April 23, 2009
Report From the Land of Açai Berries and "Cheesy Techno"

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I was heading to Belém, home of Tecnobrega (yes, it means cheesy techno) and the apparently miraculous açai berry. I spent around ten days doing participant observation and interviews with various members of the Tecnobrega community, mainly their enthusiastic and generous fans. Although I'm still working on the research, I figured I could share a few of my observations right away.
Tecnobrega has become well known because of its copyleft approach to music production/distribution. In theory, musicians "give" their songs to the "pirates" (who make and sell the CDs) and to the DJs (who promote them at the party). The musicians make money off live concerts. Because the musicians choose to not copyright their songs, all remixing and reselling is completely legal, but tecnobrega does use music from other places as well (I was subjected to Britney Spears more than once). Songs are "used up" every month or two, so they are in constant need for new music, but, for a while now, the DJs have become the center of the tecnobrega scene, concerts are less common and musicians no longer have a secure income even if their songs are popular. Having said that, Tecnobrega's business model has a particularly dynamic quality to it, and hopefully they'll come up with yet another solution that fits their new reality.

Even if the current system might be starting to crack, it does respond to the audience's practices, making all audience involvement "legal", and generating a amicable relationship between all the actors. Although tecnobrega stars do exist the relationships tend to be horizontal. There is also a sense of solidarity due to the lack of monetary resources. As Gabi Amarantos, one of Belém's musical divas said to me, "people here make milk out of stones".Festa no PalmeraƧo
The relationship with the audience is equally horizontal. In fact, the audience members don't organize themselves in "fan clubs", though at one point they did, they now preferred to be called "teams" (equipes). As a team they are part of the movement, they are not on the outside looking in or up. So much so, that they don't feel the need to declare their allegiance to any particular band or sound system, they are independent and valuable in their own right.
Teams also provide safe spaces, members treat each other with care and patience. I asked them what was necessary to have an "equipe", their answers always referred to immaterial things: solidarity, friendship, passion, constancy.
Having said that, most teams try to obtain material evidence of their existence as soon as possible. They all have logos (which in most cases are popular culture icons), beer buckets (big enough that DJs will recognize their equipe from the stage), some have t-shirts, banners, and the most important accomplishment a team song. To obtain a song, teams will hire a musician to write and record it for them, depending on the complexity of the piece and their relationship with the artist, songs cost anywhere from $70 to $250.
The way that audience members share and spread the music is a whole other topic, but for now, I would like to point to one area that I wasn't able to dig into while I was there , but that still intrigues me, the uses of radio. As far as I could tell Tecnobrega circulates over four different types of radio: 1) Traditional (mainstream, college, etc) 2) Online 3) Pirate Radios and 4) "Community Radios" which in this case means close circuit systems with loudspeakers attached to light posts. It would seem that each of these plays a different role and that different actors have access both to produce and listen to them, but I would love to find out more about how they operate and what they mean in people's daily media consumption. If anybody heads that way, let me know.

For now, I leave you with DJ Claudermir's mp3 blog/online radio, so you too can enjoy the world of Tecnobrega.