Head Trip

Chico César has revitalized Brazil's pop scene. A poet with a unique look, a quirky nasal voice and a knack for infectious melodies, César mixes reggae, Bahian and rhythms from Northeastern Brazil. This Putumayo debut repackages two of his Brazilian releases, Beleza Mano and Cuzcuz Cla, and includes his infectious dance tracks and touching ballads.

César grew up in the northeastern state of Paraíba. Though it is one of Brazil's poorest regions, it enjoys a rich musical heritage. Northeastern sounds sometimes end up in César's songs directly, as in the forró-inspired "Paraíba Meu Amor" (Paraíba, My Love) (RealAudio excerpt), an uplifting nostalgic paean to the land he, like so many Brazilians, adores.

The album also includes such César classics as "Mama Africa" (RealAudio excerpt), a song recounting the struggles of a Brazilian working mother. Combining folklore, social commentary and poetic lyrics with infectious MPB (Brazilian pop), it's pure César.

Another Northeastern folk form that shaped César was the songs of the repentistas (troubadours), an oral-history tradition in which performers compete through improvised poetic duels. The album's opening track, "Papo Cabeça" ("Heady Jive") (RealAudio excerpt) is an interesting variation on this theme, a sort of "solo duel" (its title refers to the smooth, cool way celebrities speak). Halfway between a rapper and a repentista, César mixes humor and politics in this funky, reggae-driven dance around a scad of head-related ideas: Trotsky's crushed brains, a Baptist served on a tray, penises, tyrants, etc. Heady stuff indeed.