Globe-spinning, dangerously funky New York crew Nation Beat go one step beyond “fusion” on their third CD Growing Stone (due September 15 via Barbés). Sure they’re rooted in a mash-up of big-booming Brazilian maracatu rhythms and the percolating rat-tat-tat of New Orleans second line (their website boasts equal parts Carnival and Mardi Gras). But dig a little deeper and you’ll find the downhome whine of Southern-fried slide guitar, deep country melodies and beaming zydeco flavors. It ultimately positions Nation Beat as an East-coast, funk-crazed Los Lobos, playing “roots music” where the actual roots occasionally seem to have no beginning or ends. “Puxa O Boi” has infectious drumming; bandleader Scott Kettner claims he morphed a Mardi Gras Indian funk groove on the cowbell and snare with a maracatu groove in the bass drum. But once Jordan Scannella jumps in on the bass, the whole thing turns into impossible funk that would give Swizz Beatz a stress headache.
What is “Puxa O Boi” about?
Liliana Araújo, vocalist: “Puxa O Boi” is a metaphor for life’s hardships. The imagery is that of a man pulling his bull up a hill; a life of free-spiritedness; hope, strength and perseverance. His hope carries him to the top of the hill, where he carries out dreams of singing embolada, rhyming all over the world.
What inspired it?
Araújo: Lyrically the inspiration came from the vaqueiros, powerful and fearless men, the warriors of the sertao. Alfaias–maracatu bass drum–playing like the heart of those warriors was the main inspiration in the music.
What can you tell me about the groove on this song? What type of rhythms informed it?
Scott Kettner, drummer and bandleader: There’s a lot of similarities between [Mardi Gras Indian and maracatu] cultures and rhythms that I have been exploring for many years on the drum set. When I sat down with our bass player Jordan Scannella to work out the groove for this song we had an understanding of these musical parallels and wrote this groove together with the goal of capturing the energy of both.
You mix many genres and cultures. Speaking strictly anecdotally, what type of people do you find are reacting strongest to your music?
Kettner: I find that most New Yorkers are pretty open to what we’re doing since it is a city that is informed by so many cultures and we are just a reflection of that. However when we travel the country it seems that usually it’s minorities and hippies who are up front dancing to our music. I think our music speaks well to Brazilians and Latinos because of the rhythms and the bilingual aspect of the band. Most people in South and Latin America grow up hearing American music on TV, radio and movies, so when they hear Nation Beat mixing Brazilian rhythms with American music it’s not really anything new to them. They get it!
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?
Kettner: It was the first big Nation Beat and Maracatu New York show together at S.O.B.’s in 2003. I had my mentor Jorge Martins come from Recife to perform with us and I think it was the first time that NYC had ever hosted a maracatu event. I had about 20 drummers and a horn section in the band plus dancers. The place was packed and it was only our first gig! It was an ambitious first gig but I set the bar high on that show and now I’m always trying to reach that energy.
What’s your favorite place to eat in NYC?
Kettner: Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s one of the best pizza joints in the city and has a long history. You can feel the history when you walk into Grimaldi’s.
Nation Beat’s CD release party takes place on Friday at 92YTribeca.