A Brief History of Samba de Coco

“Music gives me so much good feelings, and I love it!” A fitting place to start when introducing DJ Tahira, a Sao Paulo selector and producer who doesn’t just collect music for the kudos; he takes just as much pleasure in sharing and making others happy with his finds. Our first introduction was his edit that helped launch London label Tiff’s Joints but, far pre-dating that, Tahira has positioned himself as one of the country’s leading voices in Afro-Brazilian sounds. His Infusions mix looks at one of its earliest movements, Samba de Coco, catalysed by slavery in the 19th century, embraced by the working class and almost banished to obscurity by the musical elite. 

DJ Tahira makes his UK debut with parties in Bristol (with Worm Disco Club, 26th May) London (with Tiff’s Joints, 27th May)

Can you tell us a bit about your theme?

Samba de Coco has its roots in the mixing of African culture with that of the indigenous people of Brazil. It was born during the time of slavery, so the style has been around for more than 130 years as slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888.

It’s a sound that came from the North East of Brazil. Some say Paraíba, others Pernambuco and others Alagoas. Originally, each region’s style of Coco had different characteristics but over time these varying elements were mixed together to create the sound we know today as Coco.

Due to its origins in the oppressed and marginalised classes of society, Coco was looked down upon by Brazil’s upper classes for many years. There are barely any Coco releases on vinyl because there was no interest from record companies at the time. The few recordings available are mainly from academic research on Brazilian folklore. Although it is an incredible style with a very unique rhythm, over the decades it has largely remained an oral tradition due to the lack of interest from mainstream society in Brazil. Facing these difficulties, the masters of  Coco lived most of their lives without any support, even though their art has a great historical value which stands the test of time. In the last few years, cultural initiatives have emerged aiming to record many of the original masters like Galo Preto, Selma do Coco and Cila do Coco, who never had their music released anywhere in the past.

Another very curious piece of information and an example of the diversity of Coco is its use on the “repente” challenges, a form of poetic improvisation in the North East of the country. It is exactly what MCs do in the rap battles, but this art form has been around in Brazil since 1850.

Instruments of Samba de Coco

What does this music mean to you and why is it significant to you as a DJ and music lover?

Music is a invisible energy. I believe when a musician records something or a producer composes a track, what they are feeling in that right moment goes to the music somehow. And this music reach us and affects each individual in different forms. This is damn powerful!

I don’t know why music touches me so much. It could be dance or painting or photography. Of course those arts affect me in some way, but not like music. And I don’t want to understand this fact. Sometimes understanding things is not the right thing to do. You just have to feel. The important thing is that music gives me so much good feelings, and I love it!

As a DJ, music is my ingredients to do something for the crowd. I’m just a bridge between the artist and the crowd. As I am a frustrated musician (never had patience to study), I found in DJing a way to give this energy. Make people smile, make people move, share music and have a good time. I try to give to the dance floor the same emotion I receive from music .

Tell us an interesting fact about Samba de Coco you think we won’t know

A lot of african Brazilian sounds (Samba de Coco is one of them) come from – at least – last century. We talking about music that has more than 100 years old. As there are just few recordings I feel very sad when i think how many music got lost. And how many pearls disappear.  Just those who have the opportunity to presence these celebrations are the only ones that can tell about it.

Missao de Pesquisas Folcloricas, 1938. 

Mario de Andrade

Did you compile the mix with an idea in mind?

In this mix I try to go through different eras and influences of Samba de Coco, starting with the first recordings done in 1938 by researcher Mario de Andrade (above). I also show the new generation of artists who keep Coco alive, and innovations and sound mixtures of Coco done by new producers from both hip hop and electronic music.

Any standouts from the mix you’d like to give special mention too?

The first three tracks of the mix and the last one are pretty important. It’s the recordings from 1938 from Mario de Andrade. This kind of sound the music industry never paid attention to. And this guy from the begining of the century thought that maybe someone in the future would be fascinated by this kind of music. Without his help it would be forgotten in the past.

Other good points are the music from Galo Preto (below), Cila do Coco, Selma do Coco and Aurinha do Coco. They are guys that promote this music all their lives. Nobody wants to record them, but lately some cultural non profits have started to release their albums.

Gal Preto, one of the masters of Coco.

You’re coming to London this weekend for a Tiff’s Joints party. To those only familiar with the edits you did on the label, what can expect from a Tahira DJ set?

I like to see the people first and understand how they react with the music and then decide what to spin during the party. Probably it will be eclectic with a focus on Brazilian, Latin and African. Old and new sounds. And probably some soul, funk and house as well.

Anything else on the horizon you’re excited about in 2018?

I wanna do more authoral music! Focus more on Oribata project that I have with keyboard player Fernando TRZ, and help to promote more the Afro-Brazilian music around the world.

DJ Tahira makes his UK debut with parties in Bristol (with Worm Disco Club, 26th May) London (with Tiff’s Joints, 27th May)

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