Sunday, November 18, 2007

"New sound, piracy make sweet music"

from - by


This steamy city at the mouth of the Amazon River is a haven for pirates -- the digital kind who copy compact discs and DVDs by the thousands for illegal sidewalk sales.

Belem is also home to one of Brazil's most thriving Pop scenes: Tecnobrega, a musical movement that's expanding exponentially thanks to musicians and producers who see copying as a marketing tool rather than intellectual-property theft.

All across the city of 1.5 million, Tecnobrega's cloyingly sweet melodies and synthesizer-driven shuffle beats blast from cars, riverboats and curbside speakers set up by street vendors hawking the latest hits.

Though piracy is the bane of many musicians trying to control the sale of their songs, Tecnobrega artists see counterfeiters as key to their success. Artists, who make their money off live shows, deliver their CDs directly to the street vendors, who determine the price that market can bear. This "mix-tape" phenomenon is popular in other parts of the world, including Argentina and the United States.

"Piracy is the way to get established and get your name out. There's no way to stop it, so we're using it to our advantage," explains Gabi Amarantos, who frequently appears on Brazilian TV on the strength of bootleg sales of her CDs (from which artists don't get a cut).

Aspiring Tecnobrega artists also e-mail MP3s of their latest efforts to producers and DJs who burn CDs that go straight to the copiers and street-stall vendors nationwide, selling for as little as 50 U.S. cents. Legal CDs sell for about $17 at record shops.

"It's this really gritty, tacky, sleazy jungle music. It's just genius," said John Perry Barlow, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates protecting free speech in the digital age.

Barlow sees tecnobrega as following in the footsteps of his hallowed "Deadheads," whose trade in bootleg Grateful Dead tapes boosted the band's popularity for decades.

"It's making it possible for every kid in Brazil to know their songs by the time they turn 5," Barlow said.

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