Years back, I remember reading an article in Musician magazine where they asked a couple dozen musicians what they hoped the music of the ’90’s would sound like (this would’ve been in late ’89 or early ’90). I don’t remember most of the responses, save for one: Vernon Reid said something to the effect that he’d love to see something that’d be a fusion of rap, metal, and world music; I read that, and thought to myself, “Okay, interesting, but what would it sound like?”
It’d take almost ten years, but I’d eventually find out, almost purely by accident. I was working in a chain record store, and one morning before opening had slipped the then-new compilation Red Hot + Rio into the player, proceeding then to go absentmindedly about my morning, half-working, half-listening. At least until “Maracatu Atomico” came thudding through the speakers and stopped me dead in my tracks. For the next fifteen or so minutes, through repeated plays, I couldn’t pay attention to anything else. All of a sudden, what Vernon Reid had said made perfect, crystalline sense. This–in the form of a performance by Chico Science and Nação Zumbi–was it.
So what’s that got to do with O Rappa? Hold on, I’m getting there. Science’s death in 1997 spelled the end of CSNZ, and left me wondering where I might find something with that same spark and originality. A chance conversation with a customer in the aforementioned record shop clued me in to O Rappa. While the sound isn’t apples-to-apples alike (which is a good thing; if they’d been too close, I’d have been more disappointed than thrilled), I think the spirit in which O Rappa operates would’ve done Chico Science proud. That said, now let’s get down to their latest offering, Sete Vezes.
The band’s first, self-titled, disc emphasized a more traditional, roots-reggae approach, but this would evolve over subsequent discs; touches of electronica on Rappa Mundi, a more pronounced rock and rap influence on Lado B Lado A (which featured additional production and remixing by none other than Bill Laswell), and a heavier emphasis on dub and traditional Brazilian sounds and instrumentation on O Silêncio Que Precede O Esporro. If you look at the bigger picture, this isn’t a band that’s undergone tectonic shifts in its sound, in other words. Instead, they’ve kept the same template more or less intact over several albums, with enough tweaks and alterations to keep things from going stale. It’s a difference not of kind, but of degrees.
Vocalist Marcelo Falcão’s style remains consistent, but it’s the way he uses his voice that’s continued to grow and evolve; it’s a great mix of warmth and attitude. It’s apparent from the first track, “Meu Santo Tá Cansado.” There’s a booming bass, a slamming backbeat, strings that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Led Zeppelin disc… and over it all, a singer that sounds more confident in his own delivery than he has on any other album. The more chilled-out, soulful delivery makes the more frenetic, frantic-sounding verses jump out; there’s something for them to contrast against.
Meantime, the rest of the band–guitarist Xandão, bassist Lauro Farias, and drummer/keyboardist Marcelo Lobato (who took over the drum throne when original percussionist Marcelo Yuka was left paralyzed in a 2000 carjacking incident)–backs him with its customary polyrhythmic racket, sometimes accompanying the front man, as they do on “Hóstia” or the title track, and others seeming to spar with him, as on “Documento” and “Respeito Pela Mais Bela.”
The disc as a whole is calmer than previous efforts; there’s nothing here with quite the same drive as “Me Deixa,” or “Ninguem Regula a America.” That isn’t to say that the band have lost their touch, or that this is an album of chill-out or ambient; it’s more to say that this sounds like a band that’s supremely self-assured, comfortable enough in its collective skin that it’s willing to speak a bit more softly. The edge is still very much there, though, in the same way that even a safety razor will still cut you if you’re not careful.