The sky is old for a long time

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By Henry Burnett*

Comment on the latest album by musician Lucas Santtana

In times of resurgence of intolerance at all levels – political, cultural, religious and moral – it is not uncommon for the arts to operate against the established unethical framework, even when harassed by conservative edicts, which always find those who fulfill them with the necessary requirements. Call that independence, a name often linked to musicians and their authorial productions, but which today means more and more.

Chico Buarque, one of the most engaged artists on the left, often says that his most fragile creation is shown above all when he needed to react to totalitarian movements in the 1960s in Brazil. By this he meant that when creation needs to stand up against oppressive power, it generally loses aesthetic strength, although it gains in expression and action; as I understand your sentence. It's a self-assessment that can be contested, but not disrespected, because it says a lot about the status of the song in its highest expression, by its greatest creator.

It is in this crudely summarized historical framework that the most recent album by composer Lucas Santtana is inserted in Brazil today. Perhaps not everyone realizes that one of his first appearances took place on Gilberto Gil's Acústico MTV project, where he played the transverse flute. From then until today, his path demonstrates rare integrity. After he definitively assumed the singer-songwriter side, Lucas Santtana imbued his work with an identity marked by the use of technology, something he masters like few others.

The balance between traditional songs and arrangements crossed by elements of electronic music is today an unmistakable mark in all their albums, from Electro Ben Dodô (2000) to the most recent, The sky is old for a long time (2019). Despite the brand, each album has an independent sound and outstanding uniqueness. Personally I consider the album no nostalgia (2009) the high point of this junction, but his most recent project introduces an absent or nuanced element in previous projects: the political.

As the composer himself highlighted in an interview with the program Metropolis, from TV Cultura in São Paulo, the new album seeks to return to a starting point, resetting the processes that led to the experiments of Airplane mode (2017), hence the option for the classic voice and guitar format, streamlining the composition and recording process as much as possible. However, from the first listen, the disc surprises, because the apparent simplicity of the format does not mean a nostalgic return to the masters of the style (Dorival and Dori Caymmi, João Gilberto, Gil, Caetano and many others).

As expected, the listener takes a while to understand how a record in a traditional format can sound so different from the sound commonly served by singer-songwriters. Only in a few tracks do we hear the clean guitar played by the musician, as in the excellent “Brasil Patriota”. In general, the effects are present in all tracks, used with perfection and without leaving any kind of saturation or tiredness at any time. I.e: The sky is old for a long time reiterates the musician's commitment to the contemporary, without letting tradition be a burden to carry. The designation “contemporary folk”, which demarcates the new album on digital platforms, could not be happier.

Having said that, I would like to focus my attention on what I consider a new element in this work, which is still young and already so well defined in its principles: the composer's commitment not only to his time, but to the recent hardships of his country. It's not easy, as you know, to find the right balance between creation and criticism, especially when we talk about commercial music and its insertion and maintenance needs; not to mention the tradition, that is, the canonical composers who lent strength to the fight against the 1964 dictatorship and other forms of oppression in a country whose authoritarian and violent tendency was always on the surface – in this area the game is heavy.

Knowing this, let's remember that Lucas Santtana was created within the canonical environment described above, we can only pay attention to his options and successes. There is a clear decision to communicate directly with your audience. This is clear in most of the lyrics on the new album, mostly written by him. Far from creating a pamphlet, the disc acts as a call to action, a summons on several levels. A speech spoken in the opening track, “Portal deactivação”, could even be seen as naive due to the adopted tone, but it is, in the end, part of the call, and that paves the way for the other songs that will follow; here's an excerpt:

From the house east of light / May wisdom dawn upon us / So that we may see everything clearly / From the house north of night / May wisdom ripen among us / So that we may see everything from within / From the house west of transformation / May wisdom be transformed into right action / So that we may do what has to be done / From the house south of the eternal sun / May right action bring us the harvest / So that we may enjoy the fruits of planetary being / From the house superior of paradise / Where the beings of the stars and the ancestors gather / May their blessings reach us now / From the inner house of the earth / May the pulsar of the crystal heart of the planet / Bless us with its energies / So that we may end with the wars

There is always room for questioning the fairness of this commitment of art to its time. Nietzsche stated in his last years of life that the philosopher's task was to overcome his time, and more, to oppose everything that was fixed in his time. Easy to equate: thinking for him was moving towards the future. And what is our future? Will we have one? Lucas Santtana makes his contribution in this direction.

The contemporary themes most dear to journalism and political analysts are expressively present in the songs. Some examples: the street and social media demonstrations in “Nobody lets go of anyone’s hand” are an affirmative continuity of something fundamental, namely, that the wave of the extreme right brought to light hidden voices of resistance, often silenced force and that today form the great opposition – perhaps the only one? – to the authoritarian dictates of a government that no longer deems it necessary to disassociate itself from Nazism, to linger on a single recent and unpronounceable example.

Our shallow nationalism with a violent vocation appears in “Brasil patriota”, which reminds us that the nation reveals deep patriotism in football and live mega-concerts, but does not guard civility when opposing the massacres of Vale do Rio Doce. Education (and violence) appears in “A teacher is talking to you”, an affective statement and one of the album's high points. The (non) transit between social classes in “Meu Primeiro Amor” – where Lucas also mentions Lula and his fight against poverty without fear of retaliation. “The best is to arrive”, one of the most beautiful songs on the album and others are some examples of an integral and necessary album.

Lucas Santtana's version of Jorge Drexler's song “Todo se transforma” even fooled me, as the author's mark reaches the performer in such a marked way that I thought it was a duo. Deep down, even the songs that are not dedicated to the direct chronicle of political problems result in paths of survival, “The Greater Good” is the greatest example. Love, always him, revived as an antidote and protection against hatred. However, the country that spins falsely is the raw material of this new project, where a composer who expands his audience more and more – inside and outside Brazil – establishes himself as a fundamental and invigorating voice for tired MPB.

*Henry Burnett He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at Unifesp.

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