the feelings resulting from his experiences: “Everything I do comes from my heart. I do what my heart tells me…it was this musical background that helped me to understand what I was feeling.”
The same plurality, which he talks about, was very much present in his audience. While most of those enjoying the reggae beat of “Pe de Breque”(Foot Break), might not understand its words, the song celebrates the best of that moment:
” The Mad Creole respects the Rastafarian
And asks for permission to sing
This is our secular theory
You become responsible for what you’ve tamed
Who planted? Who reaped? Who watered?
Let’s be happy cause suffering is over
Burning all hatred and rancour
Burning, foot brake that fogged
Burning, all bigotry in Babylon”
His last album, “Convoque seu Buda” (Call out for your Budha), is an extension of his previous album, “Nó na orelha”. It demonstrates the continuous growth of his musical experience through a confident mosaic of soundscapes.
iTunes Link: Album “Convoque seu Buda”: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/convoque-seu-buda/id931562728