--by Matt Scott
Forty Fivan is one of the top rare groove DJs and vinyl collectors in the San Francisco Bay Area. He spins funk and soul records from around the world, and has become an aficionado of Brazilian music. Long-time listeners of The Vinyl Exam podcast will remember his appearances in the early days of the show. This author’s personal favorite is his “45 Friday” episode about tracking down Purple Snow’s soul cover of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.”
Now Forty Fivan has started Novedos, a podcast devoted to his deep Brazilian collection. Offering up nine tracks each episode centered around a theme (the title means “nine of” in Portuguese), the podcast reflects Forty Fivan’s adventurous taste and wide-ranging knowledge of Brazilian music. There are spoken introductions to each track, with the host sharing stories behind the artists and his own discovery of the records.
We chatted with Forty Fivan about the new podcast, his recent trip to Sao Paulo, the first Brazilian record he ever bought, and the LP he calls his most prized possession by far.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Vinyl Exam: As a DJ you bounce around a bit between genres. How did you decide to focus on Brazilian music for the podcast?
Forty Fivan: I started as a hip-hop DJ in the mid-to-late 90’s, and then I got into breaks and started buying funk, soul, and jazz. That led to funk and soul 45’s, which was my main thing for a while. But then I got into Brazilian records about 10 years ago, and it’s become a bit of a collector obsession for me. I was never much of a completist from a catalogue perspective, but for some reason I wanted to have, like, all of the Brazilian records. [Laughs.] When I was thinking about what to do next—because I don’t play out as much as I used to, and I was only releasing one mix every year or so—I came up with the format [for the podcast] of nine tracks, not DJ’d, just played all the way through with a quick introduction into each track. I went with Brazilian music because that’s been my passion for the past few years.
TVE: How did you settle on nine tracks per episode? I know that’s the meaning behind the title.
FF: Yeah, Novedos means “nine of…” in Portuguese. It’s gonna sound funny, but I got the domain name www.novedos.com, and I tend to pick things based on that. [Laughs.] Also, I liked how it would look geometrically—a nice three-by-three grid of nine album covers in a square as artwork for each episode.
TVE: On The Vinyl Exam podcast you talked about first getting into Brazilian music after finding a record in the dollar bin. How did that lead to the huge collection you have now?
FF: I went to Santa Clara University in the late 90’s, and there was a record store nearby called Big Al’s Record Barn. That’s really where I got my start digging for records. [A local fixture for decades, Big Al’s closed its doors in 2013. Owner Al Farleigh sadly passed away the following year. – ed.] I would skateboard to the store and sit for hours on the floor flipping through 45’s. In 2004 or 2005, I was still going there regularly and I stumbled across the album Africa Brazil by Jorge Ben in the dollar bin out front. Jorge Ben is basically the James Brown of Brazil—he’s been releasing albums steadily since 1963. Africa Brazil is probably his most famous and funkiest record. It’s not impossible to find, but certainly not something you’d expect to see in a dollar bin in San Jose. I just randomly picked it up because it looked interesting. That’s how I got started with Brazilian music – I started with the best and went from there! I was into mid 70’s funky rare grooves at the time, and one track on the album, “Ponta De Lanca Africano,” is pretty famous in the hip-hop DJ world because it’s got that nice beat. So I just assumed there would more [Brazilian music] out there like that. It fit the sound I was into at the time and then I explored more Brazilian styles from there.
TVE: One of the first tracks you played in the first episode of Novedos was an Arthur Verocai record, which you called your most prized possession by far. I’m curious to hear more about that record and why you chose it, out of all discs in your collection, to kick off the show.
FF: I plan to follow a theme for most episodes, but for the first episode, I just wanted to pick some favorites spanning different genres. So I grabbed everything from bossa nova to psych rock to more poppy, MPB samba stuff, which included my Arthur Verocai record.
Verocai was a somewhat well-known producer in Brazil who produced for Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, and a few other artists. He only cut one solo album in 1972 on Continental Records, and it didn’t do well commercially—most copies were pretty much lost. Then sometime in the mid 90’s, collectors discovered the album and it became known as a mythical rare record, a holy grail. It was probably the most sought-after record in Brazil, and it stayed that way for very long time. Luv ‘n Haight records reissued it in the early 2000’s, but the original copies stayed at the top of everyone’s want list. In 2008 or 2009, I bought a copy on eBay. It wasn’t cheap, but I just had to have it.
Then as luck would have it, a few months later, Stones Throw Records convinced Arthur Verocai to come up to LA and perform the album live with a 30-piece orchestra. It was a no-brainer that I would go to the show, so I flew down to LA. and I brought my original copy of the record to get it signed. I was very nervous because it’s a $1000-plus record, and here I am walking around a concert holding it. Then during intermission, Egon from Stones Throw, the emcee of the night, got on stage and gave a speech about how rare the original record is and how nobody has it. So I used that opportunity to run up to the stage with the record, basically waving him down, yelling, “Hey hey, I’ve got one!” Egon looked down, and he said, “Who’s this guy interrupting the show? ….Wait really? An original copy?!” Then he grabbed my record and held it up in front of the packed auditorium! And he told me to find him after the show.
After the concert, I walked backstage with a crowd of people who were following me to see what would happen. Arthur Verocai came out and he signed the record. And he looked at the record, looked at me, and said in somewhat broken English, “You must be a very rich man!” There were also two players in the orchestra that night who also played on the original album, so they came running over and signed next to their names inside the gatefold.
So that record is by far my most prized possession. It’s a great record, too—it’s not just rare! Mr. Bongo Records recently reissued it in higher quality, so it’s obtainable now – but the original will never be topped.
TVE: You were in Sao Paulo a few weeks ago, and in Episode 3 you shared your finds from the trip. Tell us about your trip and digging there.
FF: Well first, I got engaged while I was there. My girlfriend and I went down to San Paulo for our official engagement trip. But she knows that I have to go spend my time at the record stores! [Laughs.]
In downtown Sao Paulo there’s a strip mall packed with ten or fifteen record stores all next door to each other, and I make a trip over there every time I’m in town. At one shop, Disco Sete, the owner currently loves 80s soul, funk, and rock from the U.S. So I always bring a stack from here, and we’ll trade 10 records, and I’ll get back some really good Brazilian records. There is also a store called Celsom – the owner is blind, but he knows where everything is, and his wall of records is always the top, top stuff – it’s not cheap. If I had been going in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, then [classic Brazilian records] would have been really cheap. Now the stores know what they have, so you have to pay up. But you still find good deals because the exchange rate is favorable.
TVE: What can we look forward to on upcoming episodes of Novedos?
FF: I’ve only covered a few genres so far—it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m excited to get into my compacto collection–the 7 inch records—that’s where things get really obscure. I’ve been finding a lot of really good one-off bossa nova single releases from the mid to late 60’s. I’m going to start getting into my psychedelic rock and folk records. And I’ll do some episodes devoted to specific artists. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming.