(L-R): BSF co-producer Béco Dranoff, Summer Stage artistic director Erika Elliott, and festival founder Petrit Pula pose at the Brasil Summer Fest on Saturday. (Photo: Emmanuelle Saliba)
As a tropical breeze made its way through the city, thousands were gathered at Central Park's Summerstage for the start of Brasil Summer Fest (BSF). Saturday's show kicked off a week-long showcase of Brazilian talent ranging from big names to up-and-coming artists who will play samba, MPB, bossa nova, forró, hip-hop, and baile funk in various venues across New York City until July 28. This year's opening event featured Brazilian/American bossa nova artist Bebel Gilberto, and two U.S. debutants: Criolo and Flávio Renegado.
The last couple of years have seen a renewed interest in Brazilian music and this has become evident on the global stage. The likes of Michel Teló and Gusttavo Lima regularly top European music charts and their videos have amassed millions -- respectively, "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" has amassed over 400 million views on YouTube and "Balada" has grabbed more than 36 million. This exposure could not have come at a better time as Brazil is poised to host two major international tournaments.
It seems that BSF's organizers were cognizant of this demand for Brazilian culture. "My hope is that this will be a moment when people will get to know more about the contemporary Brazilian music scene and the culture because I think people really are paying attention. Brazil really is making a statement in the next couple years with all these big events," festival founder Petrit Pula told Billboard.biz.
About seven years ago Pula, who is of Albanian descent, started getting involved with Brazilian music and artists in New York. He started the Nublu label -- also the name of the East Village venue famous for its Brazilian Wednesday nights -- and represents artists like Forro in the Dark and Otto. After years of going back and forth to Brazil discovering new talent, he saw an opening in the New York scene.
"You have a lot of Latin cultural events in New York, but not many are Brazilian. You have Latin music and arts, but I thought Brazil was not well represented. I thought it was a good time to do this," Pula said.
Petrit partnered up with SummerStage's artistic director, Erika Elliott. She also agreed that there should be a full day dedicated to Brazilian music integrated into the programming.
U.S. debutant Criolo performs Saturday at BSF. (Photo: Emmanuelle Saliba)
"In my experience -- and I'm not a Brazilian music expert by any means -- I really did feel like Brazil is a country and culture that is just rich and vibrant and has so much amazing talent. We really thought that there was an opportunity there, that even in a saturated market that has a lot of things going on, there really wasn't anything dedicated to Brazil specifically," she said.
The result? Last year's inaugural show was one of the highest attended events of Central Park's SummerStage free shows with approximately 6,800 attendees. This year the festival has grown to have 17 artists performing in 10 different venues. From July 21 to July 28, you can catch acts like 19-year-old folk singer Mallu or Sao Paulo based singer-songwriter Luísa Maita.
"We were very nicely surprised by the size the festival took this year," explained Béco Dranoff, a Brazilian music producer/filmmaker who was welcomed on board as co-producer this year. "I've been here pushing and pulling Brazilian music for over 20 years, and finally it's really becoming bigger and bigger and more mainstream."
Bossa nova star Bebel Gilberto takes the stage last Saturday. (Photo: Emmanuelle Saliba)
According to Rachel Black, SummerStage's general manager, Saturday's show attracted 6,317 curious attendees through the course of the day. The festival also attracted sponsors like Embratur, the Brazilian Tourism Board and Setur of Rio de Janeiro, and received support from the Consulate General of Brazil in New York.
One might attribute the attraction of these shows to Brazil's recent rise in world affairs, positioning itself not only as a world power but also as a veritable center of cultural production, while others might just attribute it to the power of the music itself.
Brasil Summer Fest will continue throughout the week. For a complete schedule of performances, click here.