Gaby Moreno + Planet Hemp Brazil Summerfest at Central Park Summerstage New York, NY July 20, 2013
On her New York debut, Belem, Brazil-born singer Gaby Moreno brought a microcosm of Brazilian music to the stage, covering everything from rock and pop to carnaval musiceven brega, a pop sub- genre often seen as aimed to lower classes. Backed by a simple four- piece band (bass, guitar, drums and keys), the singer kicked off with some original material but, like other lesser-known Brazilian artists that have appeared during Summerstage's 2013 season, she played a lot of material that the audience would be familiar with, including songs by Ivete Sangalo and Antonio Carlos Jobim
Her musical mix mostly worked but backfired at times. While Wando's "Fogo e Paixão" had most of the audience singing and dancing along (the song was performed earlier in the season by singer Preta Gil), the inclusion of Kaoma's "Lambada" and an ultra-simplified take on "Waters of March" with a "baile funk" arrangement were not too well- received.
Moreno's strength lay on the Carnaval-themed material, and she relied heavily on sambas from Daniela Mercury, Caetano Veloso
and Gonzaguinha. The audience cheered and danced to every tune, and she left the stage after about one hour with great applause.
After a brief break that featured the talents of New York-based DJ Greg Caz, headliners Planet Hemp took to the stage. The set was preceded by a short Portuguese-language video that argued in favor of the legalization of marijuana in Brazil (the band members have been longtime activists for the cause), and then the group (led by vocalist Marcelo D2) opened with their best-known hit "Legalize Já," a tune whose lyrics brought to mind Peter Tosh's "Legalize It," except that Planet Hemp's tune is mostly inspired by Brazilian hip hop grooves.
The band kept things in an up-tempo mode going through its entire catalogue, which spans from 1994's Usuario to 2001's MTV Ao Vivo (both on Sony Music Brasil). The group also played some unreleased material during the set, but basically it focused on the hits. Halfway through the set, special guest Seu Jorge (who was doing a residence at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club that week) joined the band, initially doing improvised solos during one tune and joining co- lead vocalist BNegao on backing vocals.
This was a great opportunity to check out a more alternative side of Brazilian popular music than usually seen stateside. Clara Moreno is clearly a diamond in the rough that is sure to develop with time. On the other hand, it was good to see that, in spite of a 10-year layoff, Planet Hemp still sounds as energetic as it did almost two decades ago.