The Nation Beat
By Phil Freeman
Published August 23, 2007
Talk about your big beat—the relentless percussion of maracatu music, from northeastern Brazil, is one of the most thunderous, soul-shaking sounds around. In this interview, Scott Kettner of Nation Beat discusses what got him into the sounds of maracatu, the band and their album collaboration with Frank London.
Scott Kettner’s Nation Beat
Nation Beat Music
Talk about your big beat—the relentless percussion of maracatu music, from northeastern Brazil, is one of the most thunderous, soul-shaking sounds around. Some folks may have encountered it on Paul Simon’s The Rhythm Of The Saints, others in the music of Brazilian avant-rockers Naçao Zumbi here, the whomp ’n’ crash of maracatu is played by the Maracatu Naçao Estrela Brilhante alongside percussionist Scott Kettner’s Brooklyn-based group Nation Beat, with a few guests along for the ride, most notably Frank London, who arranges a horn section on three tracks. This fusion of north and south isn’t 100 percent successful “Old Wooden Chair” drains away all momentum built up by the preceding track, the convulsive “Somos De Agua Fria.” Interestingly, though, the English-language lyrics complement the violin, giving the music an almost Appalachian feel. And ultimately, this is a thrilling, multi-faceted disc with a bottom end that could get coma patients up and dancing.
How did you first become interested in maracatu music? When did you first hear it?
In 2000, after graduating from the New School, I used the remaining money from my student loans to travel through Brazil for 5 weeks. In Recife I met an ethnomusicologist named Larry Crook. He introduced me to Jorge Martins, the person who became my mentor and who taught me everything I know about maracatu. After returning to NYC from this short trip I decided that I needed to live in Brazil for an extended period of time to absorb the music and culture So I lived with Jorge in Recife, where he taught me about the culture, religion and the music of maracatu de baque virado. I’ll never forget the very first time I heard a maracatu nation perform, it was Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante during the 2001 Recife carnaval parades. This is probably why I chose Estrela Brilhante to collaborate with Nation Beat on this CD, because they were the first maracatu nation I heard that were steeped in tradition yet also bridged the gap between their deep African roots and modernity.
How did you get Frank London to participate in the project, and what did he bring to the music?
I met Frank London in 2004. He was putting together a CD that was going to include some northeastern Brazilian rhythms. His original idea was to use Frevo, another style of music from Recife, but when we met I convinced him that maracatu would work too. Since I already had a working group of drummers in NYC, I knew I could offer the big sound he was looking for. We did a few shows together with both groups, which led to the recording of Carnival Conspiracy. He had helped me develop the concept of crossing boarders and fusing music between cultures...it just made sense to ask Frank.
What are your long-term goals with this project?
I’m very lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful group of people who all share a similar vision. Our goals are to continue promoting the fusion of the music and culture of northeastern Brazil with the music of North America while collaborating and recording with artists from Pernambuco. I’m currently producing the Maracatu New York CD as well as working on producing artists in Pernambuco and the Nation Beat is currently putting together new material for our next CD.