Nostalgia Was My Inspiration: An Interview with Lucas Santtana

By 30 August, 2011

Like many new Brazilian artists I first encountered the music of Lucas Santtana on Mais Um Disco‘s excellent Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira! album from last year. Santtana’s “Hold Me In” featured on that album and was instantly one of the stand-outs. So, when I saw that Santtana would be performing with Karina Buhr, Arnaldo Antunes and João Brasil in Rio de Janeiro while I was in the city I jumped at the chance. It was there that I realised the wide-ranging ambition of this artist.

As well as playing the more upbeat numbers off his latest album Sem Nostalgia Santtana played dub music, covers of Tom Zé, deranged mashups and a collection of vibrant funk tunes that recalled the rhythmic thrust of the best of Jorge Ben. This experience led me on a voyage in which I explored the older albums of Santtana’s career, starting with the afro-funk of Eletro Ben Dodô, hitting the glittering electro-funk of Parada de Lucas and into the homegrown dub of 3 Sessions In A Greenhouse before coming back to Sem Nostalgia and realising that this was a serious body of work, and what that deserves more attention from the international press that it gets at the moment.

From my very brief descriptions of the albums above you will already have realised that Santtana is an artist who likes to change his skin a number of times. However, always he keeps a few details in check: namely his voice which always acts as the fulcrum, and also the catchy riffs and sense of urgency which suck you in straight away when listening to all of his discs. Once that is in place he creates a backdrop using elements of both Brazilian and global culture, which highlight something I called “restless cosmopolitanism” in another article and which often is referred to as “cultural consciousness” or a post-modern method of working. Essentially, Santtana makes music that is able to fit within both Brazilian and International musical spheres while also being of the highest quality.

If it seems like this was too long an intro, then you’re probably right. Here’s Santtana to explain the rest…

So, first of all, congratulations on Sem Nostalgia getting a UK release. Is this the first album of yours to be released in the UK?

Yeah, it’s my first release in Europe, and also in Australia, New Zealand and Germany. It will also be released in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile in September. Before 3 Sessions was released in Japan and South America (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile), but this is my first one in Europe.

What was the inspiration or idea behind Sem Nostalgia?

I used Nostalgia as my inspiration. What inspired me was the format of violão, the classical format of Brazilian guitar. The reality is that João Gilberto arrived with this style of playing guitar 50 years ago and since then nothing has changed, nobody has messed with the style, everyone is really respectful of it. It’s the same format that it’s always been, just guitar and voice.

So, I thought that I would make a disc of Brazilian guitar but in a different way, to play with the idea of tradition, show that as well as the two main instruments [guitar and voice] you can use lots of different sounds.

But, then when I presented the Sem Nostalgia as just a disc of guitar to people they weren’t convinced by the idea of a disc of many guitars. For them a normal disc is with a variety of instruments. Because of this I had to convince them that this could be done, that you could make an album with just guitars.

Here’s the video for “Super Violao Mashup” which was the first single off the album:

And what was the process of making this album like, or rather, how did it differ to previous albums?

It was intense. The music was really good, really rich. I worked with many different producers and each has helped me to define the sound of each track.

How did the collaboration with Arto Lindsay come about?

Arto in the beginning was a partner, we composed songs together, because at the end of the 90s I played on some of his albums. Almost all of his albums of this period had me on as a musician.

On 3 Sessions In A Greenhouse we recorded “Into Shade” that is a song of ours that we recorded for an album of his [Arto’s 2004 album Salt]. And then we recorded a version for my disc too.

Here’s the version of “Into Shade” from Arto Lindsay’s Salt album:

So, we have been making music together for 10 years, and for this one we did “Night Time In The Backyard”, “I Can’t Live Far From My Music” and “Hold Me In.” Arto is my friend and musical partner too. Always we are making music together.

Do you think of Sem Nostalgia as a Brazilian or an international disc?

It’s a disc that has much from Brazil but also from the rest of the world. Maybe, this is why people from outside of Brazil are able to enjoy the songs more, especially those in English.

Also, I think with the Internet the distances are very small, the whole world has access, there are magazines published in other countries that you can read, and so on.

Why do you sing in English? [Especially prominent as this interview was done in Portuguese at Lucas’ request]

It’s like this. All my discs have songs in English, because in the end it’s very prominent in Brazilian culture. People watch lots of films in English, they listen to bits of music in English. It has a sound that I like that is present in the life of my friends, my son who learns English in school.

In the case of this disc when I spoke to Arto about making music, we always make music together in English, we’ve never made any song together that’s not been in English.

It was also about the space of the melody. In English the words have lots of phonemes so it’s a lot easier to make a little melody. This is what we did with “Who Can Say Which Way?” In Portuguese it’s much more difficult.

You are making another album at the moment?

Yeah, I’ve finished recording it and now we are mixing. Hopefully it will come out in January next year.

Okay, so to understand your influences somewhat, could you name five contemporary artists or musicians that you are influenced by?

Gui Amabis
Do Amor

And five antigos?

Jorge Ben
Tom Zé
Novos Baianos
Nação Zumbi
Dorival Caymmi

And that’s where we left it.

Sem Nostalgia was released by Mais Um Discos on August 29th and is available from Amazon and iTunes.

You can read our guide to Lucas Santtana’s previous albums here.

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