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Baile funk at Holland Festival x Lofi: meet Mbé

This June, Holland Festival x LOFI are set to bring unmatched energy, hosting an electrifying baile funk night like no other

Feel the adrenaline rush of baile funk through the sounds of Brazilian artist Mbé. Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, the musical polymath graced our ears with the release of his first album, Rocinha, in 2021. Titled after his childhood home and largest favela in the country,  Mbé wanted to build cinematographic landscapes with sound fragments of the African diaspora and continent. Luckily for us, Mbé will be presenting Rocinha, as well as a DJ set, Holland Festival club night at Lofi. We had the chance to catch up with the trailblazing artist, having an exciting conversation about what it means to present Rocinha at HF, his creative process, and what it takes to transform a DJ set into a story. Both political and dreamlike, his sound tapestries report to the whole of Brazilian psychedelia, and we won’t miss the chance to hear it live. So get your tickets, and we’ll see you there! 😉

Hi Mbé, how are you today?
Hey Glamcult, I’m good! How about you guys?

All good over here! Let’s jump straight into it. Tell me a bit about yourself, how did your journey as a musician start?
Well, my journey was greatly influenced by my godparents, who lived close to my house—São Conrado, to be exact—which is a wealthy neighbourhood adjacent to Rocinha where I’m from. When I was at their house throughout my childhood and teens, I would listen to a lot of rock. Later, I started attending small concerts by friends’ bands, where I got involved in the music scene. After a while, I started working in a music studio, where I learned the technical side of things. During this period, I got closer to several musicians from the RJ x SP (Rio de Janeiro x Sao Paulo) experimental scene, which also gave me this huge desire to experiment in music.

I want to know more about the origin of your artist name, Mbé, meaning “to be” or “to exist” in Yoruba. Can you elaborate more on how you became Mbé, and what is your connection with this name?
The name came from the need to take the project from a personal process to something that would become public. As my ancestral research helped me get to a proper music sound, I thought that a Yoruba name could also bring up a language that suffers historical erasure not only in Brazil but all over the world.  At Bernardo’s house (the album’s producer), I came across a Yoruba dictionary and selected some names that could bring this project to life. Mbé grabbed me both for its meaning and the sound of its pronunciation.

For Holland Festival, you are presenting both a set of your first work, Rocinha, and a DJ set. Starting off with Rocinha, how would you describe this work?
ROCINHA is a permanent investigative research of what it has been like to be a black person in Brazil. The desire to position black people’s history as part of national history and to provide some permanency – far from erasure. The beats and chants on the album use the same device and historical circuit as in the “terreiros”, “samba schools” and “bailes funk”. So the intent is to preserve and reinvent practices and knowledge usually marginalised by the system. Rocinha is thinking about experimentation as life itself, not only music. 

Your first album, Rocinha, is described as “a provocative mix of field recordings, collage, and spoken and sung word”. Within this sort of collaging of sounds, I’m curious to know, how is the process of working with so much material and merging it into a concrete unison piece?
This idea of working with samples appeared to me when I started producing hip-hop beats for some friends. Most of the melodies came from samples. After this period, I decided to work on a personal project and so I instinctively thought of sticking samples. I believe that by growing up listening to hip-hop and funk – music genres that always used this technique – the idea of cutting tracks and editing them came very naturally in my creation process.

Rocinha also features amazing artists such as singer and composer Juçara Marçal, and renowned Bahia percussionists Luizinho do Jêje and Orlando Costa. Can you talk me through this coming together of creative minds?
Definitely. Well, for seven years I’ve worked in a studio in Rio de Janeiro and had contact with great Brazilian and international music artists alike. I’ve met all the musicians I’ve collaborated with while working there. The album was set up during the pandemic, so most contacts and musical exchanges were virtual. All the guests on the album sent their materials to me online and I’ve added them to the album.

And the story behind this work is also incredibly important. Can you elaborate on the political aspect of Rocinha? And why do you think it is important to present this piece within the context of the Holland Festival?
Ever since colonisation, survival has always been a political act. And among all the peripheral difficulties of scarcity, even with low-quality equipment, one can try to create sound experiments that move people, that make them think, that make them act differently after listening or dancing. It is a very noble response to all this social suffocation. Brazil’s history has its intersection and scars with the period of European navigation, and I see this festival as an opportunity to tell the story of those who were colonised.

As for your DJ set, HF x LOFI is presenting a baile-funk themed night, which is a genre described as “the Brazilian counterpart of Western rave.” What does baile-funk mean to you?
Baile Funk has been the most democratic party taking place in Rio de Janeiro for the past 30 years. In addition to a powerful and normally impeccable sound system, the parties are free and affordable for the neighbourhoods. The desire and search for something new is very present at the bailes funks: new beats, sounds, sound technologies, videos, and journalism. You can see and hear something new emerging every week. Since I’ve started experimenting with music, it was something I didn’t want to stop doing in any work I presented. It will definitely be a night with a mix of artists who are seeking this different place in music.

And how do you think the crowd will react?
Well, what I know is that Europeans are fascinated by Brazilian funk. And I imagine that the Netherlands isn’t so different. Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of Brazilian DJs doing European tours, like RaMeMes, Vhoor, Kenya20HZ, Caio Prince, RHR, Clementaum, and releasing music like DJ Ramon Sucesso and DJ K.

What are the essential elements you need to transform a DJ set into a story?
Music and politics for me are never separated. Both in Brazil and around the world, the racial issue has become increasingly urgent to be debated and eradicated. What I consume in research, and I produce, are music and rhythms that also show up from racial struggle. The historical attempts to erase our history are enormous, and being able to be on a stage, in another country, playing my influences is also part of history.


What is your creative process like?
I usually take a few days to collect songs and videos from the internet. I really like collecting field recordings, which were mainly made by Europeans and Americans. I aim to put them on another musical level that escapes this “commercial” look for ethnomusicology. Once I have these files on my computer, I usually take my time just listening and writing down everything I like. After these steps are done, I open my music editing program and stay there pasting, editing, mixing, etc.

And following up on that, how do you go about building not only a soundscape but a cohesive atmosphere for the audience?
Since my first compositions, I wanted my sounds to have an effect on somebody else’s body both mentally and physically. I describe this environment as a ritualistic process in which the sound construction does not necessarily need to emerge through layers and layers of sound. It can emerge through time, through pauses, through false silence.

What do you like to do before your set to get in the mood?
Being in a peaceful environment with good friends, thinking about my family that always helped me get to where I am, and being grateful to spiritual guides!

What other performances, shows, pieces are you looking forward to seeing within the Holland Festival’s programme?
I have great Brazilian friends who will play at the festival, like Vitor Araujo, the musicians from Metá Metá, and the dancer Vitor Hamamoto from Grupo Cena 11. But I’m also interested in the works of Gaston Core, Ana Pi, Clayton Nascimento, Christiane Jatahy, Arthur Verocai, and DJ K.

Dream b2b/collab?
Mano Brown and Madlib!

What is your biggest accomplishment thus far?
Being able to help and take care of my family through sound art!

And lastly, what’s one question a journalist has never asked you before that should really be asked?
What do you want for your birthday?

And what’s the answer to that?
Socialism! 🙂

Words by Agata Villa
Jun 7th from 6PM
Buy tickets here!
See the festival’s full programme here