Singer Curumin is a shining star in Saõ Paulo

Boston Globe, June 25, 2012

“São Paulo is a huge city, but we don’t have a lot of music tradition,” says singer Curumin, speaking of Brazil’s commercial metropolis, with its area population of 20 million.

“Samba belongs to Rio, maracatu belongs to Recife — in Brazilian musical history, we don’t have a lot of people from São Paulo doing good stuff.”

Perhaps. But like his friend Céu, for whom he is opening on their current United States tour, Curumin, whose new album “Arrocha” came out this year, is doing his part to reverse any musical-desert stereotype that might still affix to their city.

They are part of a large local arts scene that, as Curumin describes it, has taken the city’s position as a hub, attracting migrants and cultural inputs, and turned it into fodder for creativity.

“It’s a meeting point,” Curumin says. “A lot of people from all over, bringing different styles and ideas.”

Curumin himself has hybrid roots: born Luciano Nakata Albuquerque, he’s the son of a Spanish and Japanese couple who made São Paulo their home. His music picks up elements of samba, funk, hip-hop, and increasingly electronic elements.

“Arrocha” is vibrant, soulful, and also melancholy, as on “Paris Vila Matilde,” inspired by a long phone call home to his wife while on tour in Europe. The song contrasts with the jungle-funk of “Selvage” or the horn loops and squiggly electronic noises on the slow burner “Treme Terra.”

Curumin says he made “Arrocha” at home, mostly on his MPC controller, in a loose and playful setting, devoid of the time pressure of studio sessions. “I wanted to make it like a child playing,” he says, “without having to stop, with nowhere to go.”

On stage, however, Curumin offers a more percussive, high-intensity experience. That’s partly because in his current traveling lineup, he plays the drum kit, accompanied by a guitarist and a bass player.

“When I sing and drum, I sing very much on the beat, with a lot of rhythm,” he says. There’s a natural shift toward a hip-hop cadence that shows him to be an able rapper as well as singer.

Still, melody and songwriting remain paramount, Curumin says.

“We have this tradition,” he says of Brazilian music. “Where the guy says the sun is shining in a major chord. When you talk about the sky, you sing the highest note. The connection between music and lyric — this is very strong since the beginning.”