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Nation Beat

ARTIST: Nation Beat

COUNTRY: USA

GENRE: From Forró to Funk, Maracatu to Swamp Rock

ABOUT: The American/Brazilian collective Nation Beat plays a 21st century mashup inspired by Brazilian maracatu drumming, New Orleans second line rhythms, funk and country-blues. They’re the first American group to record in Brazil with the legendary Mestre Walter and Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante – and the first Brazilian band to perform with Willie Nelson who called Nation Beat “just a fantastic group”.

After nine years of experimenting with Northeastern Brazilian music, Nation Beat has released an album that is as deep as their mixed roots – and is their best album to date. Far from being a fusion album, “Growing Stone” is a record with a complete unity of sound and style. From Forró to Swamp Rock, Maracatu and Funk – the rhythms are grounded by the musicians’ own history and years of collaboration. The group is a regular of both American and Brazilian festivals – and this new album should propel them to new heights.

Which nation, and which beat? What makes this group special is that it offers no simple answers. They are rhythm gatherers, harvesting the fruit of 500 years of cultural crossbreeding, which is why the sounds of the northeast of Brazil and the southern United States blend together so seamlessly; NPR’s All Things Considered music writer Banning Eyre calls them “the most original and alluring fusion group I have heard in years.”

MORE ABOUT: Nation Beat plays the best kind of fusion in the world, the kind that doesn’t try to fuse anything. An American/Brazilian collective, Nation Beat belongs to both sides of the equator. You can catch them on the festival circuit both in Brazil and in the US, and on either side, fans of roots music recognize the band as one of theirs. There is probably no better metaphor than an enthusiastic Willie Nelson calling himself “overwhelmed” upon hearing Nation Beat for the first time. So overwhelmed in fact, that he invited the band to perform with him at Farm Aid – about as literal a celebration of American roots as it gets…

In many ways, Nation Beat’s new album, “Growing Stone”, is a result of that encounter. It is an album about true roots, about the American south and its Northeastern Brazilian parallels – and not coincidentally, it is dedicated to the American farmer.

“I had an epiphany while I was living in Recife” says drummer and bandleader Scott Kettner “I realized that there were many similarities with the music I grew up hearing from the deep American south with the music I was studying every day”. On the recommendation of his teacher Billy Hart, Scott spent a few years in Recife, immersed in Northeastern Brazilian music, and learned to recognize similarities between the two cultures. “I started exploring the common threads between Mardi Gras Indians and Coco, Maracatu and Second Line, Forró with Cajun and Zydeco and many more.”

Nine years and three albums later, Scott claims to simply play “Americana music from both Americas”. Nation Beat has become a band with its own vocabulary, one that owes everything to its unique history and nothing to ethnomusicology. As Scott puts it, mixing Brazilian and American music “is no longer a concept but rather a way of life. When I sit down and write a song I’m not thinking about how I can put this rhythm on top of that song and mix it with these chords. I sit down and write – and Brazil and the USA come out naturally because that’s who I am.”

As a result, “Growing Stone” is not only Nation Beat’s most personal album – but also their most accessible. Fans of American Roots music – from country, to zydeco, blues and second line – will have no problem embracing it. Brazilians, of course, have been embracing American influences for decades with no one calling the result fusion…

It helps that singer and front person Liliana Araujo has had an inverse trajectory to that of Scott Kettner’s. Born and raised in Fortaleza, Brazil, Liliana moved to New York four years ago, at the urging of Scott, with whom she had already been performing in Brazil. An omnivorous musician, Liliana grew up listening to Maura Moreira, Montserrat Caballe and Patti Labelle and she isn’t fazed by cultural or linguistic differences: “When I’m singing, be it Portuguese, French, English, Creole, German or Yiddish… don’t matter, my heart will always be in it. The language is merely a detail.” As a result, Liliana is just as comfortable singing the very Hank Williams-esqe “Whispering Moon” as she is belting out on the more Mangue Beat influenced “Puxa Boi”.

The wide palette provided by the eclectic instrumentation allows the band to add contrasting colors but also help stress the common elements in the various styles of music – from fiddle to the clarinet, raebeca, guitars and various percussion. The guest appearances also contribute an extra layer with guests such as Mickey Raphael – Willie Nelson’s longtime harmonica player – or legendary Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. Other guests on the album are Cajun fiddler David Greely, of Mamou Playboys fame, keyboardist Rob Curto (Lila Downs) and Sao Paulo guitarist Joao Erbetta whose own mix of frevo and surf music fits right in the Nation Beat world view.

“Growing Stone” is a departure from their last album, “Legends of a Preacher”, which NPR reviewer Banning Eyre called Nation Beat “the most original and alluring fusion group I have heard in years.” While the allure and originality are certainly still there, years of fusion have given birth to a new organic sound: an American music of blurred origin. Willie Nelson’s encouragements and support probably played a strong part in this. When listening to the band for the first time, Willie recognized the group’s original voice, and its very specifically American identity. He invited them to perform at Farm Aid where he played the entire set with the band, and then spent hours with them in his bus, talking about music and the plight of the American farmer. “Hanging with Willie Nelson was a very overwhelming experience” says Scott. “He’s an American icon and has been one of my musical heroes since I was a kid. Willie was very encouraging towards us and also very genuine. After playing with us his manager told me that he hasn’t seen Willie smile so much on stage in a long time.”

Nation Beat couldn’t have found a better champion. Multiculturalism shouldn’t be another bland buzz word. Be it African, French, Caribbean or Irish – borrowing, mixing and adapting musical traditions from around the world is at the very heart of American Music, and that is exactly what Nation Beat is doing. “Growing Stone” is the kind of American album that should make Willie Nelson proud, an album that will appeal to music fans of both Americas… and beyond.

SELECTED PRESS REVIEWS AND QUOTES:

“Dangerously funky… an East-coast, funk-crazed Los Lobos” (Village Voice)

” This is the band’s third outing, and the fusion of styles sounds better than ever. Band founder Scott Kettner is a powerful and inventive drummer who propels all the music here (and composes much of it). The result is something that can be seem surprising at first, but which quickly wins over any open-minded listener” (All Music)

“Growing Stone comes off like a typical afternoon’s stroll through the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. The blend is often irresistible”. (Relix)

“Growing Stone wastes no time growing on you, and I’m similarly going to do my part by not expending any more time or words trying to describe what a fun, inspired and energizing CD this is.” (World Music Central)

“I’m cranking up the music and wondering just how high up the SoundRoots 2001 Top Ten list this album will climb.” (SoundRoots)

“Very enjoyable from start to finish – perfect for an alternative dance party.” (NewCity Music)

“Growing Stone is an energetic album with tons of musical creativity… This is the first album I can recall hearing Appalachian music right alongside Brazilian music. Fans of both types of music should find Growing Stone growing on them quite nicely.” (Inside World Music)

“A fresh, vibrant hybrid that plants a foot in two disparate cultures and still dances up a storm.” (RootsWorld)

“Top 10 album in 2011” (Village Voice)

“On paper, the musical fusion on ‘Growing Stone’ comes off like a heady musicological experiment—or maybe a typical afternoon’s stroll through the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Nation Beat delivers fiddle-led stomps, alternately hailing from a hoedown in an Appalachian mountain holler, a Fais-do-do deep in cajun country, elemental blues straight out of rural Mississippi and bits of funk and swamp rock—all artfully welded to the rhythms and textures of Northern Brazil. Somehow, the collaboration between New York drummer/percussionist/producer Scott Kettner and Brazilian singer/ percussionist Liliana Araujo gels organically. The blend is often irresistible, from the heavy maracatu grooves of opener “Puxa O Boi” to the call-and-response vocals and flickering guitar, fiddle, lap steel and horns of ‘Sebastiana’.” (Philip Booth, Relix)

“With its soaring fiddles and Memphis soul guitar, the bouncy, swaying title track is a showcase for frontwoman Liliana Araujo’s laid-back but raw, down-to-earth vocals – ‘Forro for Salu’ has a rustic Brazilian string band vibe with the twin fiddles of Skye Steele and David Greeley over Kettner’s rumbling, hypnotic percussion” (Lucid Culture)

“After decades of Brazilian musicians cannibalizing foreign genres – from rock to reggae – and making them their own, Kettner and company return the imitative flattery and create a fresh, vibrant hybrid that plants a foot in two disparate cultures and still dances up a storm” (Marty Lipp, Roots World)

“On the new record by Nation Beat, a Brazilian-inspired band led by Brooklyn-based percussionist Scott Kettner, the group goes beyond its Maracatu roots to explore more sounds from Northeastern Brazil—principally forro (pronounced Fo-HO), a syncopated beat that is highly popular in the region, especially in the state of Ceara, where vocalist Liliana Araujo hails from” (NewCity Music)

“Nation Beat are a duet based in the US who combine maracatu (and other rhythms from northeast Brazil) with styles from America’s deep south; cajun music, zydeco, country. It may sound like an incongruous mix, but it works. Part of the reason for this must go to Scott Kettner, an experienced percussionist and leader of the group.” (Sound and Colours)

“They’re the first American group to record in Brazil with the legendary Mestre Walter & Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante – and the first Brazilian band to perform with Willie Nelson who called Nation Beat ‘just a fantastic group'” (Afropop Worldwide PodCast Review)

“Unlike most groups who combine disparate influences, Nation Beat’s music is free of any modern filter. In terms of melody and harmony the songs are firmly rooted in tradition, which makes ‘Growing Stone’ sound like an organic artifact beamed from the past. Yeah, electric guitar and bass are present, but then there’s the punctuations of trombone and saxophone and the prominent, jubilant fiddle — actually a Brazilian type of violin called rabeca which carries a distinctive thin tone.” (John Barrett, Stereo Subversion)

“Top 10 World Music Albums” (Spin The Globe)

“Brazilian soccer may be on the wane a bit in the past few years, down to a lowly world ranking of number four after nearly a decade at or near number one. However music – Brazil’s other big cultural export – shows little sign of losing its edge. Artists including Ceu, Seu Jorge, and Forro in the Dark keep pushing tradition in new and interesting directions. Now with their sophomore album ‘Growing Stone’, USA-Brazilian band Nation Beat prove that they deserve mention on that list as well. They dig up roots music from both cultures, blending swamp rock guitar, blues beats and Cajun and Appalachian fiddling from the north with maracatu rhythms and the ubiquitous Brazilian-style triangle. The resulting music feels amazingly natural, and will make you want to dance.” (Sound Roots)

“The Brazilian-American collective Nation Beat plays a 21st century mash-up inspired by Brazilian maracatu drumming, New Orleans second line rhythms, Appalachian music, funk and country-blues” (National Geographic – Nat Geo Music)

“A delightful genre bender that is defining it’s own style, this is highly captivating music that fuses sounds from the vast middle hemisphere into something that sounds like it occurs naturally. Real music for the hard core music fan, this is purely great stuff.” (Midwest Record)

“The resulting sound is creative and flawless, a new multi-cultural energy that sounds like it had been bottled up and ready to explode for ages. Luckily, Nation Beat has finally popped the cork on this perfect combination… Nation Beat’s cross-pollination of music is nothing short of groundbreaking.” (Liz Pelly, CMJ)

“Nothing short of inspirational. Loping, sensual percussion rhythms, searing bowed-string melodies, sweetly soaring slide guitar, and heart-tugging vocals are the band’s stock in trade… Williams’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ gets a brilliant treatment that touches on all the band’s strong suits… The most original and alluring fusion band I’ve heard in years.” (Banning Eyre, Afropop Worldwide/NPR’s All Things Considered)

“If this album does not end up on the annual Top 10 lists of a whole lot of music connoisseurs, there’s something seriously wrong with the order of the universe… The
songs are bristling with energy, the rhythms are irresistible and the arrangements are delicious… Nation Beat’s second U.S. album is startlingly joyous. It is the kind of music that makes your toes tap, your heart pound and your lips curl into an involuntary grin.” (Marty Clear, Sarasota Herald Tribune)

“A tight rhythm machine urged on by the lush vocals of Brazilian singer Liliana Araujo… this is joyous, get-up-and-shake-it music… Legends is very, very hip.” (Mark Schwartz, Barnes and Noble)

“Hank Williams never swung like this… When an experiment really works, you don’t think about process, but just enjoy the results… an irresistible sense of fun.” (Marty Lipp, Newark Star Ledger)

“A dizzying cocktail of music of another culture… what’s most impressive is how seamlessly and organically everything flows together… the sophistication and unadulterated passion the group brings to its enterprise elevates the sound into the intoxicating.” (Bret McCabe, The New York Sun)

“An album as impressive as [Nation Beat’s] highly regarded live shows. This is dance music in its primal, untainted state, pulling from various music styles — both celebratory and devotional… If every house of worship featured a preacher of this magnitude, church would be a lot more worthwhile.” (Derek Beres, Conscious Choice)

“A groove and character all its own. Blending sounds of Southern blues with Brazilian maracatu and a whole lot more, their sound is definitely unique. With Liliana Araujo’s beautifully full, soulful voice gliding gracefully over the red hot multi-layered rhythm section… a delightfully wide range of sound and influence.” (Marc Amigone, QuietColor.com)

“Nation Beat are inspired ambassadors of Brazilian sounds which remain more underexposed here in the States… Their cover of Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ must be heard to be believed! Sweet-as-pie steel guitar sighs away over mesmerizing rollicking maracatu rhythm while Skye Steele’s fiddle sends the whole delicious ache of it all up to the tippy-top of the mistiest mountains. It’s one of the most fascinating covers I have heard in a while.” (Todd Lavoie, NOISE: The San Francisco Bay Guardian Music Blog)

“American and Brazilian musicians have been finding common ground ever since jazz artists turned to bossa nova 50 years ago. But the result has never sounded quite like this.” (Banning Eyre, NPR)

SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY:

– “Growing Stone” (Avokado Artists Recordings, 2011)
– “Legends of The Preacher” (MODIBA Records, 2008)
– “Maracatuniversal” (Nation Beat Music, 2005 / MODIBA Records, 2007)

SELECTED VIDEOS:


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