AmarElo: Live in São Paulo (Netflix) presents rapper, singer, and songwriter Emicida in a 2019 concert straight from the cultural heart of his hometown. Drawing freely on everything from contemporary hip-hop and pop culture references straight through to the musical and artistic traditions of Brazil, Emicida proves to be as much a philosopher and strident voice of protest as he is a cunning and inventive rap loyalist.
The Gist: São Paulo-born rapper, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Emicida (real name: Leandro Roque de Oliveira) takes to the stage of the city’s historic opera house for this landmark 2019 performance of material from his hit album AmarElo as well as favorites and crowd-pleasers from his earlier mix tapes, the material that launched a career of Brazilian hip-hop stardom and found Emicida working with many of his musical heroes from such homegrown genres as samba and bossa nova. But the MC and performer has become a renowned cultural critic as well, as illustrated by his 2020 Netflix documentary AmarElo– It’s All for Yesterday, and that passion for highlighting the heroes and heartbreak of the past informs pretty much every second of Emicida’s music today. With support from his band, a group that includes guitar, bass, percussion, a DJ, backing vocalists and a full horn section, Emicida steadily builds his set, traditional percussion and beats from the DJ laying down a supple mid tempo groove as his conversational, inclusive raps explore themes of friendship, the disparate sounds of the natural and urban landscape, relentless positivity, and the awe-inspiring reach of space and time. Emicida is a child of his city, a man of the earth, and a soul of the universe.
Built in the Renaissance style with Baroque and Modernist flourishes, the Theatro Municipal of São Paulo seats over 1500 in its tiered Great Hall, and the capacity crowd hangs on every rapped lyric, sung word, and funky guitar lick from the stage as Emicida’s set unfolds. Washes of patterned stage lighting sweep across the audience and the theater’s gilded pillars, and people are often seen to raise their hands to the heavens and the angel-painted golden dome above. Emicida is big on exultation, and his fans consistently return that jubilation to the stage. The cameras for Live in São Paulo also travel outside the building, where they capture a large, equally ecstatic crowd viewing the concert on erected big screens. Ultimately, there are thousands of people gathered for Emicida’s hometown concert, but the whole thing feels communal.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of? The 2020 Netflix documentary AmarElo — It’s All for Yesterday found Emicida and director Fred Ouro Preto building a powerful and visually rich historical narrative of the Brazilian black experience around footage from the 2019 concert in São Paulo that’s featured at length here. Netflix also produced the 2020 tour documentary Nasha Natasha, which profiled Uruguayan singer Natalia Oreiro during her Russian concert tour, offering insights into cultural experience of growing up in Uruguay along the way.
Performance Worth Watching: Numerous special guests appear onstage to perform with Emicida, and each one brings down the house. MC Tha duets with Em on the show opener “A Ordem Natural Das Coisas/Chiclete Com Banana,” while rapper and singer Drik Barbosa, and rapper Je Santiago, each one of them São Paulo’s own, drop by for “9nha” and “Eminencia Parda” respectively. The night’s most electric collaboration occurs at the crest of the set, when Emicida brings out Afro-Brazilian singer and musician Majur and Pabllo Vittar, the Brazilian drag performer and icon to the country’s LGBTQ community, to join him on the rousing chorus to “AmarElo.”
Memorable Dialogue: Midway through his performance, Emicida takes a beat, and connects the euphoria of the evening to the historical footprint of the building in which it’s taking place, as well as the larger narrative of the black experience in Brazil. “The fact that we are here in this place that was denied to our ancestors is due to the sweat and blood of many people along the way,” Emicida says. “If we are here, smiling inside the Opera House today, it’s thanks to some people who, at the height of a military dictatorship were brave enough to rise up against the Brazilian State and its murderous racism to show that the country needed to acknowledge the leading role of dark-skinned people in Brazilian society.” And with that, he asks a few members of the Unified Black Movement, a pioneering organization for civil rights in the country, to stand up and take a bow.
Sex and Skin: Nada!
Our Take: With its sun-dappled pastiche of contemporary hip-hop rhythms, rhymes honed in the fire of battle raps, a philosopher’s view of humanity and the natural world, and the attendant influence of samba, bossa nova, baiao, Tropicalia, and other elements of Brazil’s storied musical history, Emicida’s sound is both immediately accessible and tangent-bound. This sense becomes apparent throughout Live in São Paulo, as the MC himself’s easy and inclusive flow blends seamlessly with sung vocals from himself and accompanists. On “Madagascar,” the harmonic notes of bossa nova blend with rap couplets and Pablo Naruda name drops; elsewhere, Emicida equates the power of friendship as “being bros like Gil and Caetano — it’s a rare thing in this crazy world.” In the set’s more raucous second half, rapped choruses become rallying cries, and the camera catches audience members shouting along with every line. “Society sells Jesus; why wouldn’t it sell rap?!” Emicida’s lyrical touchstones of the sun, the moon, and the simple, beautiful interactions of humans every day in the city find a pointed, more protesting edge in the material at Live in São Paulo‘s finale; “slums are still slave quarters,” he (and the crowd) sing, and he beams with pride of place when he sings that, wherever he goes and whatever success he finds, he’ll always be proudly of the ghetto. Uplifting, unifying, challenging, perceptive, and just plain grooving, Emicida proves with Live in São Paulo that his musical voice is one of righteous inclusion and timeless empowerment of the soul.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Emicida leads his lively band and an adoring crowd in a string of hip-hop groovers inflected with philosophical turns and the traditional sounds of Brazil in this rousing concert film.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges