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.