PORTUGAL: Bairro Da Ponte - Stereossauro
Electronic beats meet the passion and saudade of fado in this entertaining melange of an album
We don’t often consider the artwork of an album as necessarily integral to the album itself, though it often is. It is always some kind of statement by the band or musician – a statement about the band or their views, or about the music of the album you’re about to listen to. Think of The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling, where the pink and green lettering on the front cover is a homage to Elvis Presley’s first album cover, and when combined with the photograph of a man mid-destruction of a guitar on stage, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what they’re trying to say. When it came to the artwork for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the sheer extravagance and beauty of it, designed by pop artists Jann Haworth and Peter Blake, not only shows their knack for tapping into the zeitgeist, but also tells the listener before a note has been heard that you’re in for a ride unlike anything else you’ve ever heard. Similarly, though undeniably less iconic than those previous examples, Portuguese DJ Stereossauro’s 2019 album Bairro da Ponte makes a comparable statement by depicting an elderly woman in typical Portuguese fado clothing locked in an amorous embrace with a younger man with modern clothes and hair. I think we know what this means. It’s fusion time.
“[The songs] function properly as electronic music, and also surprise you with his excellent collaborations, unexpected genre fusions, and the delight of hearing something genuinely new.”
Stereossauro’s music on this album takes inspiration from Portuguese musical traditions, namely fado music, and applies that to his more familiar territory of electronic and house music. On this album, Stereossauro employs the use of a whopping 20 guest artists, including renowned male fadistas Camané and Carlo do Carmo, as well as using samples from the Rainha do Fado herself, Amália Rodrigues, alongside rappers Plutonio and Capicua. He even bridges across the Lusophone world by bringing in Cape Verdean-Portuguese singer Dino d’Santiago whose music brings morna and coladeira into the 20th Century. While it can seem from this description that the album is something of an unfocussed mess, I would argue that this is far from the case. The album is remarkably consistent in its through line of melding genres, and Stereossauro’s use of collaborations is rather inspired. By using vocals from renowned fadistas he adds real colour to the potentially repetitive music. For example, Carlo do Carmo’s characterful singing on Cacílheiro is a real highlight, as is the passionate interplay between the Camané’s vocals and the Rodrigues samples on the opening track, Flor de Maracujá. The interplay between modernity and tradition is firmly on display on the track Depressa Demais, where Ana Moura’s rich vocals are sharply contrasted by the crunchy, sharp electronic beats that Stereossauro and DJ Ride have put down, which lean towards the harshness of EDM at times. What’s nice about it all, however, is that one element never overpowers the other, and they all work in harmony
While the album’s theme is plain for all to see, and it is mostly successful in combining the genres in an interesting and entertaining way, it also does wear a bit thin when we come to the hour mark. Coming in at 62 minutes, Stereossauro fully exhausts the potential he has tapped into with this, with it slightly becoming a bit too much by minute 50, though it still remains a good quality album throughout, as Stereossauro is canny enough to know that his genre fusion is at its best when it remains sharply focussed. The songs have a structure and a consistency that means they can both do what you expect, by which I mean they function properly as electronic music, and also surprise you with his excellent collaborations, unexpected genre fusions, and the delight of hearing something genuinely new. Though it may not blow me away with any particular musical genius, it is a fun and interesting album that bears repeat listens. I think what’s key here is that it all sounds right. It doesn’t sound like fusion for fusion’s sake, just to be trendy and unusual. Stereossauro clearly loves his country’s rich musical traditions as much as he loves electronic music, and that shows. Like a great chef, he’s treated his ingredients with the respect they deserve.