:: These reviews were originally published
:: in Daniella Thompson on Brazil.


 

Brilliant pop

Suely Mesquita’s Sexo Puro
is a triumph of creativity.

Daniella Thompson

11 April 2002

Like ‘pure sex,’ ‘brilliant pop’ can be an oxymoron and also not be one.

If pop is that mind-numbing genre characterized by a 4x4 beat, two-chord harmonies, and a 30-word vocabulary, the adjective ‘brilliant’ stretches credulity to the snapping point.

Happily, there’s also the pop of Laurie Anderson, Dan Hicks, the (early) Bobs, and Suely Mesquita. Unconventional, intelligent, bitter-sweet, humorous-romantic, contemporary, mature.

In addition to being one of Brazil’s most creative songwriters, Suely is an extraordinary vocalist. Not only does she possess an unusually rich timbre, she also uses her voice as a fine-tuned instrument. In her first full-length CD (her previous effort, RecoRock, contained six songs), Suely finally gets a chance to give full vent to her talents, and she demonstrates a fistful of styles with equal mastery.

1. XXI (Paulo Baiano/Suely Mesquita)

não existe
raça pura
na cultura
é tudo aldeia global
é tudo américa
todas as décadas do vinte
até o ano dois mil
se fundirão num escândalo total
[...]

Suely’s comment:

These lyrics defy the purism of those who try to defend styles against heresy, because I think resistance is useless and defense works differently. The same way that folklore is disappearing because the people who created it are exposed to other influences (TV, for example), something new is appearing round the corner. Baiano's music was much faster, but since the lyrics talk of velocity and I believe that resistance to modern ills lies in slowness, I made it more somnolent. It’s a hymn to passive resistance.

The jazzy funk arrangement features Paulo Muylaert on electric and acoustic guitars, Bruno Migliari on acoustic bass, Celso Alvim on percussion, and Pedro Luís e A Parede on tribal vocal backups. A Parede’s percussionists appear throughout the album. Three years ago Carlos Fuchs, the disc’s producer, said:

We are currently finishing the basic cuts, where we had on most tracks the members of A Parede playing percussion and bass guitar. [...] It’s been great fun to do this project, since we gave them total freedom to create in the studio and do all those crazy things one wishes to do sometimes but can’t, like playing the microphone stand itself (with the mic attached to it), cigar boxes, and just about anything that comes to mind (or hand).
(Three years ago? Yes, it takes at least that long to bring out an independent album.)

2. Bebe Chuva (Glauco Lourenço/Suely Mesquita)

olha a tempestade
sacode as árvores
voam cabelos inteiros
nada pela metade
violência que dá gosto ver
deixa o trovão tremer
deixa que um raio te parta
deixa o trovão tremer
deixa que um raio te parta
incendia elétrica
boca aberta
boca aberta
boca aberta

Suely’s comment:

This is a modern hymn to Iansã. I would love for Maria Bethânia to record it. As I said in another song (“Saramago,” with music by Carlos Fuchs, which isn’t in this disc), “it was Saramago who explained the difference between cruelty and violence.” A violence of nature washes the soul, is cathartic, because even when it causes damage, there’s no cruelty involved. It was my first partnership with Glauco. We began very well, I think.

The song sets sail dreamily, picking up urgency as it proceeds, culminating with waves of choral backup (all by Suely). The percussion ably reproduces raindrops on a hard surface.

3. Interesse (Suely Mesquita/Pedro Luís)

acendo uma vela pra deus,
outra pro diabo
agradeço:
você não se interessa mais por mim.
[...]

Suely’s comment:

This has a story. Around 1990, Arícia Mess was courted by several record labels, some of them foreign, and nothing came of it. The courtship lasted some time and created much expectation in our group [the Ovo “collective”]. It was a relief when it ended, we felt free of obligations. Simultaneously, a friend freed herself of a person who teased and seduced but never allowed anything to happen. So I dedicated this song to the record industry and to bores who waste one's time with false expectations. I wrote it for Arícia to sing; at that time she worked with Pedro Luís. The song lacked something, and I gave it to Pedro to resolve. And he did. It’s an audience favorite, because everyone has someone to say this to. Now that I’m showing it to record labels, I hope I won’t have to sing it again for the same muse.

The singer begins in almost a whisper, as if she were reciting a prayer as she lights the candles. As the song progresses, her tone becomes more clear and confident. The voice is joined by a menacing bass (Mário Moura), percussion, and Carlos Fuchs’ jazzy piano. As the song picks up momentum, it relies on frequent repetition of a short but complicated refrain, accompanied by a chorus of Suely’s own making:

sai de cima, deixa disso de promessa
não me prende aqui
que eu tô com pressa

4. Prazer, Prejuízo e Ócio (Celso Fonseca/Suely Mesquita)

criar não é procurar
criar é achar dentro de si
[...]

Suely’s comment:

This is a lyric that Celso set to music and I always wanted to sing. I don’t want to sing every song I make, for the songwriter’s imagination goes beyond the singer’s voice. The first has no limits and the second is subject to physical characteristics. I appropriated it and I think I changed the intention with which he’d made it. The suspense involved in creation is the creator’s amusement park. There’s a roller coaster but also a phantom train, shadows—fascinating and sometimes scary. The laws of creation have nothing to do with making anything that’s useful or that sells discs. Many people criticize me for making meta-lyrics—lyrics that talk of making music, being an artist, creating, writing. For me those are human experiences. I feel that I speak to everybody when I write about this. Knowing the creative experience isn't the privilege of the artist alone.

I began directing the recording by asking for something jazzy, suave, cool. C.A. [Ferrari] attacked the cajón so ferociously that I thought it was going to break. He asked, “is it all right like this?” I said, “It’s great, that’s it.” In fact, direction is a springboard for the musician, but I like it when someone contributes a new idea. This was the case here. I told the musicians that this song is for them: it talks of lack of control, of not knowing what one is creating and letting it happen. The Jacaré [alligator] Trophy goes to Antonio Saraiva for the two saxophone takes‹each recorded without his hearing the other.

My friend Kees Schoof says that Antonio Saraiva’s work on this track has a clear touch of Mingus. He doesn’t mention that Saraiva, always tongue in cheek, begins with a lick from Lalo Schifrin’s Mission Impossible theme. It took me a while to identify the TV series, and Saraiva admitted that he had the same difficulty when he listened to his recorded improvisations. He calls it involuntary quoting, happy nostalgia.

5. Gazelle (Carlos Fuchs/Suely Mesquita)

belle
comme une gazelle
fragile e mince
elle se deplace
[...]

doucement rouge
doucement noire
doucement sauvage

Suely’s comment:

This song is so unlike the rest of the disc that I can’t even explain it. I want to release the album outside Brazil and intended to record a song in English. What came out was this one in French. French of an African colony, I think, with batá drums (Okay, they’re Cuban...) and images of gazelles on the plains. It’s delicate and arid at the same time. I’d like it to be the soundtrack of a National Geographic film [grin].

Suely intones the words, accompanied by Léo Leobons’ measured percussion. Then Fuchs’ piano enters, developing a gentle dialog with the (now singing) soft voices.

6. Porcelana (Kali C./Dudu Caribé/Suely Mesquita)

vai, equilibra o andar
isso pode quebrar
não respira, mulher
porcelana
louça de Espanha além-mar
não vai largar
que se cair, vai quebrar
tudo o que você quer

vem sem tentar controlar
crê que o pior vai passar
vai sem querer intui
não pensa no que vai dar
[...]

Suely’s comment:

When we were still recording, I went one day for a rehearsal with Sérgio [Tannus], one of the guitarists; we were going to do a voice & guitar show. I was stressed, tired, nervous, out of sorts. Since rehearsal for me is a mass and a show is a grand mass, I’m not one to waste it. I began to concentrate and try to do something good that would allow me to give myself to the music the way I like. Unintentionally, this song came into my head. It talks of equilibrium and had been created like this: Dudu Caribé and Kali C. composed the incredibly beautiful music. Kali, an excellent lyricist, couldn’t find words as good as the music. I came to her house, went crazy for the music, and wrote the lyrics in a single go. But the song wasn't in the disc. So there I was, going to the rehearsal. The song came into my head, I sang and sang it, and it made me feel good. I thought, “I have to commit myself to this song. I have to sing it all the time. I'll put it in the disc.” It was a good decision. Along with “Pisca” and “Bebe Chuva,” it's one of the moments in the show that move me most. There are songs that one likes, interprets, dances to, but there are others that one opens one’s heart to and sings ingenuously. For me, that’s the true way to sing. When I grow, I’ll be able to do this with every note in every show.

“Porcelana” is a bossa nova arranged for piano (Fuchs), fretless bass (Mário Moura), acoustic guitar (Sérgio Tannus) and drums (C.A. Ferrari).

7. Sapatinho de Cristal (Suely Mesquita); No Boteco (Rodrigo Campello/Suely Mesquita)

botei meu sapatinho na janela do quintal
sapatinho de cristal
é sapatinho de cristal
bota lente no suíngue, dança bem escondidinho
que ninguém pode saber
que ninguém pode saber, hein? que ninguém pode saber.

Suely’s comment:

A double track. “Sapatinho” is the concept of the disc. It was the first song I decided to include—in fact, I made it for the disc. Everything began there. I almost called the disc Sapatinho de Cristal, because it was going to be a samba disc—samba of my own kind, but samba. “No Boteco” is a partnership with Rodrigo Campello that belies our pop inclination shown in RecoRock. To my immense delight, it was recorded in Cláudio Birra’s independent CD, with a special participation by Elza Soares, the ideal interpreter. In my disc, there was only myself to do the singing, but I learned some tricks from Elza when I saw her record—I always learn a lot from her. There was no attempt to imitate, since I have a mirror at home. “I’m only a popular songwriter...”

tô bem na minha, balcão de botequim
mutuca sai com peteleco, deixa
solta a caneca, me larga, pega o trem
comigo não, boneca louca quer beijo na boca
[...]

The indolent, spoiled-girl, secretive tone of “Sapatinho de Cristal” (another kind of Cinderella story) gives way to a real-world samba. Rodrigo Campello (who arranged) plays cavaquinho and acoustic guitar, and the A Parede folk apply their palms to a wide variety of traditional percussion instruments.

8. Samba (Suely Mesquita)

puro sexo puro sexo puro
de notas black tie
[...]

Suely’s comment:

Speaking of Rodrigo: When we began to play and compose together, more or less in 1994, I would go to his house and we’d just play, improvise, make sounds, to get to know each other better musically, I in the voice and he on the guitar. One day we were sitting on the floor, playing a song of mine with lyrics by Mathilda [Kóvak], “Accept my Love.” It turned out so good, but so good, that we just continued playing the same song for twenty minutes. When I left, he followed me and said, halfway to himself and halfway to me, “puro sexo.” I thought, “How good that he also finds it so.” And I wrote this song that, besides quoting his phrase, describes a little of what I saw in the scene:

dedos que deslizam tocam
sonhos sonhos sonhos
vozes que derretem, cantam
sopros sopros sopros
[...]

It’s only because of moments like this that the music captures one for good.

9. Aristocracia (Luís Capucho/Suely Mesquita)

sua aristocracia vem de algum mistério
é sério
você é sério demais
pros seus poucos anos, um rapaz sem planos como voc
devia estar jogando bola
vendo televisão, indo ao cinema
pensando em dinheiro e sexo
só isso
nada de poema sobre os animais humanos
nada de filosofia, um rapaz sem plano
um brasileiro, um rapaz do interior
sua aristocracia deslocada
é uma delicadeza da vida bruta
você é o olho do mundo no seu lugar
só você vê daí
você pode contar
daí você pode contar

Suely’s comment:

I wrote the lyrics telling the story of Luís, who had already been my partner in other compositions. I showed it to him (after all, I was talking about him). He asked permission to set it to music, with the simplicity that is peculiar to him. And made this delicious thing.

10. Maldade da Memoria (Suely Mesquita)

e eles foram felizes pra sempre
então não souberam nunca o que é saudade
[...]

Suely’s comment:

This is one of the 115 love songs I wrote for my husband Alê Porto, designer of my disc cover and webmaster of my site (still under construction). We joke that there are those of Side A (like this one) and those of Side B (like “Eutanásia,” that says senti uma coceira de fazer assassinato e minha espada de ouro teve sede de cabeças—it’s not easy being the spouse of a composer...). When I met Alê, he lived a seven hours’ drive away from my house. We were full of passion, saw little of each other, and lived with longing. That was the theme for more than two years: saudade, maldade da memória.

The song is given a bluesy arrangement, with electric guitar (Campello), bass and brush (Moura) and door & chair percussion (Sidon Silva).

11. Pisca (Zeca Baleiro/Suely Mesquita)

vai, coração, inventa
pode ir, mas agüenta
volta aqui pro meu peito
na hora de dormir
[...]

Suely’s comment:

Zeca set my words to music and showed me the result in Rio, when he came to do a show. I went to his hotel and he showed me the recording, made in W.C. Records, a revolutionary technique for recording ideas on a cheap cassette in the bathroom, taking advantage of those magic acoustics that turn each one of us into a Callas or Pavarotti of the shower. Zeca is very interesting, because he knows how to make it for real in any situation, and that cassette had all the atmosphere of the song that enchanted me: tension, sensuality, anger, shadows, determination, life.

So I exaggerated as much as I could, because I’m nowhere near Cássia Eller. Oh, how I wanted for her to sing this song. In any case, I relied on the band’s adrenalin during the recording. There were Fábio Lessa on bass, Sérgio Tannus on electric guitar, C.A. on drums. I had to convey the climate of the song (It’s pure climate!) to them in the studio, because they didn’t know it and weren’t used to playing together. There was no way to explain—I had to sing it. The guardian angel was on the spot and Carlinhos [Fuchs] had trouble setting the microphones just right and made me sing eight times before we recorded. So we rehearsed while waiting. I gave it everything I had and thought I was going to drop dead. But he commanded: “Again!” So again I went, thinking I was only going to stop when I dropped. But to my surprise, I didn’t drop. And happily the guys got the climate. C.A. ate up the drums. We fashioned the arrangement around him. Finally I asked [Carlos] Trilha and Fernando Morello to mix it, to give it more of a rock ’n roll weight. I liked it.

12. Filhote da Ditadura (Mathilda Kóvak/Suely Mesquita)

Eu não lutei contra a ditadura, eu não lutei
Não tenho essa desculpa e, se sou pura,
Só eu sei.
Eu não vivi clandestina.
Eu era apenas uma menina.
Eu não sabia de nada.
Eu era quase retardada.
Aaaah! Aaaaaaah!

Eu não lutei contra a ditadura
Se eu não for pura um progressista me janta
Eu não lutei contra a ditadura
Não tenho essa desculpa para ser
Pilantra! Pilantra! Pilantra!

Eu não lutei contra a ditadura, eu não lutei
Eu não fui contra a linha dura, eu não dancei
Eu sou filhote da ditadura
Classe média alienada
Não tenho essa desculpa furada
Pra falar e não fazer
Nada! Nada! Nada!

Eu não lutei contra a ditadura
Não apoiei a guerrilha urbana
Não uso essa armadura
Não tenho essa desculpa para ser
Sacana! Sacana! Sacana!

Suely’s comment:

I grew up hearing people 20 years older say things like, “Shut up because you don’t know anything, poor thing, you’re alienated, a child of the dictatorship.” And I, embarrassed, feeling like an idiot, thinking that they were all heroes who had personally saved the country. I grew up and found out that it hadn’t been that way. “Shut up” had already died. I was already in this second phase when a prominent figure of our cultural society saw fit not to pay my friend and partner Mathilda Kóvak for work she’d done. Furious, she told me about it, including the macabre detail that one of the arguments was that she should be understanding, because one of those involved had fought against the dictatorship and suffered a lot for the good of the country. I’ve heard it used as an excuse for many things, but never before to avoid payment. We wrote the lyrics together, and Mathilda composed the music and shouted at the end of the track.

A humming of Brahms’ lullaby “Guten Abend, Gute Nacht” opens the song. Suely sings the first three stanzas very softly to the strains of a lyrical guitar (Lúcia Turnbull). By the final verse, the voice has become angry and the guitar emphatic, ending on a shouted accusation.

A legitimate way to conclude a disc one has had to spend years to bring out.

Listen to Sexo Puro on the sexopuro weblog radio.

 


Copyright © 2002–2008 Daniella Thompson. All rights reserved.