Album Review: Bixiga 70 – Quebra Cabeça [Glitterbeat Records; October 2018]

In times when the Afro-Brazilian bond is vilified and almost censured, an album like Bixiga 70’s Quebra Cabeça is more necessary than ever. The fifth release of the big band (the third for Glitterbeat Records) from São Paulo indeed proudly reaffirms the Atlantic connection; that historical, cultural and social link which firmly fastens the South American country to West and Central Africa.

Bixiga has constantly used us to revive and “make Brazilian” quintessential African music styles, like afrobeat and afro-funk, but with Quebra Cabeça, they go even deeper than that. In their latest work, the 9-piece ensemble shows that their Afro-Brazilian soul has become the starting point and ground on which they build their instrumental pieces.

The 11 chapters of Quebra Cabeça are a multicultural statement next to a back-to-roots exercise, and again, a gauntlet thrown down to the Brazilian current state of affairs. Despite the underlying framework and smooth and sharpened synergy between the musicians, there’s no musical continuum throughout the album. Every song is a stand-alone episode with its own character. What’s more, even the tunes themselves hide a variegated layering of instrumental parts, harmonic themes and rhythms.

There’s no doubt that Quebra Cabeça is a nomen-omen: a name speaking for itself. Its English translation is a puzzle, and we would add that it’s an elaborate one: a thousand piece jigsaw or even a 3D jigsaw. Just open the box and get an eyeful of the distinct music tiles shaping the title-track. Starting with a Central African guitar riff, distortions and an afrobeat-scented brass theme, which lead to an afro-futuristic Onyeabor-inspired bridge built on synths and organ, growing into a collective mighty crescendo, which finally bounces back to the original theme.

You can also surprise yourself and be overwhelmed by the layers squeezed into “Primeiramente”, the most operatic tune of the album. Your ears are going to be over-stimulated by dozens of spurs, sparks and impulses. Quoting the musicians’ words, the song is the result of the socio-political situation occurring in Brazil and around the world and inspired by and dedicated to the struggle for universal rights. The tune is indeed impetuous and elaborate at the same time. It’s a fighting song and a song for a close quarter fight.

To corroborate the multiform nature of the work are the more thoughtful and tuneful moments, like “Pedra de Raio” and “4 Cantos”. Then again, when it comes to pieces like “Camelo”, you’ll find yourself blown away by its afro-funk explosions, spaced out by dilated psychedelic spells.

Quebra Cabeça is a hymn to multiculturalism and a proof that inclusivity works flawlessly. It’s an album fully soaked in artistic and traditional stimulus, drenched, at the same time, with African music heritage and São Paulo’s most cutting-edge sounds. It’s an album that gives you hope and renewed energy, despite of or maybe even because of how the world turns.