rio record store brazil
Tourists and locals gather at Vinil do Mustafa's monthly dance party. | Photo by Maria Magdalena Arréllaga for Thrillist
Tourists and locals gather at Vinil do Mustafa's monthly dance party. | Photo by Maria Magdalena Arréllaga for Thrillist

Rio’s Best Party Happens Once a Month at This Tiny Record Store

Vinil do Mustafa is a treasure trove of 1970s Tropicalía music.

It’s just after sunset on the first Saturday of the month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and a crowd of revelers are rolling into Vinil do Mustafa record store, dragging their feet in Havaianas. Everyone’s here—young people, old people, locals, foreigners, hipsters, children, dogs. Working the turntable is Mustafa Baba-Aissa, a 53-year-old Brazilian DJ who wears round glasses with thick frames, has an infectious smile, and prefers to be referred to by only his first name. He’s waving guests in while spinning a healthy mix of soul, funk, and jazz.

“Music’s been a passion all my life,” says Mustafa, who started DJ-ing at the fresh age of 16.

One might not expect a fête to succeed in such close quarters, but in Rio, nothing’s ever that serious. The event, which only happens once a month, kicks off outside in the afternoon, as friends of the shop spread out on rickety beach chairs, snack on empadinhas, and engage in some light head bopping. It’s only a matter of time before everyone is belting lyrics and spilling out of the crowded entryway that reads, So a cultura expulsa as coisas ruins das pessoas (“Only culture expels bad things from people”).

Mustafa’s record store sits at the top of a hill overlooking the Santa Teresa neighborhood. The tiny, low-slung shop, with its traces of colonial architecture, might not be marked by any official signage. But it’s awash with color—hand-painted with rainbow bull's-eyes and the true-to-life figures of samba legends Elza Soares and Clara Nunes. It’s no surprise the record store has found a home in Santa Teresa, a bohemian neighborhood famous for its artists. Some people say that to understand a city you must first understand its nightlife. That makes Vinil do Mustafa a must-visit.

Before Mustafa inhabited his current digs, he kept a shop nearby in the same neighborhood—a subterranean space that turned into an exclusive club every Thursday night. After the pandemic, however, the owner “wanted to see the sky.” In his new location, Mustafa boasts an impressive collection of everything you might expect, but he doesn’t say no to the odd ‘90s hip-hop album or movie soundtrack. It’s more important for the owner to keep his collection tight than to be picky about genre. “I don't want to sell records in bulk,” he says. “I don't want to have thousands of records, where you step into the store and you can't find what you're looking for.” Instead, he carefully curates his selection, some of which he sells on the cheap, though especially rare titles can bring in much more.

“I’m aiming for all kinds of crowds,” he says.

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A local legend, Mustafa has been DJ-ing for 37 years. | Photo by Maria Magdalena Arréllaga for Thrillist

Although he's originally from Algeria, the record store owner has spent 37 years spinning vinyls across Paris, London, Detroit, and the Canary Islands. Rio, he says, was purely a matter of coincidence. “I was playing a club in Paris and a Brazilian girl came up to me and said, ‘Man, if you go to Brazil, people are going to love what you do,’” he says. “I took a flight two days later, and I've been here for 21 years.”

That girl was right. Vinil do Mustafa has become a veritable point of interest for locals and internationals alike. And it’s this crisscross of customers that gives the store its communal spirit. Because when a tourist inevitably gets lost on the winding hills leading up to the shop, it’s likely a Carioca will ask, “You looking for Mustafa?” and walk them there, just because.

The DJ doesn’t buy his records online, nor does he sell them online. Because for him, it’s all about the experience of walking into the store and allowing room for discovery. When a customer shops at Vinil do Mustafa, a one-on-one taste session with the owner (and only employee) is almost guaranteed.

“Some people come with records in mind, but a lot of people don't know what they're going to buy and ask me to show them stuff they don’t know,” he explains. “They’ll stay around two hours, and we’ll listen to a lot of stuff together.” The only thing Mustafa will ask of you is that you remove your shoes at the door, so that you may take advantage of his plush rugs and cushions in the store.

Every now and again, a famous musician or DJ will drop by, driven by word of Mustafa’s treasure trove. Canadian jazz ensemble BadBadNotGood, the owner recalls, was one of the most memorable. “I opened the store for them for three nights in a row because they were crazy about the records,” he says.

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Vinil do Mustafa boasts an impressive collection of 70s Brazilian records. | Photo by Maria Magdalena Arréllaga for Thrillist

The allure of Mustafa’s store coincides with a renewed interest in Brazilian music, specifically Música Popular Brasileira, or MBP. “There’s a big revival of ‘70s music from Brazil,” Mustafa says. “People are discovering it, not only in Brazil, but also outside of the country.” An offshoot of bossa nova—the sophisticated blend of jazz and samba we’ve come to associate with “The Girl from Ipanema” (1964)—MBP sought to appeal to a wider audience with acoustic instrumentals and politically provocative lyrics.

This genre embraced the Tropicalía movement, which swept through the art, film, theater, poetry—and most profoundly—music of late 1960s Brazil. In 1967, the country was under full military dictatorship. Artists, seeking to reclaim a sense of cultural identity, looked to the work of modernist poet Oswald de Andrade who, in his Manifiesto Antropofágico, argued for feeding off of foreign influences to create something uniquely Brazilian.

When it came to music, Tropicalía embraced Brazil’s already diverse, regional sounds—like the high-pitched monkey howls created by the cuíca drum—and married them with edgier genres found abroad, like rock ‘n’ roll and psychedelia. “People started to listen to other music, especially English rock like the Beatles and French guys like Serge Gainsbourg,” Mustafa explains. “And they started to introduce electric guitars and other instruments that did not exist in Brazilian music.” Musicians Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were among the foremost proponents, producing the 1968 album, Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis, widely regarded as the movement’s musical manifesto.

These days, one can walk into any trendy natural wine bar in New York City and hear the tunes of some jazz-electronic or nu-disco musician sampling an MBP track, like Esbe’s rendition of Jorge Ben Jor’s “Oba Lá Vem Ela” (1970) in “Darling” (2015); or Poolside’s 2017 remix of Evinha’s “Esperar Pra Ver” (1971). Even Mustafa’s beloved BadBadNotGood welcomes Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai in their album Talk Memory (2021).

Meanwhile, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s animated docudrama They Shot the Piano Player premiered just last month in the US. The film follows an American journalist (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) who travels to Rio to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Brazilian pianist Francisco Tenório Júnior in 1976. The soundtrack features music by Veloso and Gil, as well as João Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, and Paulo Moura.

The film, which is presented in the vibrant colors characteristic of Tropicalismo art, reflects the ways in which music runs like a current through Rio. It’s something Mustafa hopes to capture at his record store parties, as he transcends the mere bartering of vinyls. “The shop has to be alive,” he says, about what inspired him to host. “You have to feel the music.”

On that first Saturday of the month, Mustafa proves that a great set is one that doesn’t fall victim to a single genre. Peppered throughout his lineup of classic Brazilian tracks, for example, are a few outliers—“Da Funk” by Daft Punk; “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem; “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones—that are at once surprising and familiar. “I'm sharing something with people. I can feel it, and they can feel it. It's about an exchange: you and the crowd,” he says.

The thing about Brazilians, Mustafa notes, is that they love to sing along—a phenomenon he hasn’t quite experienced to the same extent DJ-ing in the other countries he once called home. “Even if it's in a different language, they like the music, they learn the lyrics, and they sing along,” he says. “It's just the way people behave in Brazil.”

For those who are looking to get into ‘70s Brazilian music, Mustafa recommends "undisputed king of soul and funk" Tim Maia, Gerson King Cumbo, Cassiano, and Marcos Valle, as well as musicians Robson George and Lincoln Olivetti, who despite only putting out one eponymous album, produced a ton of popular music.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this style of music—which Mustafa would probably argue is best experienced against the backdrop of Pão de Açúcar—is that it's like an everlasting souvenir. Once you hear it in Rio, you’ll hear it everywhere else, too.

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.