February 12, 2009
En Route to Tecnobrega

The last city to touch the Amazon river is also the home of Tecnobrega, a passionate musical movement rooted in the traditional Paraense rhythm, brega, which literally means cheesy or corny. This music, or more specifically, the fan communities around it, are the focus of my research this term at C3.

Tecnobrega is what Ronaldo Lemos, Project Lead of the Creative Commons Brazil, calls a "globoperipheral music". He sustains that within this type of musical environment the "idea of a "periphery" is not related to a geographical concept, nor does it have to do with a division between rich and poor, it has evolved and in its evolvement it has become both North and South."

This is music whose elements where originated partly in first world countries, and were then remixed, enhanced and ultimately reinvented in the south. New rhythms, voices, instruments and textures are added. It is never quite a finished product, even as it is distributed, shared, it continues to morph. This is the case of Argentina's Cumbia Villera, South Africa's Kwaito and Brazil's Funk Carioca and Tecnobrega

Since the inception of the style in the early 2000s, tecnobrega artists rejected contracts with traditional record labels. Instead but, from the music's popularity emerged an alternative market structure dedicated to supporting the diffusion of this music and the livelihood of its creators. In the last few years tecnobrega has become a bit of a poster child for the copyleft movement due to their alternative business strategies.

Their main product is the "sound system parties", musicians either receive a percentage for the parties or consider them promotion. During these events, DJs remix existing productions and also improvise their own tracks.

In spite of its success, this music is still not normally present on traditional promotional channels, such as radio and tv, it circulates through authorized "bootleg" copies that musicians give to Djs and to informal vendors who make copies themselves and sell them on the streets. Pará's capital, Belém, hosts over 3000 parties and 849 concerts a month, generating $1.5 million each month.

This is not the music of the elites by any means. It's a grassroots movement that has wasn't born out of the need to generate impressive ROIs, but from the joy of the music itself.

Their business model seems to fit into the vision that Pablo Capilé, founder Espa├žo Cubo, has for his own very different music project in the neighboring region of Cuiabá: "no one here has any pseudo-socialist discourse. We are just working for a market that is more compatible with the new musical reality of the country, and that it's supported by locally generated resources, which, when interconnected in a national network, generate a very promising value chain."

Soon, I'll have the opportunity to visit the musical Belém myself and there I'll turn my focus entirely upon the audience, because when you can't rely on big bucks for marketing and distribution it's clear that your biggest allies are your fans. I'm interested in seeing how tecnobrega operates as spreadable media, and how much of its spread occurs on and off-line. How do audiences receive and spread content? How do they communicate amongst each other and with the artists? How do the audiences see themselves and how do they participate in the tecnobrega scene? Could we consider this a fan-driven economy?

I think there is much that we can learn from fans in Belém and I'll arrive loaded with many, many more questions and hopefully with a clear head or at least the ability to channel our consulting researcher Grant McCracken in order to sharpen those pattern recognitions skills.

If you want to get to know a bit more of the tecnobrega scene check out the trailer for Vladimir Cunha's documentary Brega S/A and the now famous Good Copy, Bad Copy.

Most of what I've learned about tecnobrega (and wrote about here) is present in the impressive work of both Hermano Vianna in his cultural-focused social network Overmundo and the research directed by Ronaldo Lemos and Oona Castro (all CC licensed and available in English here).