Tagua Tagua & Tanto

By 10 April, 2023

“I always want to do something contemporary,” Tagua Tagua says of his recent new album, Tanto.

Tagua Tagua is the alter-ego of Felipe Puperi. Before assuming this artistic identity, the singer, songwriter and producer from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, and now based in São Paulo, was lead vocalist for Wannabe Jalva. As the band’s front man, Puperi played at Lollapalooza Brasil and opened for Pearl Jam and Jack White. However, despite all the recognition, he wanted to do something different with a more Brazilian identity, and especially in Portuguese.

The change started when his band was invited to record the song “Mareá” in partnership with the musician Curumim in the now extinct Red Bull Studios. Having to put English aside to compose in his mother tongue was a challenge and, at the same time, the stimulus he needed to trigger the kinds of possibilities he had not yet experienced. “That stirred a lot of things in my head,” he says via Zoom. “Then I thought about doing something new to start exploring other things and just dived in head first.”

Before this, Puperi’s trip to Chile at the end of 2016 confirmed once and for all which path he should follow. Along with his mother, he went to a town in the interior of the country. Without knowing the name of the place, he asked a local resident where they were. The answer was: San Vicente de Tagua Tagua. The community by Lake Tagua Tagua in the province of Cachapoal, located in the O’Higgins Region, not only helped him find his destination, but also gave him the name for his project.

“I travelled with these ideas of making music in Portuguese, so the trip was very important to me. I came back with all these things in my head, which became Tagua Tagua”, he affirms. “Despite the experience, it took me a long time to release the first songs. After the initial singles, little by little I understood what exactly this project was: what I wanted to display musically, how to express myself in music. It started with this more ziriguidum (rhythmic) thing, went through various stages and got to where we are now.”

After experimenting with some singles and the EPs Tombamento Inevitável (2017) and Pedaço Vivo (2018), Tagua Tagua has established his musical personality somewhere in the psychedelic junction of soul, funk, tropicália and indie. Inteiro Metade (2020), the album that marks the debut of this phase, illustrated more explicitly the use of a variety of sound references, mainly from the 1970s: from Tim Maia to Hyldon, through Cassiano, to Marvin Gaye, Shuggie Otis and Al Green. Unlike its predecessor, Tanto, released by Wonderwheel Recordings, has more of an R&B slant.

Comparing the two, the artist himself agrees that the previous album follows a more soulful direction with heavy beats and brass lines. In the current one, he changed things because he wanted it to sound more linear, in a way that would take the listener from the beginning to the end without needing to change mood. This also gives the songs swing and sensuality. Doing it this way was the right way, in his words, to value his own songs.

“Sometimes you go to listen and there’s no rhythm that you tend to hear in Brazil; a kind of Afrobeat… so, I had a lot of that very strong percussion thing in my previous stuff, and this album has very little of that,” he says. “So I think the musicality lies in the melodies, because their flow completely ‘breaks the square’ that you have in the sound. I like this game of making things a little more square, straighter, but with the melody sweating everything.”

Felipe Puperi explains, almost mathematically with accompanying hand gestures, how he developed the music on Tanto: from its beginnings in the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, even before “Inteiro Metade” was ready for release, to its conclusion. Not knowing what the future held, he intensified production the year following its genesis, gave up a few times and returned as and when new ideas came up. But the project only got off the ground once he decided to isolate himself with two other musicians in a small wooden house on a farm in a town far from São Paulo. It was there that Tanto came to life.

“That process was incredible because we immersed ourselves in it for about 7-8 days,” he recalls. “During that period we were creating and polishing things that were more or less ready.”

But he didn’t resolve everything in that single week, let alone in the month or two that followed. He took some time to breathe. He wrote the first lyrics and began to notice that one set connected with the theme of another: passion. It’s actually about enjoying being in love, feeling the chemistry in your body and just floating.

“I imagine encounters, I see them happening between other people, in other places… sometimes a song comes up like this. Some of them came up on the guitar along with the lyrics, all in one piece, and I had to understand how to organise them so as not to lose the vibe. And there were others when I was playing here and I was already laying down the beat, playing an electric piano: the melody came first and then the lyrics”, he reflects.

Felipe Puperi has been hailed outside Brazil for creating music in a way that doesn’t conform to the standards used in “Brazilian export music”. Tanto, for sure, will serve as another calling card to show just how musically plural this Latin American country is – going far beyond samba and bossa nova.

A day before the album was released around the world on the 3rd March, the musician said that “he is thinking ahead”, and guarantees: “I always want to do something contemporary. I think that music has a way of connecting us…; it’s not only what the lyrics say, it’s managing to use the voice as a resource, as an instrument. As my music has this more ethereal thing, the voice is a bit more stretched; it ends up being more of an instrument.”

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