Chief-Boima

Eat Rio meets Chief Boima!

Chief-Boima

Cheif Boima.
All images in this post are taken from Boima’s Press Photos set on Flickr.

 

It’s been a while since we’ve had a musically-themed post on Eat Rio so I’m delighted to return to the subject today. Recently life has been a big whirl of food tours, writing gigs and a few other bits and pieces thrown in – that hasn’t left me much time for music. Luckily, not so long ago, the music came to me!

Boima Tucker booked an Eat Rio Food Tour with us back in February as his parents were visiting. Despite taking bookings from people from all over the world I don’t  think I’d ever seen the name Boima before and my curiosity got the better of me. After a little Googling I found that Boima is also known as Chief Boima and (amongst other things) is a Sierra Leonean-American music producer, DJ and writer who is currently living in Rio.

Although his food tour was guided by my fellow guide Angela, I managed to grab a few words with Boima at the end of the tour and then followed up later with an interview (completed on 30th March – yes, I’ve been busy!).

Before we go any further, how about something from the man himself? This is a new remix of the track Sucre by Cocotaxi which Boima released last week. In Boima’s words, this “fuses the Afro-Bolivian Saya tradition with pan-African rhymes delivered by Mexican rapper Bocafloja” – how could you not be intrigued by that?

 

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Tom: Hi Boima! Can you tell us what brought you to Rio?
Boima: What brought me to Rio was a work opportunity for my wife. So as I am kind of in a freelance lifestyle, Rio’s not a bad place to set up as a home base in between “gigs”. I definitely feel lucky to be here for the time we are. I came little over a year ago and we plan to be here a total of 3 to 4 years.

 

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T: In a past interview you said that you identify as many things – African, Sierra Leonean, American (among others) – and today you live in Rio. You also write and speak on subjects like global youth culture. Do you see a lot of parallels between the continents of Africa and South America? Do the people from either continent have anything to learn from the other?

B: I think people always have something to learn from each other! However, a lot of information exchange about culture, politics, and society in general today has happened without anyone saying that it should or not. I’m just interested in how it tuns out!

To put it a little more clearly, what I’m most interested in when it comes to global youth culture is the ways in which young people, who are communicating virtually across international and local social boundaries, are able to navigate and alter (or not) the realities of their physical or tangible world. As you can imagine Rio is a fascinating place to observe in terms of social boundaries, and navigation — so I do find the city fascinating in terms of its various youth culture scenes!

Chief-Boima

 

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T: When I arrived in Brazil I was blown away by the range of musical styles from this country. You yourself champion a huge range of styles, many of which are of African origin. How have Brazilian audiences responded to African musical styles?
B: Well, I have only played so far in Rio and São Paulo. And I think the reaction of audiences were very different in both places. In São Paulo it felt like people were more open to foreign influences, and were open to the fact that I was a foreign DJ. Although when the local DJs went on they told me they felt a lot of pressure to still play local music and hits — which is actually normal for a mainstream club most places.

 

I think Rio takes that a step further. While I have been to some specific promoted parties that try to push the boundaries and expose people to new music, I think generally people want to hear stuff they recognize, and especially can sing along to. I played both types of parties here. One in which people are going to hear new stuff, and one in which people just want the familiar rhythm they can dance to on their sacred weekend night out.

 

There’s more of this leisure vibe in general in Rio whereas São Paulo is a bit more like New York. People party like they’re working! I am excited to go to Salvador (and plan to soon) because I know there is a small scene of foreign African-diaspora music aficionados. But I anticipate that Salvador is generally probably similar to Rio in that people really want to hear their local familiar music most.

 

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T: As someone who is so heavily involved in music and youth culture, you must have seen first hand many examples of the positive effect of music on young people’s lives. Are you aware of, or involved in, any projects that help improve people’s lives through music?
B: I know there are plenty of programs with favela youth and music around the city. Cufa in Cidade de Deus and Afro Reggae out of Vigario Geral of course are two well known examples.

 

The work I have done with music in Brazil specifically has been more on the record label side. I’ve assisted two rio transplant DJs, Maga Bo and Wolfram Lange to set-up their Kafundó Records label, and we’ve released two compilations in the past year that aim to promote internationally what we’re calling Brazilian Roots and Bass music. The idea behind the comp is to promote music and artists that are inspired by local Brazilian “roots” styles, but connects them to the wider world.

 

As far as working directly with youth, I’ve actually taken up coaching basketball for teenage boys on Saturdays. Maybe I’ll work some music into that!

 

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T: What do you think of Brazilian food? Do you have a favourite Brazilian dish?
B: I just love the whole idea of pesticos [bar snacks] and beer! Give me fried starch and meat and I’m a happy man!
Chief-Boima

Boima in Palenque, Colombia.

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T: I’m always on the look-out for new music. Do you have any favourite Brazilian musicians/groups that you think the world should know about? 
B: Tough to choose favorites, but the most recent release I really enjoyed was Playsom by Baiana System from Salvador:

 

 

Kind of on the other end of the spectrum, I usually always end up playing a tune or two from MC Delano from Belo Horizonte in recent DJ sets, he’s probably my favorite MC in the Funk scene just because of the diversity he experiments with. But there are a ton of others I could write all day listing so I’ll stop there!

 

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T: What have been your experiences/observations of attitudes to race in Brazil? Do you feel that Brazil is ‘behind’ or ‘in front’ of wealthier nations like the US?
B: Ha ha! You’re going to get me in trouble! I don’t think it’s about being behind or in front, because I don’t think either in Brazil, or the U.S., or Europe, or anywhere in the world we necessarily know where we’re going — especially in terms of race! I do know that everywhere we have a lot of work to do to even understand our specific racial problems. The U.S. has a situation like Ferguson, London and Paris have their riots, and Rio has its daily public violence that takes different forms — from police raids in communities to arrastões [mass robberies] in zona sul, and a clear class-race correlation within various city spaces.
[pullquote align=”center” textalign=”center” width=”80%”]I love the way that Acarajé from West Africa, Sushi from Japan, Kibbe from the Levant, and Bolinhos de Bacalhau from Portugal all co-exist and can be claimed as distinctly Brazilian foods[/pullquote]

 

What I see as fundamentally different is the concepts of multiculturalism, and this perhaps colors the race debate in each place. Culturally, Brazilians take all their cultural influences and make everything their own. Food is a great example for how this happens. I love the way that Acarajé from West Africa, Sushi from Japan, Kibbe from the Levant, and Bolinhos de Bacalhau from Portugal can all co-exist and be claimed as distinctly Brazilian foods.

 

In wealthier northern countries with perhaps newer (and constant) immigration, you can get this kind of diversity, but many of these things are not yet American or French or British. And you can have more of an insider-outsider dynamic even within neighborhoods. In the U.S. especially, there is this expectation to assimilate into the mainstream “American Dream” thing in order to be fully accepted. Some groups are able to achieve this easier than others, and unfortunately race (and now religion) remains a major factor in this ability.
Chief-Boima

 

There definitely are things to celebrate in this concept of multiculturalism however. I lived in Brooklyn before this and on a mile stretch of a single street you could have 15 different nationalities, every kind of race, several different religions, a host of different languages, and a food diversity that would boggle your mind! If you’re an adventurous type, you can have a wealth of global experience without even having to hop on a bus or subway. However the reality is many of those different cultures don’t really mix in the everyday interaction and tend to keep to themselves. So while these things are in your face you might not “see” them, or know how to approach them. Then, once those communities start to move outside of those immigrant strongholds, the culture slowly gets absorbed into the mainstream, and that’s how you get the generic (and watered-down) American culture where Chinese food becomes Chinese take-out, Italian food becomes Pizza Hut, and German sausages become Hot Dogs.

 

The problem with the U.S. is that it’s a country that’s never been able to reconcile this insider-outsider thing, and thus recognize the contributions of all the groups as equal. They lack a certain Brazilian attitude to culture. But the economic and social mobility is generally available, as long as you drop certain cultural cues, and/or racial otherness: speak “proper” English, don’t wear a hijab, eat food that doesn’t smell funny.

 

However, I do think that Brazil would benefit from a little U.S. style multiculturalism – celebrating all their various influences on their own terms, not as necessarily part of Brazil, but belonging to global communities. Because the biggest problem I see in terms of social divisions is the fact that while all Brazilians can claim and access each others heritages, people of different heritages aren’t able to access or claim different social or economic statuses, at least not as easily. I think that if marginalized communities in Brazil could see themselves as part of a global community — based on heritage or race or gender or whatever you like — they would see ways to bypass local social rules and restrictions.

 

And again, I have seen this happening already a bit here — and this is what I call the kind of youth culture awakening. For example, I see young Afro-Brazilians that adapt foreign styles (i.e. Brazilian Trap Music, Baile Charme, Brazilian Dancehall) to their local context as a way of asserting their belonging to an international African diaspora. Or young Favela residents recognizing a similarity to their situation to folks in the ghettos of Europe and the U.S. (one of the most interesting connections I’ve come across has been a bit of correspondence between Funkeiros and Egyptian Chaabi or “Festival” performers from the outskirts of Cairo). I think this is an empowering thing, the ability to belong to a global community, whatever defines that community.
[pullquote align=”center” textalign=”center” width=”80%”]That’s what I see as the future for people around the world. I see a growing hyper-awareness and celebration of difference within local societies aided by a recognition of similarities across national boundaries.[/pullquote]

 

A specific example of what I’m talking about happened just this weekend. I sat with two friends from Bahia in a favela around Centro, and one of them pulled up a YouTube video of the U.K. Grime group performing on a BBC show. All three of us were nodding our heads and commented in awe of the energy that went beyond language and local culture. Just within that moment you’re connecting like ten different communities from around the Atlantic, and you feel like you belong to something that’s greater than what you can see in your daily environment.

 

That’s the kind of thing that I see as a future for people in general around the world. While some people see us headed towards a generic mixing where you can’t tell who is from where and we’re all the “same”, because of the Internet I see a growing hyper-awareness and celebration of difference within local societies aided by a recognition of similarities across national boundaries.

 

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T: Can you recommend a few tracks/mixes that you feel best exemplify your work?
B: If you want to hear what a current set might sound like, check out my Six Over Eight Mix [embedded at the bottom of this post].
Chief-Boima

Boima doing his thing in New York.

 

To see where I’ve come from production-wise check out my Banana Clipz project released a few years ago. And as far as where I’m going, I am currently working on a continuation of my collaboration with Sierra Leonean musician Sorie Kondi — here is the song we released in 2012.

 

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How/where can we see/hear more from you? Do you have any gigs/performances/releases coming up? 

B: I am working on putting the finishing touches on an album collaboration with Sorie Kondi. Working on the music video right now, and will slowly roll out all the singles over the course of the year.

 

I also record a bi-weekly radio show called Africa is a Radio for the website Africasacountry.com (where I’m also the music editor).

 

No planned gigs in Rio, but if you have any international readers, I’ll be in Toronto for the Harbour Front Centre’s music series on July 11th. You could basically catch me anywhere in between Toronto and Rio in between now and July! Check my website for updates: ChiefBoima.com

 

 

11 replies
  1. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    “However, I do think that Brazil would benefit from a little U.S. style multiculturalism – celebrating all their various influences on their own terms, not as necessarily part of Brazil, but belonging to global communities. Because the biggest problem I see in terms of social divisions is the fact that while all Brazilians can claim and access each others heritages, people of different heritages aren’t able to access or claim different social or economic statuses, at least not as easily. I think that if marginalized communities in Brazil could see themselves as part of a global community — based on heritage or race or gender or whatever you like — they would see ways to bypass local social rules and restrictions.”

    Interesting observation. It reminds me of how Haviana flip-flops became palatable to middle and upper class Brazilians. Okay, I know, I´m referring to a product instead of a person or community; however those flip-flops were once associated with poverty, which meant sales ended up restricted to that strata in Brazil. Thanks to outsiders recognizing the practical and aesthetic value of Havaianas and then using them in upscale (yet off the beaten track) beach towns in Brazil where middle to upper class Brazilian descolados also vacationed the stigma was broken and the product became socially acceptabe to pretty much everyone. Anyway just an example of how a once marginalized product broke local barriers when exposed to an outside force that could analize it objectively.
    Oh, I maintain my aversion to Havaiana use outside pre-established Gritty designated áreas (beach and pool side); not because of prejudice mind you – it is just that people in general seem to hold a higher opinion of their feet than reality allows.

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Ha ha! Nice one Gritty! I got half way through your comment and was thinking “Wow! He’s changed his tune on flip-flops!” – then you got it back at the end. Had me worried there for a moment 😀

      Interesting how we all sometimes need outsiders’ approval to appreciate aspects of our own culture.

      Reply
      • The Gritty Poet
        The Gritty Poet says:

        “Interesting how we all sometimes need outsiders’ approval to appreciate aspects of our own culture.”

        Okay. I didn’t want to go there but I’ll acquiesce to your subliminal message: congrats to UK voters for the trouncing they’ve handed Labour.
        Oh man – I really, really, wanted to avoid mentioning it 🙂

        Reply
  2. Tom From England
    Tom From England says:

    Nice post. He sounds like an interesting and knowledgeable guy! I’m definitely gonna check out all these links.

    I’m curious about which grime act his Bahian friends were showing him!

    Reply
  3. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    Off topic: this crash course episode about slavery and Haitian independence is pretty good (although I don’t like him bringing minimum wage into the mix since to teach that effectively -minimizing bias – an episode solely devoted to the economics of labor is needed). Anyway I was thinking you could use a similar format for an online food show. Just an idea.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5A_o-nU5s2U

    Reply

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