Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brazilian Music- The Good, the Bad….and the Ugly!


“We've told you who our favourite English singers and bands are….now it’s your turn! Which Brazilian artists do you like?”

“Eeeerrrrrrm…..” I responded thoughtfully, before looking up at the polystyrene panels in the classroom ceiling and hoping that they would inspire some sort of an answer. “What Brazilian singer…or band…..do….I…like?” I asked this to myself out loud, with my tone suggesting I would need a while to narrow my decision down to just a few.

The reality was that I knew I was going to struggle to come up with a single one.

Who me? Brazilian? Guess again!
So I started to think of all the Latin artists I knew.

“Shakira…she’s Colombian. Gloria Estefan….American? Wait, I’m not sure, but it doesn't matter, she’s definitely not Brazilian. Surely I know some more…..Ricky Martin?

Well it doesn't really matter where he’s from, I’m not telling this class full of business executives that my favourite singer is the bloke who sings She Bangs!”

With four pairs of eyes looking expectantly at me and the seconds ticking away, I felt under pressure. I nervously began to laugh.

“What are you laughing at?” my student asked, with a slight frown hanging over her forehead.

I’d already been living in Brazil for over seven months by this point, and I really should have known a lot more about Brazilian music than I did. Yet when I'd finally started making enough money to go out, instead of going to the clubs and bars that were playing Brazilian music, I’d party in one of the many electronic clubs that Sao Paulo has to offer.

Brazilian? Me? Really?
It wasn't that I’d avoided Brazilian music; I’d just not made a conscious effort to go out and explore it and see what it was all about. You see, I love electronic music and having moved from Japan to Brazil, I really wanted to see how these clubs compared to the ones I used to go to in Tokyo.

But now my lack of Brazilian music knowledge was about to be exposed. There were no two ways about this; I needed to come clean.

“Well, you see I don’t really like samba” I began, “it all sounds the same to me. And there aren't really many other types of Brazilian music, are there? Your singers and bands aren't famous in England....so to answer your question, I don’t really think I like any Brazilian artists”.

As soon as those ignorant sounding words came tumbling out of my mouth I instantly regretted saying them. I spent the next week thinking of the different ways I could have expressed myself better.

Cameron Diaz's face after she realised I'd watched her film with my parents!
The wall of silence that followed this comment was as deafening as it was awkward.

My students glared at me. Not one of them blinked or looked away….they just glared.

They all had the same deadpan look I remember seeing on my parents faces when I was 13. I’d requested ‘There’s Something About Mary’ from the video shop as a birthday treat, and as we all watched it together, my parents expressionless faces both during and after the film told me one thing....that they were NOT impressed!

Talking of stuff that all sounds the same...
it's David Guetta!
This silence was eventually broken when one student leaned across the table, grabbed my notepad and then said the following: “ OK teacher, now it’s time for YOUR homework. You need to look up these Brazilian artists on youtube and let us know which ones you like in our next class”. She then turned to the other students and together they compiled a list of people for me to check out.

That evening, as I listened to each one I was both surprised and quite impressed. My ears had finally been opened to the world of Brazilian music.

Before I continue, let me clarify something....I’m not someone who LOVES music. I imagine there are people reading this right now who don’t understand this, who would have immersed themselves into to the Brazilian music scene as soon as they landed in Sao Paulo. Well, I’m just not one of those people. I tend to listen to what is being played in the clubs I go to and on the radio stations I end up listening to….and I know I’m probably going to sound a lot like my Dad when I say this, but that’s just how I am when it comes to my music.

And what were the songs on the radio when I first arrived in Sao Paulo back in April of 2010? Well, I was surprised to hear the same Black Eyed Peas, Britney Spears and David Guetta songs played almost on rotation for MONTHS. Sure, there was also a mix of Brazilian chart music being played alongside them too, but I was surprised that English speaking pop music was such a dominant and repetitive feature of the airways. 

I've now been in Sao Paulo for two years, and am going to use this blog to give you a brief rundown on my take on music here. If you're Brazilian or an expat in Brazil and you don't agree with what I say, you probably won't be alone. Music is after all a subjective thing, and I'm also used to people disagreeing with my music tastes! 

My credibility in any music-based conversation was seriously damaged the day I auditioned for Pop Idol (the original American Idol) in an ill-fitting Elvis suit. I did it "for a laugh and to see if I can get on the TV". Needless to say I did, I had THE shortest audition in the shows history (I told Simon Cowell to shut up before I started singing....well, he is annoying isn't he!).I made a commercial for McDonalds and my clip even ended up on World Idol, broadcast in loads of different countries. 

It was shown under the 'here are some of the worst clips from around the world' section. Unsurprisingly then, my opinion on music doesn't hold much clout among my friends! So tell me my views on Brazilian music are wrong...go on, do it, I can definitely take it!

The title for this blog was inspired by a Pop Idol highlights show I featured in, called "Pop Idol: The good the bad and the ugly"....where I was on right at the end!

The Good

Samba Music


A few samba artists were on my student’s list because (and forgive me for pointing out the bloody obvious here) samba is extremely popular in Brazil. But if I’m being completely honest, up until just a few months ago I didn't really understand its appeal. I mean, I liked it, but at the risk of sounding like one of those ignorant expats who don’t make an effort to appreciate local culture (again!), I thought it all sounded the same. I kept this thought to myself for a long time. Then after a few drinks at a staff party, I broached the subject with an American colleague.
Live samba

“Seriously, you’re not alone in thinking this” she began. “I’ve been in Brazil now for over twenty years and samba songs STILL all sound the same to me. I just can’t get into it in the same way my Brazilian friends do”.

Hearing this was reassuring because whilst I was open to the idea of enjoying samba, I'd resigned myself to thinking I was just someone who didn't ‘get it’. I mean, a few Brazilians have pointed out that they feel this way about British guitar music, that to them it all sounds the same. So I'd guessed that maybe enjoying samba was a cultural thing too.

This all changed the day my housemate invited me to join her at a free samba party in the street near our house. I accepted her invitation, but wasn't really expecting much from it. Yet as we walked towards the square full of people dancing and drinking around a live samba band, my attitude towards it changed almost instantly. There was a great atmosphere, and what struck me most was that there were people of different generations and walks of life there, all just enjoying the music and having a good time.

It seemed really unpretentious. I didn't see anybody judging anybody else for dancing badly either, which was definitely a bonus because it made me and my ‘Mr Bean at a rave’ style of samba dancing feel a whole lot more comfortable. You see…I really can’t samba. I've tried several times to copy the steps, but then I give up after about ten minutes of some patient Brazilian teaching them to me, because I KNOW I look like someone who just needs to use the bathroom…really badly!




Watching Brazilian women samba properly is beautiful, almost an art form, and seeing guys dancing well is pretty impressive too. So I, like many other foreigners who turn up at these parties, go to drink, dance in my own unique and non-Brazilian way; and because of the nature of these samba parties....nobody really cares less how you dance.  

Whilst I’m still not able to differentiate between the different samba songs, I’d say that these parties are now among my favourite events to go to. The thing I appreciate the most about this style of music is its energy, and going to these parties has definitely enhanced my enjoyment of samba. I feel like I 'get it' a whole lot more now.

Bossa Nova

When I asked my Portuguese teacher what Brazilian music he enjoyed, he answered without so much as pausing for thought, "bossa nova".

“You've heard the bossa nova song The Girl From Ipanema, right?”



"Girl From Ipanema? Isn’t that samba?" I thought to myself….well I later found out that it isn't. Whilst bossa nova has its roots in samba, if you were to compare the two, bossa nova has more of a classic, laid back and jazzy vibe to it. It is also the genre of Brazilian music my older students in particular like to recommend to me.

I have to say that having listened to quite a lot of it now, I find bossa nova to be very relaxing.

“Everything about The Girl From Ipanema is just fantastic, the lyrics, the melody, the rhythm….it all comes from a golden era of Brazilian music. You had the likes of Chico Boarque, Elis Regina, Djavan and Gilberto Gil. They don’t really make quality music like this anymore” he sighed. This naturally led into a discussion on the Brazilian music he disliked, which brings me nicely onto….

The Bad

Sertanejo


Joao Kucas and Marcelo, doing 'the dance' to
Eu Quero Tchu
I know right, I'm being bloody CONTROVERSIAL aren't I! But before I talk about this style, I will first talk about two of the most annoying songs to have come out of Brazil this year. They were both sertanejo songs.

These two songs have been overplayed to the point of nausea, and anybody who has spent even just 30 minutes in Brazil this year will probably know what I’m talking about. I’m of course referring to Eu Quero Tchu, Eu Quero Tcha and Ai Se Eu Te Pego.

I remember hearing these songs for the first time within days of each other back in January, when my friend said these ominous words “you will absolutely hear these many now, especially during carnival”.

He was right, yet I didn't really appreciate just how right until a few months later. I remembered Rebolation being overplayed a few carnivals ago, and just like this song, these two songs also came with a dance routine (Brazilians LOVE their dance routines, especially during carnival!).

When Eu Quero Tchu, Eu Quero Tcha and Ai Se Eu Te Pego were played during this holiday period, you could see people getting up to do the dance. It was new, it was fun and people were obviously excited by the novelty of it all.

Yet fast forward six months and these songs were STILL being played in bars and clubs, and people were STILL dancing to them. A lot of Brazilians I talked to were telling me that they were really sick of them, yet despite this it was almost like there was no escaping from them ANYWHERE in Sao Paulo.

Neymar even got in on the act and made a video of himself dancing to Ai Se Eu Te Pego. This video went viral, and of course gave TV channels more reasons to play an Ai Se Eu Te Pego related video on their shows (which tells you something about the quality of Brazilian TV, but that's a whole different blog just waiting to be written!).

These shows were then able to talk about Neymar some more…which I suspect was probably the reason why he made the video in the first place. Not content with being a permanent fixture of sports reports and TV advertisements in Sao Paulo (and not forgetting of course being the face of an athletes foot powder)….I guess a viral youtube video was always going to be the next thing on Neymar's agenda!

As I've mentioned in a previous blog on football, it feels like there really is NO avoiding him in Sao Paulo!

  
In the UK, songs with accompanying dance routines are known as novelty songs. First they hit Europe where holidaying Brits hear them in bars, clubs and also their hotels. Many will learn the dance…then when they return to the UK and realise their holiday is over, by the time September / October rolls around, many will buy these awful novelty songs almost as a belated souvenir.

However it doesn't take long for people to realise that doing a dance routine in your living room, with the rain pounding against the windows and the central heating on, well…it just isn't the same. So these songs don’t really have a shelf life of longer than a few months in the UK.

This is definitely not true for this type of song in Brazil. I remember in August this year being in a club that was playing a variety of different kinds of music, and Ai Se Eu Te Pego came on (About seven months after it first became popular). Naturally a whole load of people flocked to the dance floor, and just a minute into the song, when my friend noticed me stood talking at the bar, he stopped dancing to come over and see what was wrong.

“Aren’t you having fun? Why are you not dancing?”

I don't think Michel Telo (the singer of this monstrosity)
knows how annoying he actually is!
There is nothing less fun than being asked by someone if you’re having it, especially if that person was singing Ai Se Eu Te Pego in your face just a few seconds before.

“No!” I responded, “I hate this song, aren't you sick of it yet?” (I have made myself sound like such a good time when I go out, haven’t I!) However in his drunken haze he appeared confused, almost like he couldn't understand why I’d grown to hate the song already, after just seven months!

Well luckily in the last few months these two songs have disappeared from radios, DJ’s have stopped playing them in clubs, and so too have the people who used to blast them out of their car stereos. The novelty finally appears to have worn off….

Having been here through the Eu Quero Tchu, Eu Quero Tcha and Ai Se Eu Te Pego days, I can confirm Brazilians in general have a much higher tolerance for overexposed music than British people.

Sertanejo can’t be all bad though, can it? Well it is the most played genre of music on Brazilian radio, and after discovering this I thought that perhaps I should look past these two awful songs to see if there are any other sertanejo songs that I like.

There aren’t.

After telling a Brazilian friend that I was writing this blog, in a last ditch attempt to convince me that sertanejo isn't all that bad he posted me several youtube links. Admittedly there are some songs he recommended that I thought were pleasant….like this one.



But for whatever reason, I just can’t get excited about this style. Country music isn't popular in the UK, maybe this is why I've not taken to it. Or maybe it has something to do with the bloody accordions they use more often than not!

One aspect I find odd is sertanejo's willingness to embrace this instrument. I only know of one accordion player back home, and that person (randomly) is my Mum. Around Christmas time every year my family and I persuade her to play it after she’s had one too many snowballs, or a little bit too much wine. After about 15 minutes we all clap, she finishes, and then her accordion gets put back into its case, not to be seen again for another year.

Accordions...they are to sertanejo what guitars are to
Rock and Roll!
Other than this, I can say quite confidently that I will not hear an accordion being played for the remaining 364 days of the year. Yet here....I’m hearing accordion riffs almost daily.

Accordions in songs that aren't meant to be ironic….well, it still baffles me!

With carnival now just a few months away, I’m already bracing myself for the next batch of songs. Whether they are sertanejo songs or not remains to be seen…but I’m REEEEEEEEEEEEALLLLLLLLLLLLY hoping they aren’t!




The Ugly


Carioca Funk


When I first heard that Brazil produced its own ‘funk’, I assumed it would be something that sounded like the funk I was already familiar with, something like James Brown.

How wrong I was!
Mr Brown’s funk differs SO MUCH from the funk produced in Brazil; and to illustrate just how different these two styles are, let’s have a look at some of their lyrics.

James Brown- Sex Machine


Shake your arm
And use your form
Stay on the scene
Like a sex machine

Ooooooooooh….A bit naughty James!

 Sharm B- Pega Pega

(This roughly translates into British English as:) 
Come here sexy, because I know what you want.
And it's for me to put it in your arse hole.
Oh! So delicious!

I’m sure that you can see where I’m going with this!

The lyrics of funk carioca are famous for being vulgar…so naturally, I can’t help but be intrigued by them! These lyrics are often violent, sexually explicit and misogynist, and girls are frequently referred to as ‘cachorras’ (bitches) and ‘popozudas’ (large asses).

How delightful!

Funk is a little bit different in Brazil!
I can imagine why my students had failed to include any funk carioca on their list. I don’t think any self respecting business woman would want to be caught admitting to liking these songs in front of her peers, and it's not really appropriate for men to be telling women they like the genre in a work environment either.

Whilst funk carioca may have been a male dominated world, but more recently a new wave of female artist has emerged. Instead of taking the misogynist put downs lying down (excuse the pun!) they are now objectifying and trashing men through their own music.

It’s a little bit like when Frankie released F*ck You Right Back in response to Eamon’s F*ck It (I don’t 
want you back) in 2004….actually, I guess it really isn’t because Frankie wasn't NEARLY as crude as her funk carioca counterparts!
  
I swore a few times and made LOADS of money with my
music 10 years ago...
but I doubt I'd have lasted more than 2 minutes in Brazil!
Yet the main reason I find this style interesting, is not simply because of it’s lyrical content (I mean, I don’t really understand a lot of what is being sung half the time. I haven’t covered ‘bitches’ and ‘large asses’ in my Portuguese classes yet!)...but because of the way it inspires a particular type of Brazilian lady to dance.

There is a saying in Brazilian Funk that goes like this: Ladies, don’t just dance to funk carioca. Dance to funk carioca like you’re a wildly aggressive nymphomaniac absolutely DESPERATE for sex.

Actually, this is not true, I just made it up. But if there ever was a saying to inspire women to dance the way they do, then I’m sure this is how it would sound. If I’m sounding prudish here then I do apologise, but I am from the country that gave the world Downton Abbey, and after living here for a while now I have come to accept that my views on these things are....a little more conservative!

If you want to know what I’m talking about, take a look at this video:



It’s incredibly subtle, naaaaaaaaaaaaaaat! About as subtle as a sledge hammer!

This style of music was born in favelas, and is largely popular in these communities. It is definitely a Marmite style of music, with the majority of my female students turning their noses up at funk carioca whenever it gets mentioned. “Andrew, this music is so ugly and it portrays Brazilian woman in a way that is definitely not how we want the rest of the world to view us”.

I've had several of my female students tell me that they are conscious of the perception the western world has of women in Brazil. I even had one tell me that when she is on the phone to a western guy for the first time, she can’t help but wonder if the guy on the other end thinks he is talking, not to a Brazilian business woman…but to a highly sexualised woman who likes to parade around in carnival style clothing of feathers and sequins on her day off.
"Hi, you're through to Michelle in the Brazilian office,
I understand you wanted to talk to me about
private equities?"

I guess the more well known funk carioca becomes known around the world, the more it perpetuates the idea abroad that Brazilian women are highly sexualised beings. In this new economic climate, it does little to promote them as successful business professionals...but let’s be honest, who is going to write a song about that!

Funk carioca gives a voice to the underclass and not to the Brazilian population in general, which is the point. 

Whilst my focus on funk carioca so far has been on discussing how sexuality is expressed through the genre, the lyrics also deal with other subjects of importance to favela communities, such as (among other things) racial pride, social injustice and poverty.

It would be all too easy to write off the genre as simply being ugly and degrading, yet there is obviously a lot more to it. And despite being aware of it for a long time now, I still find it fascinating...where else in the world would women dance about social injustice in this way!?!

So there you have it, my take on Brazilian music. And as I close this blog entry, I feel like I have definitely still only scratched the surface, there are so many other styles I've not even mentioned such as MPB, axe, pagode and forro that are also a big part of Brazil's musical legacy.

I just wish I'd taken the time to enlighten myself on Brazilian music a whole lot earlier than I did, it would have prevented that awkward moment class!

13 comments:

  1. I'm Brazilian and I enjoyed your article. As a native, I pretty much hate all our national music. There is nothing of worth in any of it. Well, maybe except bossa nova.

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    1. Hey Sam, I'm glad you enjoyed the blog.

      I have to say though, I disagree with you when you say that none of Brazil's music except bossa nova has any worth. From what I've heard in my time here, Brazil has such a rich music scene (Obviously I'm not including sertanejo here, although I appreciate that others may think there is some worth in it!).

      But I'm with you on bossa nova being among Brazil's best. Thanks for checking the blog out!

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    2. The thing about "sertanejo" is that the new form of this genre became too influentiated by Funk, hence why it's so bad now.

      That may sound hipster, but the old "sertanejo" used to be better. The lyrics was about love (they were usually reffered as "música de corno" "Cuckold music") and they were meant to be something pleasant to listen, and other songs were for parties, meant to be danced in couples (which is becoming each time less commom).

      Some artists still makes musics like this, like Vitor e Leo and Paula Fernandes (yet the second is becoming more MPB like-ish, but still very good).


      But as someone said in an earlier comment, if you want to listen to good brazilian music, you must forget about radios and parties. There are so much things to explore in brazilian music, a lot of different rhytms, styles, influences, you could spend years without listening a bad song if you make the right playlist.

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  2. We have some really great rock, acoustic, ska, some good drum n bass,... Alternative rock is definitely a huge thing in Brazil, with more bands that I can count... Try Capital Inicial, Engenheiros do Havai, Legiao Urbana, Jota Quest, Paralamas do Sucesso, Frejat, Pity, Ira, etc.

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    1. Thanks for checking the blog out, and thanks for the tips! I will give them a listen when I'm back from my holiday!

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  3. Sweet article Mr. Creelman.

    It is totally understandable your lack of interest in Brazilian music as, just like in England, the decaying music industry sucks.

    In England, the radios still have OFCOM trying to ensure a minimum quality and variety on what is broadcast.

    In Brazil, jabá (our payola) rules, so if you are interested in the wide spectrum of music made by Brazilians, the dial is the last place to look for it.

    You'll notice by the reactions to this post across the internet that, in reality, most Brazilians are pretty ignorant about the richness and diversity of our music.

    I can't avoid peddling my wares suggesting you a weekly dose of Caipirinha Appreciation Society to increase your knowledge on Brazilian Music Beyond The Cliché... http://caipirinhasociety.com

    Cheers and enjoy your holidays.

    MdC Suingue

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  4. I don't like the new layout of your blog.

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  5. Hi!
    Your blog is great! It's fun to see things from such a different perspective!
    I'm brazilian, born and raised in Sao Paulo, but I had to live all around for work (from 6 months to a year and half), so I know what you go through, my friend. Trust me!

    But when you talk about music, you step in very dark area for me. So please, please, preety preety please don't listen to people here that tell you to go to "Capital Inicial, Jota Quest and Pitty" for Brazilian music. Just don't. Wow! Don't! They're DEFINITELY not the ones responsible for making Brazilian music so famous around the globe.

    If you wanna understand a bit of the history of it all, go to 'Os Mutantes' (http://youtu.be/WxwQhrfTEc8) and 'Novos Baianos' (http://youtu.be/uUyBkJfU6OI) they were inspirations for The Beatles and will still be quoted as inspirations for bands that will come up in the next 10, 15, 20 years if you ask me, because they made history that can't be erased.

    Apart from the "sound" that is just beautiful, they began to give voice to the youth in a time of serious repression and censorship. Music played a MAJOR role at that time. If you have any interest, it's one of the coolest things (possibly THE coolest) about brazilian music history. Everyone had to start making music with double meanings because they couldn't make any political statements anymore, so they used music for it. Then came the Tropicalia with 'Caetano Veloso' (http://youtu.be/4tzSETbQcJk), 'Gilberto Gil', 'Tom Zé', and many others who are still strong names in brazilian music today. And also 'Chico Buarque', that in that political phase had some of the most poetical lyrics. There are maaaany documentaries about that period, if you ever feel like getting into that, just google it and you'll be good to go!

    Of course that there are some more current stuff too. 'Los Hermanos' (http://www.youtube.com/user/loshermanosVEVO // http://youtu.be/YKtcy44EevE) is a very popular band here. I'm not a fan, but A LOT of people are. And they do have content, I must admit. Mallu Magalhães (http://www.mallumusic.com.br/) is a hipster girl who's on the rise. There's this other girl who's new called Céu (http://www.ceumusic.com/) who's pretty good; Tulipa Ruiz who's the same style as Céu and her album has been getting a lot of praise (http://tuliparuiz.com/); oh and there's this guy Silva, there's probably different from all of the above (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzE9Po-bAYo)

    What I'm trying to say is, you've been here long enough to learn not to go for the stereotypes! C'mon, girl! ;)

    Let me know what you think, if you actually listen to anything posted here! Hope you enjoy it!

    Good luck!

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  6. Hey, thanks for taking the time to leave me such a great comment! I have just listened to all of the videos you suggested, and really enjoyed Novos Baianos. One of the things I appreciate about posting my blogs, are comments like yours...so thanks again!

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  7. Hi Creelman,
    I'm brazilian and i am in London to study English for 1 year. I was trying to find something on the internet about "the common english mistakes for brazilians" and now i can't stop learning your blog. It's really good and for me specially: i'm trying to understand the differences about our culture. I know the "Brazilian side" and with you i'm learning "the British side".
    I totally agree with you about the good and bad music! And specially the "ugly music". Funk carioca it's not music. :-(
    Good luck in Brasil, with S. :-)

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    1. Hey Maria, thanks for your comment, and good luck in London too! I imagine you will find the differences in our cultures as fascinating as I do!

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  8. As an English musician living in the interior of Brazil - here's my 2 cents. I personally do not enjoy 99% of Brazilian music - believe me I have tried. I blame the Portuguese (as for a lot of the things that are messed up in Brazil) :-D ...for those irritating melodies and not so interesting rythyms....I like music from ALL over the globe, BTW, and I have a massive collection. Anyway, of course there are, for me, some notable exceptions including Tom Zé, Elza Soares, Egberto Gismonti, Nação Zumbi, Tania Maria and anything by the great composer Villa Lobos. Samba and Bossa Velha don~t float my boat and as for Sertaneja, well, just don~t go there.

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    1. There are some artist names I'm not so familiar with here, and will be checking them out later...so thanks a lot for your 'two cents' and for checking out my blog!

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