Ramiro Musotto: Sudaka

Ramiro Musotto
Fast Horse Recordings

Needless to say, there is a huge music scene in Brazil. And lately, since the ’90s, much of the music current and available to westerners is drawn from the new rising tide of modern Brazilian music. Nothing says “modern” more than electronica, and as Brazilian electronica, Sudaka sounds like a step beyond modern. Though this is not at first recognizably Brazilian, listing as it does towards the futuristic, that ahead-of-its-time ambiance usually conveyed by electronic music. Neither is this lounge-y or smooth jazzanova though this music probably could center a chill-out session. Though there are recognizable techno beats, this really isn’t clubby and couldn’t qualify as dance floor filler. Nor is this an extended jam of raw improvisation. Sudaka is heady and intelligent and quite something else again. This is music with strong preconceived intentions. At its core are springy oscillations and electronic sweeps edging through and bending around traditional percussion, found music, and ritual music. Yet this is so modern sounding as to occasionally spike up through any comfortable definition of modern. But perhaps it is that very tension associated with definition that might make this an honest expression of modernity. However innovative and intelligent the compositional intent, which is to show the traditional and ritualistic juxtaposed with the ultracurrent, the end result shows the basic truth, that these elements exist simultaneously.

In reality, the boundaries and separators between these sometimes conflicting elements are likely closer and narrower than might ever be first supposed. In this music, the boundaries and the connections between the elements are symbolized as being rhythmic in nature, and this interplay can also act as a relief map representing the terrain. In the streets of Sao Paolo, I am told, one shop window might display the latest in computer technology while the next one offers ceremonial headdresses. So these elements are found in close proximity in the real world, although admittedly such discoveries can be startling or surprising. The very fact such things can exist rather delightfully situated one next to the other inspired Ramiro Musotto to place them together in his music. Musotto says he hopes to prove that two conflicting cultural ideals can exist in harmony and find benefits even beyond that. He calls Sudaka “a psychedelic trip throughout and into the Afro-Brazilian and South American culture; an optimistic way of interpreting the effects of technology in our everyday life and art.”

Having played with everyone who is everyone in Brazilian music (Sergio Mendes, Gilberto Gil, and Caetano Veloso to mention a few), Musotto is a percussionist of some reputation. For Sudaka, Musotto has gathered together field recordings of Amazon chants, Afro-Brazilian Candomblé spirit rituals, and the street song of a bottle collector. He has treated these respectfully and with quite some decorum while adding his own vision, electronic music. His rhythmic intuition was honed from years of physically playing percussion, and then sharpened still more from hearing and sensing the repeating patterns of nature. Now those skills find new ways to be expressed through the urbanized sound of electronic beats and the manipulated textures of electronica.

Opening with “Caminho”, the music easily edges in with electronic berimbau over the rich flowing voice of Buziga, which is manipulated electronically into sounding distant, periodically stuttering and shifting with echoes. Then the movement segues unexpectedly into the frenetic activity of “Ginga” powered by hard beats and carried the extremely soulful reach of human voice. Following is the strangest piece on the whole disc, the accelerating echoing whispers of “Raio”, where Musotto occasionally strokes and plays with the whiskers of the big electric cat and gets electronic purrs in response. The groove piece has to be “Ijexa”, and the introduction of soft distant whistles and tribal calls is impossible to ignore; then the music is pushed by the punchy sound of traditional percussion which is soon distorted and echoed electronically before the music is lifted and carried away by drifting song. Despite the urban atmosphere from programming, nature is not overlooked. The electronic ribbet of frogs in the rainforest, the electronic drops of rain hit against the electronic logs, and the ensuing storm soon kicks in on “Torcazas Neuquinas”. The showpiece is designed as the closing number, “La Danza Del Tezcatlipoca Rojo”. This even briefly features a regular drum kit, a startling sound after all the variety of hand drumming and programmed beats that have gone before this tune, and “La Danza” is pumped even more with the sounds of a crowd in Sergipe going absolutely wild, chanting and screaming in response to rhythm riffage.

Those of us old enough to remember Brazil’s dedicated push towards not just modernity but ultramodernity, as symbolized by the construction of a completely new capital city in the middle of a rainforest, can still only marvel. Though at the time, such plans for Brasilia seemed more like a muscular expression of some kind of a national hubris, like a determined forcing of the issue. There have also been those times when the approach to modernizing Brazilian music has been similarly purposeful and so misfired from too heavy a hand. Musotto, however, shows tremendous taste and restraint. This music is not always an easy trip, because it is every bit as strange as it is compelling. The music is always demanding your attention. But for the listener who is willing to actively engage and so expend a bit of effort, there will be many rewards reaped from Sudaka. This is the truest expression of electronic music I’ve heard from Brazil. I make that bald statement while the composer’s intent on providing a glimpse into traditional and ritual music as well as electronic. And that just may be why this record shows just how promising this new talent named Ramiro Musotto can be.