When Brasilintime premiered in Ireland and England in July a number of press pieces appeared. One journalist who interviewed director Brian Cross was Frank O' Connell. We publish an extended feature of his here:
Photographer and film maker Brian Cross admits that he knew very little about Brazil before beginning his latest project, a musical documentary called Brasilintime.
“To be honest I was a pedestrian to all things Brazilian before the RBMA (Red Bull Music Academy) gave me the invite to go out there. I had only scraped the surface before I went there, but after the time I spent there making the film, I know that Brazilians are proud of their culture, but in a critical way which I like. There are also many similarities between the Irish and Brazilians in terms of their culture of emigration”
Brasilintime is the latest visual offering from the Limerick man (known as B+ in hip hop circles) which documents how a crew of West Coast American Hip Hop DJs and legendary jazz drummers traveled to Brazil, and attempts to examine the relationship between present-day performers and the beatmakers of the past.
In Sao Paulo the Americans were joined by local musical legends, and what emerges is a fascinating exploration of Hip Hop across generations and continents.
Currently living in L.A., Cross grew up in the Park area of Limerick City where he played football and hurling for St Patricks GAA club, and represented Munster in rugby at U18 level.
An interest in photography was developed by his secondary school Arts Teacher in St Clements, and led to him taking a degree course in the National College of Art and Design. Cross emigrated to California in 1991 and befriended a music producer called DJ Shadow, a man who went on to remix U2 and whose tune “Stem” appeared in the famous Guinness surfer ad campaign in 1997.
He took the photo which appeared on the front of Shadows debut album “Entroducing”, a shot that featured vinyl buyers in a San Francisco Record Shop. This photo has since become as recognizable as the album itself as a portrayal of how dance music culture was about to leap into mainstream consciousness.
The exposure that came from the success of Shadows album has resulted in Cross working with Eminem, Lauryn Hill, Black Eyed Peas and John Lee Hooker.
Inspired by his love of photography and record collecting, his first venture in documentary making proper was with “Keepintime; Talking drums and whisperin vinyl”, which featured legendary jazz drummers attempting to link their original beats with the djs of today.
So what exactly is the difference between Brasilintime and Cross` first offering?
“Brasilintime is basically Keepintime on the road – except as opposed to doing some European, or Japanese dates , we are in Brazil. Brazil is the repository of a whole set of African and European traditions in music that describe the Americas but from a completely different perspective.”
“B-time tries to explain these differences to try to open up understandings of what makes US afro-traditions and Afro Brasilian traditions the same in many ways. So overall it’s about a journey, made by musicians and a metaphorical journey made by music itself.”
While making the film, he encountered many difficulties, something not as apparent as when he worked on his first project.
“It was lot more complicated – Keepintime was really a document of one moment whereas B-time is an attempt to contextualize a moment.”
“I have never done anything this ambitious, so there were many moments of self doubt and confusion. But somehow the music and the spirit of the drummers and djs always sustained us.”
Another event which influenced him was the passing of a close friend during production, Detroit hip hop producer and rapper Jay Dee, or J Dilla Dilla made his name in the Nineties working with De La Soul and Busta Rhymes, also producing tracks for Janet Jackson and Macy Gray. Cross reveals that his death had a profound influence on his output:
“His death was a tragedy. He was the first hip-hop producer to sample Brasilian music and to bring him diggin there was a very special experience. He was truly a huge talent.”
Cross still maintains an interest in his home city which he describes as being “very fertile with history” and believes his love of oral tradition which inspired the documentary stems from there.
“My interest in history and intergenerational stuff comes from there. When I was in my early 20s I did a big project on the Limerick Soviet for its 70th anniversary with local Labour politician, Jim Kemmy and he is very often on my mind.”
“I’m from Park that means a lot to me. It has its own identity, its own traditions, customs and culture. And intense interest in local history is part of that, the oral traditions that I saw as a whipper snapper have stayed with me.”
However it’s the theme of intercontinental connection and learning from the past which Cross believes can be of real value for the future.
“Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland, by Nancy Scheper-Hughes was a very popular book when I was at NCAD and to my surprise her follow up was Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil – these are the kind of connections that need to be made.
What Glauber Rocha and Tom Ze have described as the aesthetics of hunger. We need to decentre our perspective of the planet; Brasil offers us the opportunity to do that. Its something I remember hearing a lot of talk of this process in the 80s at NCAD but the real work is only beginning.”
Frank O' Connell
photo of B+ in Boat club by Paul Dowling