With a glass harp, two drummers and a self-made pot guitar, Os Barbapapas from Sao Paulo created their unique, futuristic style on the album “Enigma”.

Os Barbapapas trapeze the vast richness of Brazilian/South American music heritage and beyond, as a collective with members who have variously traveled to Morocco to master Gnawa; played in circuses, or were born in the heartland of samba – these experiences and much more inform the complex yet breezy instrumentals of Enigma. In 2019 fellow labelmate Pedro from the The Düsseldorf Düsterboys reported back to the Fun in the Church HQ after spotting the band as a clear stand out in the São Paulo scene. The label approached Os Barbapapas, who were stocked with the material for a first album, before the horrors of 2020 began to occur. This contract turned into a beam of positivity as it fostered a series of online concerts featuring unique compositions written for the band to perform whilst live in isolation. Those recordings became their first album, Doowoodoowoo. Viewing these performances online retrospectively, you can witness the gritty desire of Os Barbapapas to create – at all costs.

Atypical machinations

In 2022 the band was finally able to meet again and work in a studio with all the warmth and ingenuity that facilitated. Old songs were vamped up with the help of new band member Fernando Lima, and fresh tunes were inspired from the next round of jams. One notable difference from the lockdown album to this studio work is the separation of the glass harp melodies from the guitar licks, so that counterpoint arrangements bulk the sound significantly. Tomás Gleiser is the designer of the recognisable glass harp instrument on this album, water-tuned glasses running through a wah wah and other pedals, which is one of the key elements of the band’s unique sound. Their inventions don’t stop there: “Yucumã” – the Ry Cooder-esque masterpiece – is played on the Copper Tacho Guitar, an instrument with 3 main strings played as a slide guitar and 10 sympathetic strings played as a harp, created by guitarist Selva Rubens.

Musical cotton candy

The quartet borrowed the name from a French cult cartoon series from the 1970s. Perhaps because the story’s bubblegum-coloured hero could contort his body at will, just as the band contorts the music. More likely, though, it refers to “Barbe à papa,” the French term for cotton candy, because the sound of the glass harp has a similarly fluffy consistency and is perhaps meant to be an antidote to the madness of thirteen-million-person São Paulo.

It’s a joy to pick through the notable influences that resound over Enigma. Ethiopian Jazz bursts from “Caminho para Itiwawa”, backed by an Afro-Latin swing, fostered by drummer Barbara Mucciollo. There’s tonalities from North African artists such as Omar Khorshid or West African artists such as Tinriwen and Ali Farka Touré, as well as rhythmic influence from Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music. The dynamite track “(L)Atitude(S)” contains the explorative excitement of Brazilian 60s luminaries like Pedro Santos, however none are as special as layered percussion of “Gaba Gaba”, connected to the very specific rhythms of Northeast Brazil.

It’s evident from listening to Enigma that Os Barbapapas are an exceptional live band. They have their sights set on Europe soon, with the Glass Harp packed away safely. Until then,please enjoy this electrifying album of their work so far, understanding: this is an extremely exciting project, still in its auspicious infant years. 

The four-piece band not only has a sense of humor, but also an artistic image. In photos and music videos, she presents herself all in red in front of a deep red background. You might think they are misguided ambassadors of Brazilian music, but this exceptional band needs to be classified globally. Among the many other bands that also make atypical instrumental music, such as Khruangbin or Hidden Orchestra. It is music that touches the heart and soul and is now finding many fans around the world.

NMR (foto: press Os Barbapapas)