I see that there are many artists who have this ability to produce something sweet in an environment of chaos, which maybe intends to sublimate. I usually go the other way, if there is pain, let's reveal that pain. In that sense this album brings this agony that we are experiencing, this lack of air. - Juçara Marçal
Sometimes I question the wisdom of reading the press release before listening to an album. They are meant to provide context, but all too often end up serving up bewildering preconceptions. In this case, they do offer a glimpse into Juçara Marçal and her collaborator/producer Kiko Dinucci‘s creative process, but what I read made also made me expect something radically different than what I heard. I do like that so many of Marçal’s thoughts are included here, as direct quotes, but the focus on intentions and influences seems to me to obfuscate what is actually there as a recording.
The quote above for instance, belies the beauty and yes, sweetness and joy in the music. The whole text prepared me for a verbal and sonic onslaught that – happily- is not what I experienced. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have powerful, daring, or guttural moments, but Delta Estácio Blues is way more nuanced and melodically rich than the liner notes would suggest.
What did I hear?
A sonic feast of surprises: by turns discordant, whooping, crunchy, soulful, brassy and supremely confident. It’s a daring tour-de-force that squarely deserves a place as one of the top albums of the year. Yes, there is pain, anger, and political critique but also… Liveliness, curiosity, a sly sense of humor, and marvelous vocals.
This is a fruitcake of an album: dense, with strong pronounced flavors in every bite. It’s licorice, tobacco, strong hot coffee, mincemeat and fernet branca. There are some sweet soft bits, and nutty bitter crunches. The lyrics give one plenty to chew on as do the layered complex beats that go with them. It’s an aggregate with each morsel tasting fully of itself in relation to the other flavors. Not everyone will like this concoction, but those that do, myself included, love it. None of the songs sound alike, but they all work together.
Why am I comparing what I hear and what is written about it? Because the lyric content matters greatly here, and as it is in a language that is foreign to me, I end up being extra-dependent on the accompanying text.
Where the liner notes were genuinely insightful:
Explaining the process of collaborating as a set of beats then sent out to various notable lyricists, songwriters, DJs and composers in a back and forth, was really helpful to understanding this album. The process is reminiscent of a surrealist Exquisite Corpse game or the mail-art collaborations which once again became so popular with artists under lockdown. These games offer ways of communicating, of being creative, of being together at a time when closeness is difficult. This makes Delta Estácio Blues very much of the now. It also explains the layered variety of sound and texts. Lots of ideas, lots of texture, each track with its own flavors and cast of characters.
There is a strong musical theatre structure at work here, lyrically driven, each song offering a different persona. More Brecht than Broadway, there are songs that are elliptical poems from the point of view of a child, a song of desire about a mammoth seductive being- a whale- a song about a female thief, a song about the various oceans of pollution we make including the sea and the internet, a song in French- La Femme A Barbe- which actually IS related to a musical theater piece, and most notably, the title track Delta Estácio Blues, which has an imagined scenario of Blues Musician Robert Johnson living in Brazil and selling his soul to the devil in exchange for musical greatness.
Juçara Marçal says of the album: “this thing of it pulsating, the album really pulses, it’s very poly-rhythmic. The electronic drums bring a weight like that, and the bass is a very strong presence on the record. There's something aggressive there”.
Very true. Delta Estácio Blues offers something at once angry and playful. The complexity and historicity that defines the cultural richness of Brazilian music, so uniquely, breathtakingly nuanced that it defies simple anything, is fully present here. Everything flows in a cosmopolitan stream: blues, samba, rap, maracatu, bossa nova axé -a style of Afro-Brazilian music- and a healthy pinch of Afro-Brazilian religion thrown in for extra flavor. In the final track the Afro-Brazilian deity Oxum is summoned to bring plenty. And plenty is what we are offered, a sonic feast.
My favorite tracks and lyric highlights include:
"Vi Relance A Coroa"- I Glimpsed A Crown
Mommy, I’m smiling at anything
I caught a glimpse of the crown
Of our King Malunguinho
It came setting fire at the cane field
It rose from the ground to the sky
A soot of a shine so royal
It looked just like us
When we go out for carnival…
Juçara Marçal and Kiko Dinucci collaborating with composer Siba and producer Cadu Tenorio.
“Sem Cais”- Without A Pier
Rough sea at the ultramarine beaches
There won’t be any swim rings to save us
Holographic beasts seed the womb
That no one ever wanted to seed again
… Emojis won’t qualify
Juçara Marçal and Kiko Dinucci with lyrics by Negro Leo
There’s water at home, but I bathe in blood
You invited me to dance and now you don’t want me to dance samba
I won’t avoid fucking your face up...
Juçara Marçal and Kiko Denucci collaborating with Rodrigo Brandão
Let her dance on my screen,
It touches me
To see her move her tail like that
She reaches the end of the world in me
She comes swimming in deep
She comes to slap me, a rare maneuver…
Juçara Marçal and Kiko Denucci with lyrics by Maria Beraldo
Delta Estácio Blues is a lot to take in, but is also deeply satisfying, worth the necessary multiple listens. Musically rich on its own, the language of the lyrics offers a poetic counterpoint and for even more fun, DO take a deep dive and read Track by Track with Juçara Marçal, which offers Marçal’s descriptions of the collaborative process for each offering.
This album is years in the making and it shows. If anything, it may be too complex: what started as stew cooked down into a solid, the liquid of gravy and river evaporated into a nougat. It is extreme, unapologetically baroque, sometimes inward looking, not for the faint of heart. I think it’s a gift and a treasure. Grab a morsel, roll it around in your mouth, savor it. We have a long winter ahead.
Find the artist online.
Photo: José de Holanda
Sara Serpa and Emmanuel Iduma: Intimate Strangers
Maria Moramarco: Stella Ariènte
Sofia Rei: Umbral