…at some point. I apologize to my readers that the blog has been on hiatus for so long. When my schedule permits, I’ll make it up to you all.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Huge thanks to Zacke and his fans for the huge uptick in views these past few days. I noticed. More Swedes have now viewed this page than Americans. Well done.
While I guess I don’t necessarily need to ever justify why I’ve chosen one artist over another any given week, I have plenty of reasons to write about a Brazilian. Neither me nor my blog have been to South America for a while. Portuguese as a language isn’t well-represented here. A Seleção stands a good chance of winning a gold medal in soccer (football) tomorrow. Given all of this, we’ll be listening to singer-songwriter Luísa Maita this week.
Maita’s music jumped into my head as I was researching artists on the bill for the 2011 Lotus World Music Festival. The Brazilian was billed as a young singer-songwriter whose samba-influenced compositions were both danceable and laid-back. Both in her recordings and her live show, Maita does not disappoint.
Luísa Maita grew up in a musical family in Rio de Janeiro. From a young age Maita learned and performed classic sambas and bossa nova tunes, watching the development of the genre known as MPB (Música Popular Brasileira, or Brazilian Popular Music). By 1999 the singer had formed a band, and the past thirteen years have seen Maita’s songs recorded and performed by half a dozen different Brazilian performers. The artist’s first solo album, Lero-Lero in 2010, and has since toured worldwide constantly from world music festivals to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.
Maita’s sound eludes easy description; other than to term it “cool”, the music is simultaneously understated and engaging. Mid-tempo acoustic MPB tunes dominate Lero-Lero, with tasteful guitar work laid over throbbing bass and a wide variety of textured samba percussion. The mixing of these instruments is really one of the most interesting aspects of Maita’s music: the songs are produced and arranged in such a way that infectious grooves drive the songs, but the drumming is never overpowering in terms of volume or density. The guitar lines more often take the forefront, giving the music a more North American singer-songwriter quality. Maita’s guitarist, Rafael Moraes, masterfully works the classic lines of bossa nova into a rockier style that favors effects pedals and staccato lines, and at the times the parts mimic other instruments. Whether it’s a guitar sound effect or an actual cuica, the diverse sounds that fade in and out of Maita’s songs build a musical base that grooves hard without ever getting busy.
The vocals that fall over each of these songs amplify these effects as well. Maita’s voice is seductive and breathy, always swelling to clear heights before fading to a whisper over her samba beats. The singer doesn’t use a very wide range of pitches, only stretching to falsetto heights occasionally, but her rhythm and pacing exemplify the subtle use of percussive elements in melodic arrangements of her soft compositions. Maita’s songwriting truly maximizes the beautiful Portuguese language and the hallmarks of Brazilian music, her voice serving as another instrument in a sensual music that flows softly from track to track.
And it is these types of track that make Lero-Lero a great album. The title track is a symphony of syncopated guitar stabs and a mysterious-sounding singalong chorus. The album continues with the quick bounce of “Alento” and the comparative slow-jam of “Aí Vem Ele“. When slow, as on “Aí Vem Ele” and “Mire E Veja“, Maita’s voice often falls even lower, and there’s a definite sexuality to the music, whether the lyrics reflect it or not. The album rises and falls, cresting with the samba-band drumming of “Fulaninha” and the spacious mid-tempo tune “Desencabulada“. The low-key melodies leave the listener humming along by the album’s midpoint, and despite the lack of heavy drumming or pulsing beat the music implores listeners to dance; it’s as though the dance association of Swing music translated to acoustic blues. On Lero-Lero (and in Maita tunes recorded with or by other artists) the songs are moody, but also irresistible toe-tappers.
When she takes to the stage with her band, Maita is equally adaptive. Though she tours with a standard four-piece band, the group seems equally able to carry a theater as NPR’s tiny desk. By arming the guitarist Moraes with delay pedals and the ability to copy percussive noises and giving drummer Erico Theobaldo a sampling brain and trigger, the group blurs the line between acoustic quartet and electronic dance group. All throughout the set I witnessed in Bloomington last year, Maita and her bandmates took control of the stage, lightly dancing over the music they made.
Maita is still writing and recording music, and a sophomore album is rumored to be due for release with the next year. Since 2010’s Lero-Lero, Maita has embarked on three North American tours, the most recent of which took her across the US and Canada, including to a date at the (very cool) Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Maita also is credited with the release of a 2011 EP of remixes. Maita Remixed was released in 2010, shortly after Lero-Lero, and features remixed versions of four tracks from the debut. In the meantime, Maita can be tracked through a website on her record label and on twitter. Nobody is listening to Luísa Maita right no, but the Brazilian’s smooth and seductive twist on MPB has given birth to one brilliant debut album, and more of her work should mean more enthused listeners.
Once again I find this column taking me up to the frozen reaches of Scandinavia. Whether it’s their attractive women, their wild dancing, or their smooth and catchy hip-hop beats, Northern Sweden draws me in. I’ve said variously that Swedish hip-hop is surprisingly diverse and well-developed, and this week’s column only adds to that argument. This week I’m spotlighting the inimitable Zacke.
I was probably listening to Zacke for quite a while before I realized who he was. The young Stockholm-based rapper has a longstanding friendship with the fantastic Northern Swedish hip-hop/swing trio Movits (Click this link to read what I wrote about them back in February), and the two artists frequently collaborate. Zacke has delivered verses on tracks from both of Movits’ albums and supported the group during their first full American tour. I’ve been following Movits’ activity for a few years, and upon learning of their protege’s debut album I began looking a little more into this dark-haired young man wearing a shirt emblazoned with a parody of the L.A. Dodgers logo.
Though he currently lives in Stockholm, Zacke (born Zakarias Lekberg) has roots up North in Luleå, thus explaining his connection to Movits and their highly musical swing-influenced brand of hip-hop. Zacke himself doesn’t take his instrumentals or his style choices so directly from the 1920s, but does incorporate a wide array of musical styles and instrumental arrangements in his songs. Zacke has toured relentlessly both in Europe and worldwide with his compatriots in Movits, released one full-length album (2010’s Visst är det Vackert) and a few scattered singles, and tried his hand at directing music videos. The man is active.
Zacke’s music is interesting to listen to in no small part because of the myriad musical influences that can go into any one song, let alone a full album. Smooth jazz, blues, funk, rock, folk, and electronic music all have a part in the rapper’s tracks, leading to grooves that are as enjoyable during instrumental breaks as during the breakneck lines delivered in verses and hooks. This is a trait that Zacke’s music does share with Movits: live instruments are prioritized just as high as synthesizers and drum machines in the arrangements, leading to tunes with an 808 beat with a jazz flute solo recorded over it. Banjos, piano, Rhodes organ, accordion, horns, and percussion all appear on Visst är det Vackert, giving the album an organic feel. Coupled with Zacke’s instantly recognizable voice and cheeky delivery, this is a rap album that feels cool. There is a definite attitude to the rapper’s voice, and with every drawn-out syllable and rising inflection the general sentiment of the track is evident even to listeners with no understanding of the Swedish. It may be that this is just a language particularly apt to be interpreted this way, but Zacke’s rapping style fits in seamlessly with his backing tracks.
The songs of Visst är det Vackert do sweep over a vast range of feels, genres, and tempos. From lazy backbeats like on the album-opening “Flaskpost från Utopia” and the banjo-driven “Men Nanting!” to upbeat tracks like the country-esque romp “Ser det Kommer“, the album takes the listener in every direction a rap album could musically go with Zacke’s staccato verses and singalong hooks serving as guides. The album leads off with blues, funk, and a club-banging dance track featuring Movits’ Johan Rensfeldt that is actually an ironic send-up of modern pop music in “Spela Mig På Radion” (“Play Me on the Radio”). The album does turn reflective in its second half, however, with legitimate ballads and understated layered grooves on tracks such as “Förlorad Generation“, “Öppet Idag“, and “Båtdrinkar“. Lyrically, Visst är det Vackertcovers topics from the artist’s jet-setting life and the difficulty of maintaining relationships to the cultural melting pot that modern Sweden has become; and the artist’s voice proves to be versatile at conveying abrasive bravado in one moment and a calm pensiveness in another.
Since his first album, Zacke has appeared all over the world of Swedish hip-hop, guesting verses on Movits’ new album and the anthem for their American tour (“Först tar vi Manhattan” or “First we take Manhattan”, an aggressively synth-heavy tune about how “they say that hip-hop was born in the Bronx, but the Bronx was born in Sweden“). Zacke can also be found on the brilliant Swedish hip-hop sampler Evolution; on a Mighty Boosh-sampling track from Swedish producer Academics’ second album; and on his own terms with his new single “Mammas nye Kille” (Mom’s New Boyfriend”), a loud track with bouncing drums and a healthy amount of electric guitar shredding.
Zacke isn’t currently touring, but a second full-length album appears to be in the works. For the meantime, the young Zacke is only widening his profile, popping up on hip-hop mixtapes and compilations across Sweden. The artist doesn’t appear to have a presence on twitter (other than his mentions from his friends in Movits), but can be tracked down at his official website and on facebook. Nobody is listening to Zacke right now, but the rapper’s unique delivery and carefully orchestrated tracks single him out as one of the best of a burgeoning Swedish hip-hop scene that desperately needs more exposure.