‘Sepultura, from Brazil! One, two, three, four…’. For over two decades now, this phrase has been shouted from the stage every time Brazilian metal band Sepultura are about to play their biggest hit: Roots Bloody Roots, featured on the band’s sixth studio album, Roots (1996). On the stages of Glasgow alone, this sequence of events has been repeated at least 8 times, but Sepultura’s history with the city goes even further back than that, with their first show at the Barrowland Ballroom dating of June 1991. And as the quartet, who are obviously proud of their Brazilian origins, prepare to play Glasgow for the 12th time in their career next November, they raise the question: how representative are they of the presence of Brazilian touring artists in Glasgow’s music scene?
The above-mentioned history constitutes enough evidence to say that Sepultura are the Brazilian band with the biggest recurrence of shows in Glasgow over the past three decades, which could, in theory, comfortably place them as the biggest advocates of Brazilian music in the city. This stance, however, can be confronted on basis of the type of music that they play, and consequently of the scene that they take part in. Even in light of their employment of musical elements and ‘cultural signifiers’ from Brazil, it could be argued that the fact that they play metal and sing in English creates a disconnection between them and what is most commonly accepted and sold as ‘Brazilian music’, as diverse as that might be.
This is further supported by a 1994 newspaper report about a Sepultura concert in London, which indicates that they don’t usually share an audience with other Brazilian artists who visit the UK: according to the report, while most of Sepultura’s concertgoers on that occasion were locals, a show by Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) stars Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Maria Bethania, which took place in London on the same week, attracted mostly other Brazilians. This, added to the fact that every band who Sepultura have shared the Glaswegian stages with were either American or European and played some variation of metal, seems to support the idea that what mainly allows them to maintain a sustaining touring relationship with Glasgow is not their relevance as a Brazilian band, but their relevance as a metal band.
And yet, their history of relative success with Glasgow may help us understand the main factors that can influence the relationships of other touring Brazilian artists with the city.
If we are talking about the main promoters of the presence of Brazilian music in Glasgow in the past decade, it’s impossible not to mention Celtic Connections. Specifically, the 2017 edition of the festival featured a partnership with Brazilian music festival MIMO, under which six Brazilian artists were invited to play in Glasgow. Out of the six, though, one raises attention: singer/fiddler Renata Rosa. Judging by the numbers of monthly listeners that each of these artists currently has on Spotify, Rosa is the second least popular, with roughly 45,000 listeners, while some of them orbit 700,000. She is, however, the only one of the six to have played in Glasgow again since.
In a similar fashion to Sepultura, her artistic choices seem to be key to this. Previews of her 2018 UK tour mention the folk nature of her work, and a promotional blog post by Knockengorroch, who were responsible for her Glasgow date then, specifically sells her music as ‘entrancing sounds of north-east of Brazil enriched with the subtle inclusion of East European, Middle Eastern and North African influences’. These are strong indicators that the type of music played by Rosa, and her positioning under what researcher Simon Frith would call a ‘folk discourse’, have been the main factors on her ability to initiate a sustaining relationship with the Glaswegian music scene, strong enough to allow her to play in the city two years in a row, even in face of her seemingly low popularity.
This argument is reinforced by the contrast with yet another artist from Brazil to have played at Celtic Connections. The 2015 edition of the festival featured a concert by Brazilian hip-hop star Criolo, arguably the most popular Brazilian artist to have played in Glasgow in the past decade: he currently has around 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify. And while the concert was seemingly well attended, its reviews have pointed to an apparent disconnection between Criolo’s music and the expectations of the Glaswegian audience. While there were complaints about the fact that he sings in Portuguese (which is also true about Renata Rosa but never pointed as a bad thing), The Herald said that it was ‘not Celtic, perhaps, but it certainly made a connection with Glasgow’s small Brazilian contingent’. Criolo is also among the Brazilian artists who never returned to the city.
The accounts of Criolo’s concert are similar to the 1994 report about the MPB stars’ concert in London. This similarity could be explained by the fact that, in order to achieve their status as pop icons in Brazil (thus attending to a localized ‘pop discourse’, to build on Frith’s concept), these artists may end up formatting their music in such a way that caters almost exclusively to Brazilian audiences, which in turn may hinder their ability to appeal to non-Brazilians. A potential effect of this is that, when touring outside of Brazil, their concerts might only be profitable in places where there is a large enough number of Brazilians to justify their high fees, such as London, where Criolo has played twice since Glasgow. An artist like Criolo, then, might paradoxically be too popular in his own country to be able to access a market such as Glasgow outside of a major, subsidised festival context.
All musical differences considered, this is an effect that both Sepultura and Renata Rosa seem to be immune from. While none of them are nearly as popular in Brazil as Criolo, when it comes to their relationship with Glasgow this seems to be for the best. Of course, as shown, in both cases their origins inform their music and help it become unique within the scenes they’re respectively parts of, and which exist in the city regardless of the presence of Brazilian artists. Nevertheless, their relevance to these specific scenes seems to be the main driver of the recurrence of their concerts in Glasgow. Being able to speak common, genre-specific cultural languages and negotiate with particular segments of the local audience, then, seems to be the common strategy of these Brazilian artists, that helps them thrive in the Glaswegian music scene.