Bonde do Rolê
Coast to Coast
by Kevin J. Elliott

It was the summer of 2005 when Northern ears got their first taste of Baile Funk (or Funk Carioca if it comes from the slums of Rio de Janeiro) thanks to the anthropological exploits of Diplo, who had incorporated the ubiquitous booty beats and shouted Portuguese sex chants of the genre into his dance party repertoire. Around the same time, Diplo was prepping Brazilian trio Bonde do Rolê to be the first act on his now prolific Mad Decent label by helping them to produce a more explosive brand of Baile Funk, complete with obvious samples of everyone from Alice in Chains to Salt and Pepa, in order to sell the exotic carnal grooves to American audiences. It worked, and by the summer of 2007, Marina Ribatski, DJ Rodrigo Gorky and Pedro D’Eyrot were the toast of the festival circuit, transferring the salacious prankster energy of their debut, With Lasers, into a raucous and often riotous stage show. It was right before international stardom and the initial stages of recording for their follow-up that Ribatski, the undisputed face and voice of Bonde do Rolê, left the group high and dry. E’yrot and Gorky soldiered on, trying their best to replace Ribatski to no avail—that is until they met Londoner Lauren Taylor.

Sure it’s been five years since that hedonistic summer, but the results of Bonde do Rolê’s sophomore record, Tropicalbacanal, were worth the wait. It’s well known that Bonde do Rolê were never fully embraced by traditional Baile Funk circles, if only because they adopted more sophisticated and exaggerated tropes. On Tropicalbacanal, they’ve all but abandoned the tag. Instead, the album plays like a love letter to the wildly diverse colors of Brazil’s rich musical history, touching on traditional Northeastern genres like Forró and Baião, Samba and Axé from Rio de Janeiro, Tropicalia and Bossa Nova, and even the no-wave punks who once staked claim in Sao Paulo. Bonde do Rolê even went a step further in legitimizing their genuine adoration for their country’s heritage by enlisting legend Caetano Veloso to sing on a track. In Brazil, that’s as close to godlike as one can get. As D’Eyrot explained during our Skype conversation, it used to be unfashionable to listen to and to know one’s Brazilian roots. With this record, though, it’s apparent that being a cultural cannibal is truly en vogue.

Sorry to dwell on the past, but I have to ask about when Marina left the band. Back then did you think Bonde do Rolê would continue or did you know immediately that you would pursue a new singer and keep moving forward?

Pedro D’Eyrot: When Marina left, it was the worst possible time because we had tours to do. We had already bought flights and we had received some of the show fees, so we knew we had to do it. We tried to get another girl to sing from London, but she couldn’t do it. We eventually had to postpone those tours, but we really wanted to do them. We knew we would continue. Gorky and I started the band without Marina in the very beginning. She was there early, though, singing on our very second song.

And now you sound re-energized with Laura on vocals. Is this a stronger version of what you first envisioned for the band?

PE: I don’t know if it’s stronger or not, but it’s different.

Back when With Lasers was released, I remember funk being huge in mainstream Brazilian music and starting to permeate dance culture here in the States thanks to Diplo. Not being from Rio, was your music accepted as funk in Brazil?

PE: It’s never been. It’s really funny because there’s that app called Song Pop. It’s a song quiz game and it’s huge in Brazil. We are always included in the Funk Carioca package. People were getting really upset about that and twittering all the time asking what the fuck are we doing there. It’s quite funny.

Is funk still popular in Brazil? Is it evolving?

PE: It comes and goes. Since the ’80s, when it started, it’s always come in waves. Every four years, it becomes mainstream and then people get tired of it and it returns to the underground. It’s always going back and forth.

The new album still retains that ubiquitous funk beat, but you have really abandoned using found samples and sounds in favor of traditional Brazilian genres. What inspired you to make this change?

PE: Actually, on this record, we’ve got a little bit of that back. It’s different from when we did our first EP because now when we wanted to do a proper release, we couldn’t sample something like Alice in Chains. But with this album we used a lot more samples than when we did With Lasers. For instance, the song “Kilo” uses Wanda Jackson, and there’s nothing like that on With Lasers.

I suppose what confused me then is that I hear forro, baiao, bossa nova, samba, and MPB all over the record, so is Tropicalbacanal a love letter to the musical history of Brazil or just a Bonde do Rolê orgy of those sounds?

PE: For the past 15 years, since I was a teenager and really getting into music, it was not cool to be Brazilian. It was not cool for you to be a teenager listening and enjoying Brazilian music. Then, around 2005, it became cool again for Brazilians to enjoy Brazilian music. I guess that’s what drew us to including a lot of different styles of Brazilian music.

Being from Brazil, having Caetano Veloso on the album must have been an honor. How did that come about? Is he a fan of your music?

PE: What happened was there was this “Baby Don’t Deny It” song, which he composed alongside Robertinho do Recife way back in the ’80s. He never actually sang the song, he just wrote it. We really liked the song and did a cover. We were brainstorming and thought it would be cool to have him on the song. We had tried to get a hold of him in every way possible. We found his manager and we wrote her and tried to contact him through common friends. We never could reach him. When we were giving up, Diplo was in Rio with us, and we talked about having Caetano on the track and how we couldn’t get in touch with him. Diplo made a call to Hermano Vianna, who is the anthropologist who has researched Baile Funk through the years. He knew Caetano and that night we were having dinner with Caetano at his house. We played him the song and he loved it. We were just in ecstasy hanging out with him.

And Diplo helped out again on this record. What did he bring to the table this time?

PE: He was more of an executive producer on this one, instead of being a hands-on producer. He got us Caetano, but the album is completely produced by Gorky and by Filip (Nikolic) of Poolside.

And again on this record, most of the lyrics are sung in Portuguese. Do you every worry about the meaning of your songs being lost in translation?

PE: It ain’t that deep. It’s funny if you know what we are singing, so it’s more of an Easter egg if you decide to translate the words.

In particular, the album includes a song called “Kanye.” Can you elaborate on what you are saying in this song? Is it directed at Mr. West, because I know it’s a pretty dirty song?

PE: It is a dirty song. Gorky has the hots for him.