Featured image credit: Lucas Bumer
COMO VOCÊ is a brand new documentary by writer, DJ, author and filmmaker Jesse Bernard. Translating to ‘like you’, the film chronicles the origins of Brazil’s grime scene, which sprung into the wider consciousness thanks to independent, homegrown platforms like ‘Brasil Grime Show’ and releases from emcees and producers. Here, grime’s sonics combine with the rhythms of baile funk, a genre with its own unique history and specific set of challenges from the authorities. The result is a sound inspired by the rich history of Black British underground music without being a carbon copy. Brazil grime — or Brime — stands on its own: a sound belonging to its creators and the people of Brazil.
The film spends time with a few of the prominent players in Brazil’s scene, each of them giving an insight into their thoughts on the movement, the socio-economic situation in the country, and how the sound can be spread further. Jesse has written extensively about music in Brazil. In our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we spoke about the scene in Brazil, the migration of Black music, what grime can be and more. Scroll down to read the interview.
I know you’ve written a lot about grime, funk and afro-jazz from Brazil. What drew you to Brazil in the first place?
That was literally just a holiday when I first went in 2015. I’ve been going back pretty much every year since then. I’ve fallen deeper and deeper with the music scene out there, unearthing new things about it. I think it was the first or second time I went to Brazil where I heard people playing grime at parties and Bailes out there. From there, I was like, cool, there’s something happening here.
You were talking about the Wobble nights on the write-up for the film, that’s where you discovered it first, I guess?
Yeah. I literally just went as a tourist. That’s all I could describe myself as. When I first went to Wobble, I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t know anyone who was running it, I didn’t realise it was Gustavo [Elsas]. I may have been in the same room with a lot of people that I’m now friends with. But yeah, I just happened to catch it by surprise. I didn’t plan to be at this party. In some ways, I feel like I was meant to be there.
How did you start to link up with musicians over there?
It began with the afro-jazz scene, the reggae scene, and elements of the rap scene. From there, I started looking at the history of Brazilian music. When I started to discover that people were making grime, I was like, okay, cool, let me write about Brasil Grime Show, which I did for WeTransfer back in 2019. Gustavo, Febem, Cesrv and Fleezus came to London in 2019. I think this was October time.
We tell this story all the time: it was the day before my birthday, and I was meant to be flying out to Costa Rica for it, and they just landed in London, and I was literally their first point of contact, their first interview, the first person they met in London. From there, that’s where everything started to follow.
It must’ve felt good to be the first interview over here for Fleezus and Febem.
Yeah, definitely. At that time, I’d already wanted to start doing something more audio-visual with the grime scene [in Brazil]. In fact, I’d had an idea to do something more visual out in Brazil, but it had to be right. It had to make sense. I’m not from there. So it had to be something where I’ve got a stake in this as well, and I can contribute back to the community and the people that are creating out there.
Grime just happened to be the way for me to do that. I couldn’t have picked a better story to tell and a better story to follow because grime is something that I grew up on. I’ve written about it; it’s now become part of what I do for a living. To be involved in something from this stage, from the beginning, at least from when those guys came over to where we are now and to where everyone is now… Febem, Fleezus and Cesrv are about to perform at Primavera in Sao Paulo later this year. They’ve been touring all over Brazil, they’re starting to travel the world a bit more. The time’s coming for them, I think. It’s good to be a part of that and witness that up close and personal.
For sure, yeah. It’s important that you can give back to [the scene], cause like you say, you are an outsider to Brazil. I think that’s one thing the film captures really well, you’re not in it as a character so to speak, but you’re up in the raves, in the natural places where people are meeting, in the studio. How did you approach the interviews with the artists?
We tried to keep things conversational and as natural as possible. I think over time, what made it a lot better was…I was spending a lot of time with most of the people in the film, so there were certain things that I picked up which probably aren’t necessarily in what’s being said or what was written in the script, but they’re things that are shown in the editing, in the way that I’ve put the film together with the editor, and how it captures my experience with them. That’s really how the approach to interviewing went. It was trying to capture their voices in different ways.
Yeah. Obviously, as you spend more time with people…it’s intangibles, isn’t it? You get people’s vibe. People get a bit more comfortable, open up a bit more. And that’s gonna come across on screen even if it’s not in the script. Is this the first big camera thing you’ve worked on?
As a director, it is. I’ve done a few bits and bobs, either as a researcher, translator, or just doing strategy, or even something like story production work. But yeah, this is my first directing project. It’s exciting because it’s a great one to start with, and I think it’s something that I’ve literally been planning for years now. It’s a perfect time for this film to come out for Brazilian grime and because of Brazilian grime. I hope it puts more of a spotlight on what the guys are doing out there and how we over here, with the resources, or at least more resources, should be able to bridge a gap between what’s happening here and what’s happening there.
Well, this is it. That sort of cultural exchange is one of the things that has been the most interesting thing, with the blog I’ve reviewed quite a few of the link-ups from over here and Brazil. It’s building a worldwide network…nice pockets of underground stuff going on, and people can interact and not interact as they please.
Yeah, definitely. I think while the main subject here is grime, I think it’s a lot more than that. Like the U.K, Brazil has artists floating around grime, but they don’t necessarily always do grime. So, they might have a history in drum & bass and jungle, or might be more inclined to baile funk or garage, or even house and straight rap, but then they play with grime because it sits; it’s in rhythm with the countries predominant sound, which is funk. They co-exist seamlessly. I think that’s the beauty of grime in the sense that it isn’t just one sound. It can be a multitude of sounds at any one time. I think if you listen to any grime project, you’re not just hearing one type of BPM or one type of style of grime. There’s different types of sound, and I think if people start to embrace that aspect more here, then hopefully, that reverberates around the globe and creates a more inclusive environment and atmosphere around grime.
Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point. Within grime there are so many little subgenres, they’re not crystalised but you can hear it… The funk and grime In Brazil, I was quite shocked. I knew from listening to the Brazil [grime] stuff, I knew the baile funk influence, but I was taken aback by how similar it is. The MC Smith tune, ‘North Zone’… when I went on YouTube and had a look, he’s got a tune called ‘Vida Bandida’, and I clocked that the lyrics on the start of that are the same lyrics he uses on ‘North Zone’. I’ve been starting to look into the baile funk, and the influence is mad, how much crossover there is.
Yeah, and that’s the thing, when you start to embrace the crossover appeal of what a scene like grime is and what it can be, then people are more accepting of what it can be and what people wanna label grime. I always used to say that grime has existed in Brazil. I said this before the film came out, I said this before I went out there last year, I was saying this to friends for a long time: that grime has been in Brazil for a long time and that it’s always been there. And then later, when we’re filming, and we’re speaking to Brasil Grime Show – specifically Yvie [Oliviera], Hernan and DiniBoy – they were saying that one of the rap artists from the early 2000s, MV Bill, he was heavily influenced by Dizzee.
We’re talking like 2001, 2002. So a lot of what he was making at the time… I’m hearing it, and I’m like, wait, hold on a sec, take the vocals off this, and you put Dizzee’s on this, and it would go. I think what this film really did for me, and the experience of creating it, it changed my entire perspective on what grime is and just made me realise that a lot of the stuff we’re talking about when it comes to grime over here in the U.K, is quite redundant. Once we become more inclusive of what grime actually is and what it can be, we’re always gonna stumble when it comes to that conversation as to whether grime is dead. Grime can never die if the sounds that influence its birth are still alive, and we’re seeing right now that all of those sounds are very much alive because that’s all people wanna hear when they go out.
Yeah, I think, often online, like you mentioned, the grime is dead thing. To me, it feels ahistorical. If you go on Twitter, it’s reactionary, isn’t it? [Como Voce] or The Art of Grime, you’re sat there thinking about stuff… That discussion online is a bit rubbish because it doesn’t look into the history and the long-standing stuff that’s come before it, reggae, dub. And like you say, if grime is going out to Brazil, Japan, Korea, Australia, it can’t ever be dead. It’s completely contradictory.
Yeah, definitely. Because the film was about grime in a country like Brazil, where a lot of people have now started to hear about it, and they wanna see what it’s like in real life. Hopefully, over time, that will change people’s attitudes to grime overall, in terms of how they talk about it. At first, I was thinking, do you reckon there’s anyone in the scene or anyone who’s gonna have an issue with grime being in Brazil? Because you know how people can get protective over it, and that’s not even to take any shots at anybody. That’s just stuff that you see on Reddit and the general social media chit-chat, which I tried to stay clear of. I even came off Twitter during the whole filming process because I didn’t want what I’d seen and what I’d been experiencing to be influenced and impacted by what I was seeing… I just wanted to see and feel this scene for itself, and I feel like it comes out in the film. There’s definitely an intimate, communal aspect to the grime scene in Brazil at the moment that feels very much like the early-2000s and mid-2000s, which means that things aren’t perfect.
There’s not enough resources to go around. So, whatever’s going around, not everyone’s getting a piece of the pie… Over time, I think those resources will start to become more widely available, but that’s just generally across all creative scenes in Brazil at the moment because there’s just a huge lack of resources for young people, outside of music, outside of grime. I think that’s really the case globally, too. This isn’t just a grime issue, and it’s not just a U.K grime issue or a Brazilian grime issue. This is an issue to do with youth unemployment, lack of resources.
I wanted to talk about the migration of Black music. It’s interesting that the internet has made it so easy; I was thinking about Dennis Bovell, [with] lovers rock, and ethio-jazz [with] Mulatu Astatke. They would’ve had a grounding in those [genres]… the internet has taken away that grounding, and now people can see something, or they can interact with something and put their own spin on it like they have in Brazil [with grime]. What do you think about the internet and the migration of Black music?
I think Black migration of music happens without the internet, anyway. Before the internet, it was through downloads, through early social media that we had. It was very local. But now it’s a lot more global, a lot more at a macro scale. Just simply, because the internet and the way we use it has changed drastically in the past twenty years. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and then around the same time, Spotify, and later Apple. I think a combination of all those platforms, and just the way that we communicate now, just so instant, has meant that everything feels local on a very global scale. So you can be talking with people on Twitter and, at the same time, see a clip of a song that’s about to drop in New York somewhere, and it just so happens to be Pop Smoke. Or, if you’re going back even further, it just so happens to be Chief Keef. And then, before you know it, you’ve got everyone making drill videos in their kitchens, and that becomes the norm.
I think when we’re talking about the migration of sounds, that goes hand in hand with how people interact and how people move about. For Black people, not everyone is necessarily moving about physically, but they’re moving around digitally; their ideas are shared, the way they speak is being shared, and the way they talk is being shared. There’s a ubiquitous social media language now, which is essentially Black American and Black British slang combined; it’s like an amalgamation of the two now. When you look at online language and how young people of a certain age speak.
I think with Brazil and grime itself, I think the issue is that…it’s not necessarily an issue, but I think why it’s been left out of the conversation for so long is that it’s not an anglophone speaking country within the Black diaspora. It’s a Portuguese-speaking country, within the diaspora, where only a few countries within that diaspora out of the many regions, states and territories where there’s a majority large Black population, Portuguese only represents a small percentage of that compared to French and English, and languages that derive from that. So I think that plays a massive part in why Brazil’s only just getting the attention now.
I think being there really changed everything for me. It changed how I approach my work; it changed how I want to approach my work in the future; it changed how I feel about music, how I feel about grime, how I feel about society. I think just having that working relationship with WePresent over the past couple of years, starting from that first article to then exploring the idea of the migration of sound to then literally last year just pitching this film has just been inspiring. It’s helped me a lot in terms of thinking about different ways to spread the story of grime but spread the story of Black British culture in different ways.
I think it’s definitely a credit to WePresent for giving us that platform to do that and working with everyone in Brazil. It was really important that we worked with a mostly Brazilian crew and cast, just because it’s important for them to have some equity in this film, to have a stake in it beyond just the film itself, and that’s why we wanna give it life afterwards with the label.
Yeah, the label. You’re contributing to that cross-cultural thing, opening up more avenues for people to collaborate.
Yeah, there’s so much that can come from this. We wanna start the label, then, we wanna see what we can do off that. We definitely wanna do merch in the future; we definitely wanna do something where we’re linking and connecting London with Brazil with Portugal. Cause there’s a lot of similar stuff happening in Portugal right now, in Lisbon and Porto. So, it’s important that we start connecting more with the non-anglophone-speaking countries. Part of my family is from Togo, and I can’t speak the language, and I’m learning Portuguese at the moment. I just feel like in the way that music is operating at the moment, it’s becoming so borderless in terms of sound and origin, now’s the perfect time to be doing something with Brazilian grime from a broader perspective. That’s really what COMO VOCÊ is about. We didn’t go out there to create a label but ended up coming back with something bigger than that. I think that’s definitely the impact the film’s had, and that whole experience as well.
On the flip side to the internet thing is that Brazil has the baile funk tradition. To me, that felt like what garage was to grime over here, in terms of baile funk to Brazil grime. How much do you think that grounding has played a part in the scene being able to spring up and happen?
I think if anything, baile funk aligns more closely – if we’re talking the roots of grime and where that comes from – I think it’s really dancehall.
It takes me back to a conversation I was having with Tippa Irie in 2019; it was actually a phone call while I was last in Brazil prior to the pandemic. He was saying that reggae is the tree from which all sounds branch off: whether that’s rap, whether that’s dancehall, whether that’s garage, whether that’s grime. All of that, it all starts from reggae and dancehall. I think anywhere you go outside of the Caribbean, where dancehall comes from, there’s an element of it that intertwines itself and takes on a symbiotic relationship with the sound from where it lands.
So, in the U.K, it becomes a little bit more electronic, a little bit more industrial because that’s the environment. In the U.S, it becomes a little bit more soulful, has a little bit of a breakbeat to it; because that’s the predominant Black sound that’s been pervasive in American history, and that becomes hip-hop.
In Brazil, because baile funk is actually an imported sound from Miami bass, it takes on a more rhythmic, more melodic sound that’s inspired by a sound system culture, but also the country’s national musical language, which is samba. So, samba intertwines with dancehall and sound system culture in Brazil… I think that’s the main influence that baile funk is taking from dancehall, in that it’s always existed in harmony with the dancehall and, more specifically, sound system culture.
When you go to the Bailes you’ll see the big sound system. Literally, a sound system is two meters, three meters tall and wide. You’ll see elements of that in the film as well. The music that was playing at that actual baile wasn’t the music that was being heard over the top, but I just wanted to capture that it could be any sound system-based sound, and the imagery would fit with what’s being heard.
What were your favourite memories of being in Brazil?
There was a lot. I think being in Rio with the TBC boys, just being out there with all the guys and literally spending a lot of my time with them, at least once a week. We’d have a barbecue, a party, we’d be out doing something, whether that was at the beach or going on a road trip. We were spending a lot of time with Gustavo, almost every day with Gustavo, just working on different things and also just living together at one point. So those guys in Rio became family in a way. A lot of my fondest memories are literally just on a Friday night when we couldn’t be arsed to go out or do anything but just drinking and having a laugh.
Chilling in Sao Paulo as well, with Febem, Cesrv and my guy Danilo especially. Any moment we had with them was great, especially Christmas. That period between Christmas Day and the first of January was just chaotic. We were out every day. Everyone from Sao Paulo was over in Rio. So that week and a half period was great because we were out all the time putting on parties, DJing together, drinking, waking up the next day and going back at it, regretting it! [laughs] Those are the moments I live for, when we’re doing stuff like that. Those are the moments that make a community or a scene what it is.
The experience was definitely up and down. Brazil’s a very chaotic place: everyone that lives there and who’s from there tells me that. I felt the energy being very different. It’s high tension [compared] to the U.K and what you’re used to. I think it’s a very animated place to be, and it moves at a very different pace, and I guess vibration, to anywhere else. So, it takes a while for your body and every kind of aspect of you to adjust to the frequency of that place. But when you do, everything falls together nicely. Once you find your pocket of people and your spaces to be in, it makes it the place that everyone thinks it is, in terms of their utopian idea of what Brazil is.
Obviously, there’s a reality for people that are from there that it’s not always the case, but people make what they can out of it and still try to find joy every day. Especially everyone that I was with. I think I came away from there having a different appreciation for life.
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