Album Guide: Lucas Santtana

By 30 August, 2011

This year Lucas Santtana‘s Sem Nostalgia was released in the UK and other parts of the world. It’s his fourth album and continues a legacy of post-modern music that began with 2000’s Eletro Ben Dodô. When that album was released it seemed as if Santtana’s star was definitely on the rise on the worldwide music scene. Unfortunately things have moved slower than that. However, Sem Nostalgia could well be the album that allows him the world’s attention. We take a look back at all of his albums from his 10+ years in the business.

Lucas Santtana was born in Bahia in 1970, getting his musical break when Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil invited him on tour for their album Tropicália 2. This was followed by further work with Gil, including performing on his Unplugged MTV album, as well as collaborations with Arto Lindsay on his Brazil-inspired set of solo albums in the late 90s and early 00s. Lucas has also worked with Nação Zumbi, Marisa Monte and Fernanda Abreu.

Eletro Ben Dodô (2000)

Santtana’s own career started with Eletro Ben Dodô, in which he switched from flautist to the stars to singer/songwriter/guitarist. This album was mixed by Chico Neves and caused quite a stir in the US with rave reviews from The New York Times, Down Beat and Village Voice. It’s easy to understand why. Santtana manage to take the sheer energy and vitality of 70s Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben, complete with funky guitar riffs, give it the heavy rhythmic pulse of the mangue beat groups of Recife and a heavy dose of Afro-Brazilian culture in the falsetto backing vocals and percussion.

Highlights include “Deixe O Sol Bater” with the kind of effervescent chorus and rhythmic muscle that current bands like Vampire Weekend only wish they could muster. He pulls the same trick on the last track “Festejo”, which leaves you wondering why it wasn’t picked up as one of the “world music” classics of the 90s. It’s global sound with elements of Brazilian and African music, and vibrant, up-front vocals result in a track that is as good, if not better, than the majority of African music that has been released in the last 10 years.

It’s also an album that takes a time out from the party for this little classic:

Parada de Lucas (2003)

Santtana’s second album built on the sound of Eletro Ben Dodô, or at least, elements of the sound of that album with the funk and African influences still present. However, this time he opted for a more electronic approach with a harsher sound. This has more to do with modern r’n’b with the sound of the guitars and percussions heavily gated and filtered, giving them more attack, and ultimately a sound that was more suited to the dancefloor than the home stereo.

It is also the album of Santtana’s that has aged least well. The up-front sound as well as some of the FX that are used on the songs have not aged as well as the more organic approach on his other albums, though there is still so much to take from this release. Particularly good are the melodies, which are as catchy as on any of his albums, with the chorus of “Tática de Machine”, stop-start beat of “No Intuito” and rapping on album opener “Freqüente” all ridiculously infectious.

The album also contains “Punky Reggae Party”, a song which perhaps signalled the direction for his third album…

3 Sessions In A Greenhouse (2007)

3 Sessions In A Greenhouse marks another change of direction for Santtana, now entering a world of dub with his group Seleção Natural. The album was recorded live, in three sessions, possibly in a greenhouse, without re-recordings or overdubs. It has resulted in an interesting fusion of dub and funk with a Brazilian sensibility. The album starts in the rawest possible way with the instrumental dub of “Awô Dub”, a clear sign of the sound that will dominate the record. Second track “Tijolo a Tijolo, Dinheiro a Dinheiro” could easily have been one of the tracks off his first album, all shimmering guitars, exuberant percussion and catchy vocals, just with it’s heavier bass and slightly off-beat riffs giving the impression that this is a record more in tune with Kingston than Afro-Brazil.

The Jamaican accents are also provided by the horn arrangements, such as those on “Lycra-Limão” and “Deixe O Sol Bater”, as well as the live mix courtesy of Buguinha Dub (previously engineer for Nação Zumbi). Santtana uses this world of dub as a backdrop in which to investigate a number of ideas such as the “Tom Zé in space” version of “Ogodô Ano 2000” and the almost 10-minutes of “A Natureza Espera”, a collaboration with Wado uniting a pensive rhythm and deep bass with a song that veers through pleading vocals, poems in both English and Portuguese, and a number of Jamaican horn sections.

This ultimately was not the album to cement Santtana’s reputation on the world scene. With so many musicians embracing reggae and dub, and often doing it in a more vibrant way (Manu Chao being the perfect example) this would prove to be an album that continued Santtana’s reputation in Brazil and the rest of South America [it was released in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay] though not necessarily the world just yet.

3 Sessions In A Greenhouse is available from Amazon.

Sem Nostalgia (Brazil: 2009 / Rest of the World: 2011)

Is this the album that’s really going to put Lucas Santtana on the world’s musical map? Only time will tell. What is certain is that it has all the right characteristics in which to achieve this. Previous albums have always focused on a different style of music, i.e. afro-funk, electro-funk and dub, but this one took the format of classic bossa nova and samba music: the “voice and guitar” and took it in all manner of directions.

The results are a collection of 12 sambas, hazy electro tracks, mashups, funky jams and ambient soundscapes. Santtana produced this album with a number of collaborators who all added their own style. Buguinha Dub added something of his mangue beat style to “Cira, Regina e Nana” and “Amor em Jacumã”, Do Amor added their funky guitars to “Who Can Say Which Way”, Regis Damasceno an exotic beauty to “Recado Para Pio Lobato” and Arto Lindsay his guitar skills and lyrical ideas to three tracks here.

When Santtana produced his first album Eletro Ben Dodô The New York Times described him as being “a musician supremely conscious of his cultural coordinates” and this still stands up. This is post-modern music which retains it’s link to Brazil, and really should lead to further international recognition for Santtana – it’s definitely overdue.

Sem Nostalgia is available from Amazon

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