Written, recorded and released just as Brazil’s military dictatorship reached the climax of its long black arc, the one and only album by Satwa is a divinely subtle protest. Now issued for the first time in America through the venerable Time-Lag Records in Maine and the stewardship of freeform fixture Erika Elder, Satwa, often cited as Brazil’s first independent record, is a mellow starburst of acoustic jangle.
Formed after the return of Lula Côrtes and Lailson from their respective foreign excursions – the former a beardo home after the requisite Moroccan sojourn, the latter a young long-hair back from the States – Satwa lasted only a year, perhaps due to their differing stripes. Lailson was from the verdant former Dutch colony of Pernanbuco, while Côrtes hailed from the wild badlands of Paraiba. But for 11 days in January 1973 the pair jammed cross-legged and produced the folk trance gems that adorn this self-titled debut.
At a time when censors caused newspapers to run cake recipes on their front pages in place of rejected news stories, Lailson only lets the occasional throat drone slip through his lips. Largely void of voice and word, the songs – Côrtes plucking steely leads from his sitar while Lailson’s 12-string thrums crystalline chords – are loose and lovely. The sole interference in these glistening arabesques is the hoary electric fretwork of one Robertinho on “Blues do Cachorro Muito Louco,” the most explicitly fried track. Otherwise, Côrtes and Lailson are left to experiment in musty silence. Seemingly taped live, each track is a dry documentation of the duo’s gently rambling improvisations. Far from the recombinant psychedelia of tropicalismo that reigned over the pre-hippie underground in Brazil’s bustling metropolises five years earlier, Satwa play bed peace bards. In double-mono, or fake stereo, Satwa is raw, untreated mentalism translated into pure songflow. At times exhausted and dusty – “Atom” – or archaically splendorous – “Valse Dos Cogumelos” – the duo’s spiraling scrolls etched in rustic timbres unfurl gracefully.
Côrtes, now a graying painter, would go on to record the more explicitly weird Paêbirú (also recently reissued) with Zé Ramalho. A concept album about extraterrestrials in Paraiba’s arid backwoods, it had long been anointed a masterpiece of the era. After dabbling in rock outfits, Lailson broke into the mainstream as a newspaper cartoonist, a job he has kept to this day. Neither were or will probably ever be Satwa again, but during those few days and from now on, Satwa is a quiet triumph.
-Bernardo Rondeau, dustedmagazine.com
Satwa-SATWA (1973 / 2005 reissue)