Da Cruz Releases "Sistema Subversia" on Six Degrees Records


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The ensemble Da Cruz is a collaboration between vocalist Mariana Da Cruz (a Paulista with Bahian roots) and Swiss producer Ane H. Together with their band, they merge Brazilian music, Electro, Afro Beat, Breakbeats, Ethiopian Grooves, Kuduro and other forms of dance music.

Da Cruz stand for a “modern, curious and proud Brazil," says Mariana."There are so many boring clichés about my country. With my music I try to show that there is a Brazil far away from Carnaval, bikinis and samba-plumes—there is also an urban, progressive, open but still romantic Brazil with a sane respect towards its traditions and culture."

The new album Sistema Subversiva pushes the boundaries of Brazilian Fusion with harder, throbbing bass tones and punchy kick drums underlying Mariana's dynamic lyrics, one moment soft and dripping, another punctuated and demanding. “We both wanted to create something new without giving up all our past. Da Cruz is the result of this trying."

One can distill Switzerland-based producer Ane H.'s musical convictions in a single quote that he offers regarding Da Cruz's third record: “We wanted to make an irrational album." Upon listening to the revved-up Brazilian electronica that dominates Sistema Subversiva (Six Degrees Records), there is little argument that he is fully living his philosophy. Pairing with vocalist Mariana Da Cruz, the band is redefining the possibilities of Amazonian beat making like no other.

“I met Mariana while in Lisbon," says the beat maker. Touring Portugal after time well spent with his previous band, Swamp Terrorists, a random meeting with the singer eventually caused him to recalibrate his musical trajectory. “She was singing Bossa Nova in an Irish pub. That was pretty weird."

While perhaps not love at first sight, there was a heavy does of mutual sonic appreciation. Flirting came in the form of traded songs—Ane H. was introduced to the sound of the legendary Jorge Ben Jor early in life, though he was more influenced by industrial, electronica and jazz, banging his head to Buffalo Suicide Prevention Unit and getting his groove on to Fela Kuti. The producer recorded Mariana in his mobile studio; she layered his tough beats with sensual but sharp vocals, more Zuco 103 than Bebel Gilberto. Mariana is better described as frenetic than relaxed; as she says of the subdued sounds of Bossa Nova, “Come on! We can save that for old age." Such a sentiment proved to be the dagger in his heart.

Sistema Subversiva follows the equally illogical Nova Estação and Corpo Elétrico. Yet Subversiva pushes those boundaries of reason and normality harder, with throbbing bass tones and punchy kick drums underlying Mariana's dynamic lyrics, one moment soft and dripping, another punctuated and demanding. While Elis Regina and Ed Motta were common names in the singer's past, she says, “We both wanted to create something new without giving up all our past. Da Cruz is the result of this trying."

Once the musical marriage of Ane H. and Mariana Da Cruz was consummated, the beat maker invited Swamp Terrorists drummer Pit Lee into the fold. “I like his openness," Ane says, “He also plays in Reverend Beat Man, an absolutely crazy and fantastic garage rock'n'roll hero from Berne." Guitarist Oliver Husmann completed the quartet. After Ane H. saw him playing at a party, he says, “We immediately knew that we wanted him in our band. He is a kind of hippie who lived in Brazil for long time. If we need inspiration for a new song, we hang a guitar around his neck and let him play. There is always something good coming out of it."

While Ane H. claims there is nothing overtly political about Sistema Subversiva, he does feel that the politics of music are directly addressed. “There is currently an almost pushy development in Europe towards acoustic music with a wood guitar. Everything sounds so adult and reasonable." He wanted to shake up the pretensions of a café culture that assimilates Brazilian music and “abused it for the sound of elevators and lounges." Da Cruz is the shaky dose of caffeine that's been missing in such polite conversations conducted in candle-lit restaurants.

“We wanted to make a danceable album," he continues, “an album that is both funky and electronic. The music of Da Cruz is not sunny and nice and undisturbing. The African side is also accentuated, much harsher than what we have done before. We wanted to show that there is a Brazil far from the postcard idyll, far from feather boas and Carnaval—a modern, rebellious, open and urban Brazil. The album has many, many facets."

Perhaps the greatest example of this rebellion is “Papo De," a song that briefly opens with an acoustic guitar before a pounding kick drum introduces a tasteful rhythm worthy of the darker edges of Boozoo Bajou and Thievery Corporation. Mariana's voice is at it's best on this catchy, nearly pop song with serious bass swing. While one would imagine that the Portuguese paints a sunny photograph, the song's title translates as, according to Ane H., “Bla Bla Bla." The song is about false promises with little progress. Originally constructed acoustically, he thought it “too boring," and so the deep rhythm raised the vibration.

“Papo De" is a perfect Brazilian blues: melancholy disguised as hope in one damn catchy tune. The band liked it so much, they asked their producer friends, Filewile, to remix it, using that version to close out this 16-track album. Turning something into its opposite is an oft-attempted and rarely successful task, though Da Cruz makes it seem easy. The downtempo “Balada" features Mariana's most gentle and generous vocals, albeit tempered by a strong kick drum and synthesized bass. It is a song about free will, she says, adding that free will is “unfortunately just failing in love." More dark clouds pretending to be sunny pastures.

The opening “Boom Boom Boom" is club-ready, with its steady four-on-the-floor beat, is the band's attempt at Kuduro, a “harsh, electronic variation of Angolan music." Their guitar-driven sound is at its best on the tough beats of “Jangada" and “Zero A Zero," the latter beautifully tempered by congas and saxophones. Yet it is “Warm Leatherette" that holds a special place in Ane H. As he says, “It is one of my all-time favorites. It was one of the first electro-punk tracks, and the first record released on Mute Records. I still have the original vinyl. We transformed it with a Samba beat recorded in São Paulo."

The next stop for South America turned out to be Ethiopia. Subversiva's most unique cut is a cover of East African god Mulatu Astatqe, whose music was immortalized in Jim Jarmusch's classic film, Broken Flowers. Paying homage to one of the country's most renowned artists, the Mulatu-flavored “Ethiopia" is based on the unforgettable classic, “Yègellé tezeta," proving to be Da Cruz's most imaginative track.

While a huge audience for Brazilian music exists in odd places like Japan, the mountains of Switzerland appear a stranger destination. This is fine with Ane H., who waxes philosophical in his concluding thoughts about Da Cruz's evolutionary offerings. “There are big Brazilian communities in Zurich and the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Most of these people consume Brazilian music as a souvenir of their homeland. They want to hear Samba, Bossa Nova or Axe. We don't offer this. Our audience is made up of people who are curious about new music, not old stereotypes."

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