Bat Makumba
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Bat Makumba

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Bat Makumba's Latin grooves target both your soul and your pants.

Less than two weeks remain before the annual pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations begin, and cities such as New Orleans (with Mardi Gras) and Rio de Janeiro (with Carnaval itself) have begun preparing for a mayhem of revelry.

But though you'll have to wait until May for San Francisco's own Carnaval celebration, that joyous mayhem is alive and well at the Elbo Room in SF's Mission district. Every Tuesday night, resident Brazilian bands such as Vivendo de Pão, Bossa Nossa, Superbacana and, most notably, Bat Makumba lay down the rhythm and soul of new-millennium Brazil, fueling a vibrant dance scene full of great, inventive sounds and grooves.

"Our hope is to conjure the spirit of Carnaval that is embedded in Brazil's tradition of miscegenation," explains Bat Makumba lead vocalist and guitarist Alex Koberle, "and create music where people from all walks of life can drop their inhibitions and join our renegade Carnaval party."

That party began a year ago, when Bat Makumba first started holding down the first-Tuesday-of-the-month slot at the Elbo Room. The high-energy world-rock band earned itself a nice following through those energetic shows and the release of its self-produced debut album in mid-2003. More than two years in the making, Bat Makumba earned favorable reviews and, surprisingly enough, decent public radio airplay.

So the band has started making a name for itself, but many people can't even pronounce it (baach maa-coom-baa), let alone explain what it means: "Bat Makumba" is the title of a song written by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso and made famous by Os Mutantes, part of the 1970s Tropicalia movement, which flourished at a time when Brazil lived under dictatorship and severe censorship.

"The song describes what we are doing," Koberle explains. "And it's a strong name."

Partly because bat also means "to beat," perfect for a band with such a powerful rhythmic foundation. Percussionist-singer Emiliano Benevides provides that pulse -- the Goiânia, Brazil, native arrived in San Francisco a few years ago, where he met Koberle and bassist/vocalist Cal Remde, who form the group's nucleus.

The idea: Create a band that combines the strongest, most prominent aspects of Brazilian musical culture. Which basically means, well, everything.

"Me and Alex were born in Brazil, and were exposed to many different things," Benevides explains. "When you walk down the street, you hear everything from traditional, punk, rock, and classical musics. We grew up listening to everything! So we try to take all those sounds and put them on a plate, with all of us contributing our flavors, to bring something new for people to digest."

Most bands lay claim to that kind of "little bit of everything" approach, but Bat Makumba has got the diversity to back it up. Coming from perhaps the most racially mixed country in the world, the group represents a new facet of Brazil's "mutable" art forms. By blending funk and rock with traditional and contemporary Afro-Brazilian beats, its influences are inherently Brazilian, but those influences get spit back out in an entirely new form.

Perhaps that's because the rest of the lineup -- Matt Swindells (drums), Ben Tergis (keys/accordion), and David Gibbs (saxophone, clarinet, and flute) -- doesn't always have Koberle's firsthand experience with Brazilian culture, though they do share his enthusiasm. "I am loving playing with this band," exclaims Gibbs, a seasoned player from Wisconsin who jams frequently in the local improvisational jazz scene. "I get to play flute, clarinet, sax, and percussion, and really get into the dance tunes we're playing. I met these guys when I was playing Brazilian chorinho music. I grew up in the US listening to rock, funk, and classic jazz, but I feel at home with this music. I haven't been to Brazil yet, but it's something I want to do soon."

Gibbs particularly shines on the tune "Uma Gota" ("A Drop"). With a round, resonant tone on his tenor sax, he embroiders a bold rap by Koberle that rides on a heavy 6/8 beat and then delivers a bold solo that cuts through the tune's multiple rhythmic layers.

You can dance to it, of course, but you can pump your fist to it as well. "The song itself is about the small drop of resilience that exists in all of us when faced by adversity," Koberle explains. "It's structured around eight repeated phrases, which are bracketed by call-and-responses that are evocative of Brazilian soccer stadium chants. These chants are sung by thousands of people, and each voice represents a drop of hope emboldened by their numbers."

To be clear, Bat Makumba doesn't sound anything like your parents' old Stan Getz/Antonio Carlos Jobim records. Instead, you get hard-edged dance music rooted in Brazil's strong percussive traditions, but willing to embrace any other cultural influences that come along.

This is perhaps best felt on the song "Morro de Saudade," which talks about the similarities between Rio de Janeiro and San Francisco. There are more than you might think, but Koberle realizes how unique and singular his home base really is. A lot of Bat Makumba's lyrics address exile and removal from the motherland, and if you're lucky enough to have ever been there, "Saudade" does leave you yearning for Brazil.

Thankfully, the group finds innovative ways to bring Brazil to us. "Saudade" is actually a long-distance collaboration with Velha Guarda da Mangueira (Old Guard/School of Mangueira). "They are like the Buena Vista Social Club of Rio," Koberle explains. "They're now in their sixties and seventies, and they have played samba all their lives. Emiliano toured and played with them in France, throughout Europe, and at the first Latin Grammy Awards show. Since he knows those guys, we said let's see if we could do something."

They could. "We contacted their artistic director, who said 'Sure, send us some material,'" Koberle continues. "We recorded some materials here and sent them a two-track. They recorded on top of that a multitrack of percussion, cavaquinho, and vocals, and sent it back to us on Pro Tools with something like thirty channels. So we put that into our system and recorded more stuff on top of it and mixed it. That's what you hear on the CD, and the feeling was definitely there, though we were never in the same studio."

If you doubt the depth of that feeling, just ask the Bat Makumba guys themselves. "We all almost died when we heard their version of it," bassist Carl Remde recalls. "I cried when I heard it," Emiliano adds. "The emotion I felt was like when Brazil makes a goal in the finals of the World Cup. You can't explain it."

But among other things, you can dance to it. - East Bay Express (2/11/04)


Bat Makumba
Bat Makumba (self-released)

Bat Makumba have been holding court at some seriously sweaty shows at local venues for some time, and now they've finally gotten into the studio to capture their take on Música Popular Brasileira (MPB). The band's debut release, Bat Makumba, serves as a sharp calling card.

In contrast to other outfits reaping the fruits of Brazilian music, Alex Koberle, Carl Remde, and Emiliano Benevides chiefly perform original compositions. The payoff is in the obvious passion with which the songs are played. They also allow Bat Makumba more leeway in their particular flavor of MPB, which includes the strong ska elements of "Que nada é peixe." On songs like "Uma gota," bandleader Koberle adds catchy, sing-along segments, ideal for pulling in a live audience.

The self-produced, self-released Bat Makumba is unusually consistent in its sound quality – it's evident the album is more than a recording of a live performance. There are occasional technical lapses: the high hats are overly loud on the opening track, and Koberle's guitar tends to overwhelm when he kicks in the fuzz. But there's real promise on the more sparsely arranged tracks, like the dubbed-out "Cantiga," featuring gorgeous vocals from Aurea Onorato, and the salsa-tinged "Quiero (Cuba rum, cachaça Brasil)," which leave me hoping Bat Makumba continue to distill more of their sound in the studio.
- San Francisco Bay Guardian (8/20/03)


S.F.’s own Bat Makumba takes the warm, south-of-the-equator styles of Brazil and gives them a hip, panty-hurling rock edge. Exotic, shoulder-shaking rhythms lure you out onto the dance floorwhere contemporary ska-funk vies bring out your innter rock star.
The local samba studs are favorites around The Bay, working usually uptight wallflower types from Richmond to Redwood City into drippy sex machines with their cosmopolitan mix of downtown sounds and percussion-heavy tropicalia. - San Francisco Examiner (6/19/03)


Two days after Brazil's first World Cup soccer game, the Mission is hopping. A good Brazilian band is always sure to draw curious, if not dedicated, dancers. Having arrived early to an empty house, we breathe a little sigh of relief to see people start to pour in at about a quarter to 11. Soon we can barely move.

It's good to come back to San Francisco from overseas and see it still holding its own as a place with a good Brazilian scene. We heard about Bat Makumba and decided to go see them. "Bat Makumba" is the title of a song written by MPB (música popular brasileira) icons Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. It's a reference to playing the spiritual or religious drums of the candomblé religion, practiced for 400 years in Brazil, a direct link to West Africa and the Yoruban civilization.

As DJ Madi plays Latin and Asian electronica, we sit at the tiny table admiring a pink fake-fur bodysuit and a pair of gold lamé pants. Suddenly there is a commotion behind us. Bat Makumba lead singer Alex Koberle and percussionist Emiliano Benevides explode from the back of the room on cordless mic and triangulo, in a typical northeastern embolado-style sing-song chant. (An embolado is a vocal duel; the one who freestyles the best lyrics and demonstrates the most agile tongue wins.) Wading through the crowd, the two join the rest of the band onstage for a percussion-jam intro. The song morphs into an Alceu Valenca standard, and a stomping crowd rushes the dance floor. Riding gleeful waves of synthesized accordion, the music sets a frantic pace with no reprieve in sight for the hipsters who are samba'ing as fast as their hips will go.

The sound is predictably heavy, drum kit fortified by surdos (the big Brazilian bass drums), congas, and timbales. Benevides is a captivating, charismatic force. One of the busiest musicians in the city, he plays at countless dance classes, schools, and camps and also gigs with Nobody from Ipanema, the funk band Ripe, and a string of other projects. The floor is shaking – as it often does in the Elbo Room. The lamentable sound system is stretched just slightly beyond its limits.

For the next couple of hours Koberle and crew put the tenacious dancers through the paces with relentless 6/8 time and aggressive vocals, Koberle's lanky frame twitching with inspiration. Manu Chao's "Desaparecido" acquires some fierce polyrhythms, yet for the most part the originals outdo the covers. A weighty maracatu called "Tropico" fades into the reggae-flavored "Minina," bringing the audience (now dripping with sweat) back to a more sensible level of activity.

We're listening around to see how many people are Brazilian, but no one is speaking in Portuguese. Once again we renew our conviction that Brazilian music is universal. This regular old Tuesday feels like Saturday night of Carnaval. Summer is surging through the Mission in a flurry of drum solos, World Cup fever, and wiggling behinds.

Unlike many other stateside Brazilian bands, who seek the safety of perfectly executed arrangements, Bat Makumba have a hard-edged, raw quality that, if they can keep it, might be the key to their success. Bat Makumba play July 23, 10 p.m., Elbo Room, S.F. Call for price. (415) 552-7788. - San Francisco Bay Guardian (6/26/02)


The healthy contingent of capoeiristas and samba dance troupes in the Bay Area sets the bar pretty high for local bands dealing out Brazilian vibes. If you can't provide a relentlessly percussive cocktail of hip-shaking sounds that will force those in attendance to make a club's walls slick with condensed sweat, you may as well not apply. San Francisco outfit Bat Makumba not only prods Braziliophiles to energy levels that make spontaneous combustion on the dance floor a very real possibility, it also does so with mostly original songs rather than well-executed covers of bahia classics.

Inspired by traditional forms from the South American nation as well as by the more modern contributions of tropicalia-era legends Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso (the group takes its name from a CV song), and Jorge Ben, Bat Makumba introduces elements of funk, rock, and reggae to a variety of Brazilian styles, crafting an irresistibly danceable mélange. The creative nucleus of guitarist/vocalist Alex Koberle, bassist Carl Remde, and percussionist Emiliano Benevides formed in 2000, gradually building a loyal audience that has afforded the band a monthly gig at the Elbo Room and a spot on the main stage of this year's San Francisco Carnaval celebration. Augmented at live shows by additional musicians and frequent collaborations with batucada drummers, Bat Makumba's performances deliver an ecstatic intensity that may be as close to a night out in Rio as one can get without a 16-hour plane ride. This year, Bat Makumba self-released its eponymous debut to uniformly positive reviews. - San Francisco Weekly


From Brazil via San Francisco, please welcome Bat Makumba (Bat Makumba). Named from a signature Caetano Veloso/Gilberto Gil tune, this group of expats churns out tight and kinetic pan-Brazilian samba-funk made for dancing... the growing number of diehard fans who pack the band's shows are evidence that this irresistible percussive music gets across to feet of all persuasion. - The Beat Magazine


Add a teaspoon of rock, a pinch of electro, and a couple of shakes of funk to a Brazilian samba soup, and you have Bat Makumba's wonderful eponymous album. It's as good as anything release this year on any world music label, and you don't need an advanced degree in South American studies to move to its syncopated grooves. - East Bay Express (11/26/03)


One of Five Latin Bands to Watch:

The high-energy Brazilian rock band Bat Makumba (pronounced Booch-maa-coom-baa) has been going batty at the Elbo Room the first Tuesday of each month. Bat means "to beat," and that is what percussionist-singer Emiliano Benevides, a onetime member of Velha Guarda de Mangueira, one of the oldest samba schools in Brazil, brings to the table. Along with Alex Koberle (lead vocalist-guitarist), Carl Remde (bassist-vocalist), David Gibbs (reeds), Matt Swindells (drums) and Ben Tergis (keys-accordion), Bat Makumba creates mutable art forms blending funk and rock with Afro-Brazilian beats. - San Francisco Chronicle (5/23/04)


Bat Makumba was named alongside other winners including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Eyed Peas, Green Day and Poncho Sanchez. - California Music Awards


Discography

BAT MAKUMBA - BOTECO
The second, full length CD released 11/07

BAT MAKUMBA
Self-titled, debut CD released 06/03
"Outstanding Latin Alternative Album" - California Music Awards (winner 2004)
"One of the Best Records of 2003" - East Bay Express

Both CDs can be heard on World/Brazilian radio programs and streaming on the internet.

Photos

Bio

The brainchild of Brazilian natives Alex Koberle and Emiliano Benevides and Americano bassist Carl Remde, Bat Makumba is the crossroads between the equatorial beats of Brazil and the punk, rock and funk influences of the U.S. and Europe. Locals to San Francisco, Bat Makumba's show is a hip renegade carnaval party full of tropicalia tinged ska, punk influenced forro, and rock infused samba.

Since their debut in 2000 Bat Makumba have garnered critical acclaim and a dedicated fan base throughout the West Coast. Winners of a California Music Award for Best Latin Alternative Album and a SF Weekly Music Award for Best World Music Band, Bat Makumba have been hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of Five Latin Bands to Watch, and their debut album was named one of the Best Records of the Year by the East Bay Express.

Incorporating the varied influences of horn player David Gibbs, keyboardist Jason Moen and drummer Noah Waldman, Bat Makumba's live show brings together an international palette of musicians and instrumentation (including accordion, zabumba, megaphone, clarinet and alfaia). Named after the 70s classic Tropicalia song by Caetano Veloso + Gilberto Gil (popularized by Os Mutantes), "Bat Makumba" loosely translates to mean the mixing of Brazilian traditionalism with international pop culture.

How would you describe the sound of this CD?
‘Boteco’ is an artful mixture of neo-futuristic traditional Brazilian rhythms with the right quantity of the best North American spices. It is funk and rock boiling and baking with samba, maracatu, frevo and baiao.

What are the main influences for the CDs?
Chico Science, Samba Schools (from the warm sunny street Carnivals of Brazil), Lenine, Brazilian Modernism and Tropicalism, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Zappa, Serge Gainsbourg, Chico Buarque among many others.

What is the significance of ‘Boteco’?
Think about the French Cafés where all the intellectuals would meet, the PUB (Public Houses) in England and Ireland or a San Francisco, North Beach Beatnik café or bar.
A boteco is a small bar or pub in Brasil were you can find dealers and philosophers, pimps and doctors talking about life, writing poems or theatre plays, sharing ideas about soccer and politics or simply celebrating or lamenting their lives. They are usually the last bars you find open (if they ever close), so it is where a bohemian can finish the night or start the day.

What makes Bat Makumba unique?
Put Pele and Mohammed Ali in a fictional mix machine. Now add Frank Zappa, Sergio Mendes, Tom Jobim and Roger Waters and fuse into one. What a mix eh?
Bat Makumba is this fusion, multiplied by 2.

Don't miss this kinetic, percussive music... join the renegade carnaval party that is Bat Makumba!