SARA TAVARES / “Balance Remix”

To paraphrase Heavy D, I’ve got nuthin’ but love for Sara.
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Long time readers of BoL know that we’ve featured Sara a number of times (go here, here and here). Her new album is not due until the spring of 2009 and yet we are featuring her again. What gives? Are we so smitten that we’ve thrown all discretion out the window?

Well, as they say in the industry, she has new product, in this case it’s not simply a DVD of a concert in her home town of Lisboa (Lisbon), Portugal, it’s also a box set that includes a documentary about the music of her last album, Balance. Oh yeah, technically it’s not a box because it comes in a fold-out cardboard sleeve but it does contain two CDs and one DVD and it’s available as an incredible bargain: the cost of one premium CD.

The advertising professional in me identifies this as a savvy marketing move to broaden her audience and encourage, nay, inspire her base of supporters. It certainly won me over. I already have the two albums included in this set but I didn’t hesitate to pony up the bucks and I was not disappointed, in fact, I’m delighted.

The documentary is really informative, the concert DVD is excellently recorded both visually and aurally, and the economical packaging is both attractive and functional.
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Sara’s first solo recording is Mi Ma Bo—technically it’s her second album, the first presented her as the featured soloist in a gospel choir. The album is what would consider contemporary African pop with a mixture of elements including heavy helpings of Soul music.
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The second album is the best-selling Balance, which premiered her emphasis on an African rootsy orientation. Sara took off on a world tour to promote the album and the Lisboa concert was recorded on her return to Portugal, March 27, 2007.
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On the concert recording there are only two selections (“Barquinho Da Esperanca, an opening instrumental, and “Milagre,” which is included in the jukebox) that were not first recorded on the enclosed CDs. Thus, this package goes into the Covers section of BoL.

Beyond including two previous CDs, the strong visuals and the informative documentary on the DVD, there is another reason I strongly recommend you get this package: here we are offered what will probably be the most concentrated example of Sara Tavares’ African roots style.

I don’t have any inside information to the contrary but I think we are on the cusp of seeing another development in Sara’s music. In terms of recordings, she started off doing gospel, and then morphed (quite logically) into contemporary Soul music with Mi Ma Bo. Balance presented Sara fully embracing her African roots. However, Sara lives in the modern world and I don’t think she is going to remain solely tethered to traditional forms. I don’t think she’s going to abandon the traditions, I think she’s going to include the traditions in her future vision.
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What Sara will do next I can not predict any specifics, nor will I try, but her track record makes clear, she is not one to stand still, or as the awe-struck ancient Greeks knew: out of Africa, always something new. From Sara, always expect something new. Something new, not something different. She won’t change who she is, she will simply share more of who she is, and who she is more than the past. What we see now will logically and emotionally morph into someone the whole world aspirs to become, i.e. world citizens who are healthy within themselves while reaching out to connect to all other humans on the planet.

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A few words about Sara’s roots sound. Her music has been called lullabies for adults. I think that’s the Cape Verdean influence. Even when they are excited, they are softly so. Perhaps because they are a country composed of a chain of small islands. People know each other, are related to each other. They live within a small space. Arguments can not last too long. Enemies can not hide from one another. Nor can lovers elope without the whole community being aware of who they are and where they are. Proximity supports civility. People in enclosed places learn to get along if only for survival’s sake.

But, Sara grew up in Portugal which would seem to promote a more cosmopolitan outlook except that among so-called European powers, Portugal today is one of the smallest, linguistically isolated, and least powerful. In other words, it is another small country. Psychologically, what I applied to Cape Verde, I would also apply to Portugal.

So this penchant toward accommodation, one getting along with the other is the foundation for the lullaby quality, that and the sea ambience. The sound of night surf softly breaking on the shore. Of course, that is not the sound in Lisboa but it is the sound embedded in the Cape Verde consciousness, and it is the sound to which Sara Tavares resonates. You can hear it in the music on Alive.

Lots of percussion but gentle percussion. Which brings me to the second quality, the rhythmic complexity based on dancing to polyrhythms.

Looking at the DVD, you can see the band rocking back and forth, swaying really, a syncopated chain of dancing bodies but it’s all flowing rather than frenetic, more in oscillating hips rather than flying feet. Look at the percussion’s rig, full of tiny things, bells and shakers and what not. Instruments that don’t look like instruments. Instruments that make small noises. Indeed, look at the drummer, is kit is a modification of what we know as the modern drum kit. No booming thumps. For this band it’s not in the downbeats, but rather the flow comes from the subtle syncopations.

In the documentary Sara talks about how they built the recording from the rhythms using everything as a rhythm instrument even, at one point, the door frame at the recording studio—and you get to see them beating on everything making clear that a rhythm sensibility is not simply about a literal drum but rather an approach to using everything, literally everything in the environment.

In one sense everybody plays percussion. The second guitarist, literally doubles as a percussionist with shakers and tambourine. So the music is built up from rhythm with melody syncopated atop that base. There is no great need for the heavy harmony inherent in the piano sound—most guitar’s are limited to six notes at one time, whereas with a piano you can get ten or more notes at one time.

Unlike most modern bands, there is no keyboard here. It’s all guitar music. All portable in one sense, all handheld, all something that can be lifted and played in small spaces, intimate spaces. The tuning set to the contours of the human voice.
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By the way Sara is excellent as a rhythm guitarist.

Her music is all very, very singable, easy to hum along in terms of the basic melody even though how she sings is far from easy. Sara is blessed with a blessed voice. I know from her gospel album she can shout it out with the best, but here she emphasizes the soothing qualities rather than shrieking excitedly.

In one sense there’s nothing really new here. This is really a refinement, a polished set of comfortable sounds that lull you into the bliss of the dream state.
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In the jukebox there are six songs from Alive in Lisboa.

1. “Balance” her most well known composition.

2. “Guisa,” my favorite Sara Tavares ballad.
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3. “Milagre” featuring Boy Ge Mendes dueting with Sara.

4. “Mi Ma Bo,” which is another one of her major hits.

5. “Nha Cretcheu,” another ballad, another favorite of mine.

6. “Balance Remix,” featuring a rootsy reggae sound mixed into the Cape Verdean rhythms.


—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, November 3rd, 2008 at 2:08 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “SARA TAVARES / “Balance Remix””

Q Says:
November 3rd, 2008 at 5:10 pm

D*mn, I gotta learn Portuguese. Great music though. This is what Portuguese/Reggae/R&B sounds like if there was such genre. Nha Crecheu is the best of this set. The old standards, Balance and Guisa…at least the acoustics sound sub- the original. Balance and Guisa sound almost over done. The Live version of Balance and Guisa you guys had from the Millineum Stage (Kennedy Center) last year sound purer, simplistic, and better to me. The Balance Remix is growing on me and seems slightly off beat for some reason.

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