Words: Jesse Bernard
Speaking on the journey of grime, jungle and garage in the UK, in a 2019 interview with the legendary Sweetie Irie, he told me: “Reggae is the tree from which all those scenes have grown.” But over the course of the past seven years, I also found this to be true of music in Brazil, particularly Baile funk. While the sound derives from the imported Miami bass, its origins can be traced back to soundsystem culture.
As an 11-year-old hearing the sounds of grime in 2002, I would have never imagined that the music I’d discovered largely through Bluetooth files and tinny radio recordings would one day take me to the other side of the world for my first film project, COMO VOCÊ (Like You). It’s reductive to believe that grime is only a space for emcees, DJs and producers, but I think back to those moments in the playground where we shared music through infrared and the earliest forms of Bluetooth technology; those moments after school where a trip to Manic Vinyl in St. Albans to hear early white labels meant that the chances of you bumping into your favourite spitter before they clashed on the shop’s radio station, Manic FM, were high; those moments where everyone had a book of bars, only to have a signature 16-bar verse you would spit in the playground. In grime, the door was always open because there were no rules.
20 years later, after having forged a successful career as a writer with a focus on grime, it’s really starting to hit home that the genre doesn’t exist in the way it does without all those on the periphery of creation—those who ensure that the periphery continuously expands, to the point that it is now arguably the most influential subculture in Britain. To be one of those on the ground in its new home in Brazil (see also: Elijah from Butterz’s BRIME project) was truly life-changing. Spending six months in the South American country as the writer and director of COMO VOCÊ—while immersing myself so much that it’s become an adoptive home—was an empowering experience, too, in that I saw first-hand how this project inspired some of the creatives there.
I met a young guy from TBC Mob—a local music and art collective—called Bolin, who was close friends with artists such as Drope and SD9, and perhaps I took for granted what my presence in Brazil would mean for a young person from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious favelas, a man with few opportunities to get ahead that he decided to create his own. Bolin bought a simple 35mm camera with some film and, after less than a year, he has become a photographer to watch (during Lollapalooza back in March, he managed to get some epic shots of Kaytranada backstage). Bolin documents daily life in his favela of Parque Uniao, giving us a window into the misunderstood community he’s from, and he was instrumental in the scene I was about to explore.
During the filming process, those around me inspired me to find a way to build COMO VOCÊ beyond just the film and to create a bridge between Brazil and the UK. In its current form, COMO VOCÊ is a grime lifestyle brand—one that aims to serve both communities. It’s the destination for those looking to buy into the energy of grime—whether that’s live events, merchandise, music or film, COMO VOCÊ embodies the growing international ecosystem of grime with one eye firmly fixed on the future. This isn’t about what grime was or is, but what it can be. Creating this doc was the ideal project to begin my career in film; it reiterated the value of pouring into something that has given so much.
But it wasn’t all roses, caipirinhas and trips to the beach: from early on, I saw the underbelly of Brazil and the reasons why many want to escape the country. In between the police stops, being held at gunpoint and other failings of the state, it’s important for people to see Brazil as it is: a land of complex beauty that possesses a numbing sorrow. But still, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
More recently, East London’s Jammz spent a few weeks in Brazil, touring the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I wasn’t there, unfortunately, but I can only imagine what his presence did for the MCs he shared a stage with and the crowds that saw him perform. Next year, South London Space Agency will be in Brazil working with Brasil Grime Show and I anticipate further growth for the scene out there. It’s one thing to exchange ideas and connect online, but when we—as Black people—physically move across borders in hopes of creating something new, the dance can never dun. I’m grateful because that’s what grime is: creating something from nothing and imagining new pathways for yourself. Paying it forward can be as simple as inspiring someone with your presence and showing people that there is a way.
I have to give my deepest thanks to Brasil Grime Show, particularly Yvie, Diniboy and Rennan, for providing the space for us to help us create this film. Wander, you’ll always have my gratitude; there were a lot of late nights and stresses getting this project into the world, and I can’t wait until our next project together. To Cesrv, Febem and Fleezus—the first artists I spoke to during their first trip to London in 2019—to SD9, Drope, Marley, KL, Javan, Juanzin, Bolin and the rest of the TBC Mob, thank you all for inviting me into your neighbourhoods as an outsider and allowing me to tell your stories through the lens of grime. I broke bread with you and your families, spent time with your children as though I were a long-lost uncle, and you are the reason I will keep returning. To Peroli, it has been an honour to know you as a colleague, friend and sister. Thank you to the rest of the crew for your artistry and passion—you’re part of something special. Last, but by no means least, Gustavo—we spent six months together working on this and very quickly became brothers in arms.
It’s not hyperbole when I say that I left my heart in Brazil.
Pra cima, tamo junto. To the top, we’re together.