In addition to consistently great, provocative, and officially licensed music, German label Analog Africa's releases provide exhaustive liner essays, track annotations, artist interviews, and photos, all of which offer a revelatory education to the most casual listener. On the 28th entry in their catalog, the label's curator Samy Ben Redjeb, guided by Australian DJ and producer Carlo Xavier, returns to the northern Brazilian state of Para and the city of Belem. AA first visited the region -- not the city -- for Vol. 16: Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo ("The Mythical Sound of Northern Brasil"). Belem is a port city between the Amazon and the Atlantic Ocean set on a peninsula between the Bay of Guajará and the Guamá River; it's sculpted by water into ports, deltas, and raw peripheral terrains. It has connected urbanites with forest dwellers for more than a century, offering a shared popular culture among its residents -- Amerindians, Africans, and Europeans, with many the descendants of slaves. Their intermingling pioneered musical genres including carimbó, samba-de-cacete, siriá, undun, bois-bumbás, and bambiá with a bit of Colombian cumbia and bolero tossed in. Given its proximity to the Atlantic, there's a strong rhythmic harmonic influence from Caribbean Islands such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Surinam, and Guyana -- countries that had strong radio presences in Belem from the '40s on. While a Jamaican-inspired sound-system culture flourished during the '60s and '70s and disseminated these recordings, reggae, inexplicably, doesn't figure into the equation.
Jambu is titled for the analgesic plant chewed for centuries by regional communities. It's a perfect metaphor for the music contained here. These 19 tracks were gathered during a crate-digging expedition by the curators in 2012, offering a dazzling variety of styles and instrumentation by artists who received their own native radio play in the '70s. Opener "Vandos Farrear" by Pinduca is an orgiastic cumbia driven by spiky guitars and basslines with layers of percussion buoying the call-and-response vocals and a burning trombone solo. The band's "Pai Xango" is a rolling percussive jam that combines carimbo and funk. Verequete e O Conjunto Uirapurú's instrumental "Mambo Assanhado" wields not only the Amazonian drum orgy so prevalent in the region's music, but intricate alto saxophone lines that act as a vocal device, while the same band's "Da Garrafa Uma Pinga" is proto Afro-Brazilian disco. Magalhães e Sua Guitarra's "Xangô" lives up to the band's name with a cascading chorus of diversely tuned guitars that play in alternate and contrapuntal lines accompanied by a chorus of male and female vocalists delivering staggered harmonies. The closer, Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo's "Despedida," is a clattering jazzy carimbo with a wooly horn section playing in overdriven counterpoint rounds amid an army of percolating percussion. The package comes with an illustrated 44-page booklet and the usual copious notes and photos. Additionally, the sound on this set is better than many other volumes in the series. And of course, the music is unassailable in both choice and presentation.