Soprano a Viola
Photo: Guilherme Staine Prado

Soprano a Viola Question Urban/Rural Dichotomies with ‘Onde Está o Jeca?’

On Onde Está o Jeca?, Brazil’s Soprano a Viola blur the boundaries between rural and urban popular music genres to question the stereotypes therein.

Onde Está o Jeca?
Soprano a Viola
7 July 2023

The title of the first album from the Brazilian project Soprano a Viola, Onde Está o Jeca?, invokes a particular set of culturally specific imagery. The titular jeca (a term roughly equivalent in tone and meaning to “hillbilly”) is an homage to the song “Tristeza o Jeca”, a popular and melancholy country tune that dates back to 1918. In this earlier piece, the narrator accompanies his lamentations with the viola caipira, a ten-string guitar typically associated with rural sounds and rarely found in other musical scenes.

The work of Soprano a Viola, though, turns that power dynamic on its head, blurring the boundaries between rural and urban popular music genres to question the stereotypes therein and make music that is better for its embrace of instrumental diversity. By asking the album’s titular question, “where is the jeca?”, the players here encourage their listeners to challenge the notion of country versus city and instead to understand the strength in mobility.

Soprano a Viola consists of three brothers (Caio de Souza on viola caipira, Mateus Marques on soprano sax, and Tiago Marques on guitar) from Santa Rita do Passa Quatro, a municipality roughly 250 kilometers from São Paulo and with about 12 million fewer people. They’re joined by drummer Vitor Coelho, percussionist Adriel Job, and double bassist Daniel Moreira. Together, they bring a vibrant range of experiences from across the overlapping realms of jazz, pop, and country from across the Americas, all making for lively original work and reinterpretations of more classic pieces.

De Souza’s viola tends to be the star, and rightly so, as one of the album’s main goals is to demonstrate the instrument’s versatility. It makes for a stunning centerpiece, nimbly stroked strings colliding in harmonious pairs of notes that warm the aural space of the performance. Just as important, though, are the relationships between instruments, sounding not only literal but metaphorical resonances within the ensemble’s varied influences. Ernesto Nazareth’s boldly playful tango, “Brejeiro,” for example, takes on a softer sparkle with the addition of the viola. Guitarist Marco Pereira’s intricately beautiful “Forrozal” gets a powerful boost from the subtle strength of percussion and sax. 

During the title track, an original piece by de Souza, the group has some of its most thoughtful interactions. “Onde Está o Jeca?” opens with the viola whirling over Moreira’s droning, swaying bass; the two dance quickly, then slowly. The rest of the group sweeps in for the piece’s final minute, eventually ending in joyful, gentle unison.

Even in its loudest moments, Onde Está o Jeca? is never bombastic; even at its most delicate, it is never weak. The collective of musicians comprising Soprano a Viola shows tremendous musicianship from start to finish. They take supposedly incompatible styles and instruments and meld them together in ways that honor the group’s various forebears (with better practical grounding than shallow nostalgia) while also creating and building in unpredictable ways that nonetheless make perfect sonic sense. There is an audible sense of care in the production of Onde Está o Jeca?, both for music history and music making, and it makes for a blissful listening experience.

RATING 8 / 10