Zuco 103: Whaa!

Dave Howell

Latest release from Amsterdam trio features a guest appearance from reggae legend Lee 'Scratch' Perry.

Zuco 103


Label: Six Degrees
US Release Date: 2005-08-02
UK Release Date: Available as import
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I'm not sure that there is a name for the genre that mixes the music of Brazil with electronica. Braziltronica, perhaps? Whatever it is, there are many remixes and originals that combine the sambas, bossa novas, and other rhythms of South America's largest country with electronic beats and production. After all, what country could be a better source of dance music?

In this world Zuco 103 are unique. For one thing, the trio is from Amsterdam. Vocalist Lilian Vieira is a native Brazilian, however, while Stefan Schmid is from Germany. Also, they leave the studio to perform live, augmenting the band with other players. There are many guest musicians on Whaa!, giving a more organic sound to the record.

Whaa! is a mixture of Scandinavian and South American musicians, "real" instruments along with programming, and even a guest appearance by reggae legend Lee "Scratch" Perry on two tracks. It turns out that these are wonderful combinations.

The music is original, all of it written by Zuco 103 (three of the 13 tracks are collaborations, two of which are with Perry). And all of it has the flavor of Brazilian music. Zuco member Stuv is a drummer with a touch for the genre's polyrhythms, which let the melodies float along instead of anchoring them to a single beat.

Zuco has a touch for creative lyrics. Brazilian popular composers are willing to go beyond the usual relationship/angst sludge that marks much of American music, delving into philosophy and social and political issues. The first track, "Na Mangueira", has a "light as a feather" touch. Vieira's voice simulates the "whaa" of the title as an exclamation point as she sings about dancing. The production makes it sound like it is coming from an old radio (without static), as a tribute to "the fathers, mothers, uncles, and aunts of samba, those who planted the seeds".

Beautiful melodies run through nearly all of the 13 tracks, accented by delicate guitar and keyboards with beats that are danceable without being overbearing. There are only a few points, like on the title track, where the song goes on a bit too long, when percussion and repetition take over from musicality.

Except one in English, and the two that feature Perry mixing the two languages, all of the songs are in Portuguese. The CD includes an excellent booklet, written in English, which gives the meaning of each song along with the musicians that appear on each track.

The English language "Futebol" is a light-hearted throwaway, with lyrics like "You kick me / I will bounce / You pass me / Ooh I'll be happy". But others deal with subjects like the pain of growing up and modern slavery. "Vivente" says "I am simply a light, a seed taken place to place".

The title track comments on hooliganism. "Jave" gives a message to "innocent people...on the run from violence, hunger, and war". You might not understand the words, but Vieira's clear voice lets you experience the message. She does not sing with anguish, but in a worldly way that makes you feel that everything has happened before, will happen again, and it is all something that you can live with.

Spirit, rhythm, soul -- Zuco 103 has whatever it is that you like about Brazil.

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