The singer, songwriter and scholar Tigana’ Santana grew up on Brazil’s Atlantic coast city of Salvador de Bahia, in a house on a hill that looked out at the ocean.
Sometimes these types of biographical details feel trivial, unrelated to the work. Not so here: Santana’s music derives its unusual hypnotic power from the ongoing, eternal steadiness of the sea. There’s great long-now patience in his music. Tranquility, even. His melodies, often set against simple acoustic guitar arpeggios, are arrestingly stark and declarative; he sings them as though they’re precious generations-old mystical spells, at lullabye volume. And then he lets them linger in the air, the salt spray from a wave.
Like many artists in Bahia, Santana, who is 39, is interested in the connections between Africa and Brazil, which have roots in slavery and are central to the region’s deep cultural heritage. He’s pursuing a PhD in Translation Studies at the University of São Paulo; he’s written lyrics in Portuguese, French, Spanish, Kikongo and Kimbundu (languages of Angola and lower Congo). He recorded parts of his riveting 2015 double album Tempo & Magma in Senegal; as they call out to assorted deities, the compositions on that album and others explore the links between Africa and Brazil at an organic, intimate, approachable level.
Santana’s compositions resonate in part because of his prayerful, profoundly beautiful singing voice: Listen to just one stanza, and you will know that you are in the presence of a singer-slash-healer. Listeners have also described Santana as “a Brazilian Nick Drake,” and while I’m generally suspicious of that kind of reductionist tagging, in this case it’s fairly accurate. Santana’s music echoes the brooding, pensive moods Drake caught on Five Leaves Left, then extends them with skillful, and remarkably subtle, deployment of Afro-Brazilian polyrhythm.
As usual, the playlist is not intended to be in any way comprehensive: It’s a brief point of entry. For those wishing to explore Santana’s discography in depth, here’s the flight plan I took: Tempo & Magma; The Invention of Color; Vida Codigo; and a recent single with Baiana System.
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