If you look at a publicity photo of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton you might think they were Silicon Valley billionaires – early-40s, sharp dressers, serious demeanor. And while they do oversee a corporation in the tech sector, it’s beats, not bandwidth, where they make their mark.
Garza and Hilton are the DJ collective known as Thievery Corporation.
Thievery returns to Telluride as Saturday’s headliner at the Ride Festival this weekend. Their music explores myriad styles including Brazilian, dub, acid jazz, reggae, Indian and Middle Eastern rhythms. The band is also associated with the “trip hop” scene that emerged out of Britain in the 90s, a style of brekbeat Electronica heavily influenced by funk and soul.
But the band is best known for their incendiary live performances that often feature as many as ten to 15 musicians on stage at a single time.
It was their mutual love of Bossa Nova – the genre of Brazilian music that fuses samba and jazz – that brought Hilton and Garza together in the mid-90s. Their 1997 debut record, Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi, was dedicated to Bossa Nova pioneer Antônio Carlos Jobim.
Thievery immediately went to work on their second record, but its release was delayed when the master tapes were stolen in a mugging (which reminds me of an album by Big Head Todd and the Monsters that was delayed when a bear entered frontman Todd Park Mohr’s yurt and destroyed his master tapes).
Thievery released its second album, The Mirror Conspiracy, in 2000, which continued the exploration of Brazilian rhythms but also brought in multi-textured layers of Jamaican, funk, soul and jazz. The Mirror Conspiracy also introduced live musicians and vocalists into the mix, to great effect.The song “Lebanese Blonde,” a tune about Lebanese hash, is a highlight, featuring a live sitar, mixed with Jamaican horns, sultry vocals (“too low to find my way, to high to wonder why”) set to a funky trancelike beat. The song was featured in the 2004 movie Garden State, exposing Thievery to a wider audience.
Mirror Conspiracy featured singer Pam Bricker and the French vocalist Lulu on several tracks, collaborations that have continued to this day.
In 2002, The Richest Man in Babylon mined similar material form Thievery’s first two releases, but the band made a stylistic departure with 2005’s The Cosmic Game, a more psychedelic record that featured guest appearances by Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), Wayne Coyne (The Flaming Lips) and David Byrne.
The Cosmic Game is perhaps the band’s most accessible record. One of my favorite Thievery songs, “Warning Shots,” an up-tempo reggae hip-hop mash up, comes off The Cosmic Game.
In 2006’s Versions, Thievery tackled other artists’ songs and gave them the Thievery makeover, doing dub-style re-mixes of tunes like the Doors’ “Strange Days” and Quincy Jones’ “Who Needs Forever.” A highlight is Norah Jones’ vocals on Wax Poetic’s “Angel.”
Several Thievery tracks up until this point in their career had political overtones, from “Amerimaka” and “Revolution Solution” from The Cosmic Game and The Richest Man in Babylon (a title with political implications itself). In 2008 Thievery released its most overtly political record, Radio Retaliation. Armed with an international all-star cast of vocalists including Seu Jorge (Brazil), Femi Kuti(Africa), Anoushka Shankar (Ravi Shankar’s daughter from India) and Sleepy Wonder (Jamaica), the album takes aim at Washington corruption, African genocide and a slew of other geopolitical topics.
The album finishes on a softer note with a beautiful song (featuring the vocalist Lulu) devoid of political undertones called “Sweet Tides.” The chorus “sweet tides, pools of love, your eyes are filled with, sweet tides, pools of love…” suggests that in a world rife with corruption, the only true peace lies in the eyes of your loved ones. It’s perhaps my favorite Thievery song (and is included in the playlist on the website).
Culture of Fear (2011) continued along the political path laid out in Radio Retalitation, but less so than its predecessor. And thankfully, there are several more seductive cuts featuring female vocalists.
Earlier this year, Thievery did an about-face, and left politics and social activism behind (fine by me) and returned to their Bossa Nova roots with Saudade. The album is entirely dedicated to the Brazil-born genre.
“We always try to progress into something different and stretch our musical chops, and taking a whole album to dive into this one sound seemed like a really great way to do that,” says Hilton in a recent press release.” Adds Garza: “It’s a bit of a departure for us, but at the same time these are our roots, this is what brought us together. It’s us coming full circle from electronic music back to something organic before we move on to our next chapter.”
Saudade borrows its title from a Portuguese word meaning “a longing for something or someone that is lost, a contented melancholy, or, simply, the presence of absence.”
And like its title, Saudade is decidedly mellow. The disc is more appropriate for chilling out than rocking out, as it is a lush, dreamy record with every track featuring a female vocalist. The record features more instruments than previous Thievery releases.
But one thing is for sure, when Thievery takes the stage Saturday night, they won’t be playing melancholy Brazilian music (maybe a tune or two). They will pack the Fred Shellman Memorial Stage with musicians and set a torch to it.
01 Warning Shots.mp3
02 Samba Tranquille.mp3
03 lebanese blonde — thievery corpo.mp3
04 Firelight (Featuring Lou Lou Ghelichkhani).mp3
05 Focus On Sight.mp3
06 Heaven’s Gonna Burn Your Eyes.mp3
07 The State Of The Union.mp3
08 The Outernationalist.mp3
10 Truth And Rights.mp3
11 The Richest Man In Babylon.mp3
12 Liberation Front.mp3
13 Coming From The Top.mp3
14 The Mirror Conspiracy.mp3
15 Illumination copy.mp3
17 Until The Morning.mp3
18 Sweet Tides (feat. LouLou).m4a
19 From Creation.mp3
Category: One Step Ahead of the Blues