Obituary: Mamonas Assassinas

Philip Sweeney
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:15

The five members of Mamonas Assassinas shot out of nowhere to become the Brazilian teen pop sensation of the decade. They perished spectacularly together in a plane crash, leaving only one record, and were mourned by the Brazilian public and media as extravagantly as Ayrton Senna, the last great popular hero to be buried in Brazil.

"My grandchildren were very sad," President Henrique Cardoso commented in his note of condolence, and the culture minister stated that Brazil had lost "a singular manifestation of irreverent humour". The entire group, with two pilots and two technical staff, died when their rented Lear jet hit a hilltop approaching Sao Paulo airport, on the way back from the last concert of a national tour, and the Brazilian media quickly noted strong ironic elements to the story.

For one thing, their record company had been planning to "disappear" the group for a few months to whet public appetite for a new album in the summer. For another, aeroplanes featured strongly in the Mamonas' mythology. The cheerfully naive list of dedications on the sleeve of their hit album included, as well as the studio engineers who mixed the album in Los Angeles and the Mexican cleaner in their hotel, the inventor of the aeroplane, Alberto Santos- Dumont, for having made their first trip possible.

All five group members were in their twenties and grew up together in Guarulhos, the middle-class town next to Sao Paulo's airport. Pre-stardom, their lives appear to have been unremarkable. Alberto Hiroto, a guitarist, studied physics and took part in yo-yo competitions. Other members were office clerks or video store assistants. Alecsander "Dinho" Alves, the singer, chief lyricist and star personality of the band, worked as an assistant to a local town councillor. The group, initially called Utopia, was formed in 1989, and did the rounds of all the record companies unsuccessfully before EMI signed them as Mamonas Assassinas ("Killer Tits") and in January 1995 released their first album. By the end of the year it had sold 1.7 million copies, a remarkable feat in the recession-hit Brazilian music industry, and was a hit also in Argentina and Portugal, while Mamonamania gripped Brazilian youth, with hordes of screaming pubescent followers besieging their hotels, and Dinho and his new young model fiancee a staple of the gossip press.

Only the most besotted of fans would impute high musical quality to the Mamonas' record, and a common reaction among older Brazilians was scorn, turning on further exposure into amused fondness. The group's product was essentially straightforward rock, mixed with elements of what is often known as brega or tacky music, a lower-class country-like pop, of which the Mamonas cannily used the melodic catchiness while simultaneously parodying the redneck associations. Other key elements of the act were stage gear, a colourful jumble of shirts, T-shirts, pyjamas, convicts' outfits and silly hats - and, above all, headline-grabbing lyrics, slang-laden and risque and delivered in an assortment of comic accents.

Their huge hit "Animal World" is a sort of dirty nursery rhyme, comparing the delights of humping different species of animal, while "Vira Vira", which succeeded in being temporarily banned from radio, tells the tale of one Maria who, invited to an orgy, comes home a week later minus one breast and "so shagged out she couldn't sit down".

A minor, but clear strand of the Mamonas' work, visible in sharp little portraits of, for example, provincial social climbers hypnotised by shopping malls, was social satire, and it was this that impelled one Brazilian obituarist to say that the Mamonas' slight oeuvre, in its own way, described the destiny of Brazil.

Philip Sweeney

Alecsander Alves, singer: born 1972; died 2 March 1996. Alberto Hiroto, guitarist: born 1973; died 2 March 1996. Julio Rasec, keyboard player: born 1968; died 2 March 1996. Samuel Reoli, bass guitarist: born 1974; died 2 March 1996. Sergio Reoli, drummer: born 1972; died 2 March 1996.

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