Maracatu Nunca Antes
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Maracatu Nunca Antes

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"Maracatu Nunca Antes!"

Maracatu Nunca Antes is, without question, one my favourite Toronto bands. Their sound is so powerful and vibrant that it's difficult to avoid, in a live context, being completely overwhelmed with joy and awe. I first encountered them at an event in Kitchener, Ontario that was loosely affiliated with the Open Ears Festival. This event, ostensibly a rave, featured a mix of true blue techno DJs alongside the likes of Marc Leclair (aka Akufen), Nifty, and Patty Schmidt of CBC Radio Two's now-defunct Brave New Waves program (doing a DJ set) in an abandoned Legion building which had been taken over by the City of Kitchener.

When the promoter of the event described Nunca Antes as a 'drum ensemble' I was somewhat suspicious because of the PLUR-seeking hippy types that seem to come to some rave-ish events. But I should've trusted his curatorial prowess, because nothing could have prepared me for the sensation this group stirred up. I remember I went briefly downstairs to chat with Matt Smith, Steve Kado and Rob Gordon, who were beavering away to prepare "the loudest Nifty set ever", and missed what was happening upstairs... the hardwood dancefloor area being invaded by an army of uniform-clad drummers--big stick-beaten drums at that. By the time I arrived upstairs Nunca Antes was going full steam. I had missed the vocal introduction of the first song, and arrived in the middle of one of their intense instrumental sections: multiple large drums pounding, strident whistles blowing, agogos, shakers and snare drums buzzing away.

And then, the next song started up, with leader Aline Morales (who used to play in the well- known baque Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante) belting out an anthemic melodies before cueing the massive percussion meltdown.

The thing that astounded me was how bloody loud they were, despite the fact that the only mics they were using were for the vocals. The rickety hardwood floors had obviously provided natural resonance for them, also lending a nice synaesthetic complement the huge surging rhythms.

Saturday October 6th, 2007 they released their CD "The Beat Migration", celebrating with packed show at East-End Toronto venue Centre of Gravity (conveniently (for me) located next to Little India). Actually in this case the proximity of Little India messed things up a little bit. I slipped out during a perfunctory DJ set to get some food and browse the cheap CD-Rs at the numerous paan shops, and missed the majority of the first Nunca Antes set, much to my dismay.

Fortunately there was another longer set, which I didn't miss.

Really they could do nothing to fully reignite my amazement in Kitchener. After all, there is nothing quite like going back to one's hometown after moving away, only to have one's mind totally blown--especially in an unconventional yet familiar-ish space like said Legion Hall.

Despite my preconceptions, I was still transported completely--utterly transfixed by the paradox of Maracatu music. It is at once taut and loose, fearsome and fierce yet sensuous and effusive, militaristic yet celebratory, even (dare I say) simple and direct yet complex... Experienced live it's like a cross between the apocalypse and losing your virginity. Perhaps this contradictory aspect has to do with the history of maracatu which is bound up variously in slavery and colonialism but also celebration.

And while part of me preferred the more raw and DIY charm of the first performance I saw, and the absense, in that case of a stage, the more conventional 'concert' aspects applied to this concert seemed far from artificial. There was no less fervour or conviction in this concert. The lights and vaguely fancier attire merely highlighted the natural charisma of the ensemble. They also had the advantage of a large group (the numbers vary) that night which made it very easy for them to project their energy from the stage

So while different than my first taste, they were nothing short of exhilarating, ferocious and beautiful--all the things I had hoped for!

My only criticisms of the evening were entirely outside of Maracatu Nunca Antes' music. I felt a little odd about the sequencing of a set which capped off the evening, which was another ensemble fronted by Aline Morales performing a more pared-down and gentle style of Brazilian music called forro. The drastic shift in energy would've been better set in reverse, with this group warming up, but perhaps there were logistical reasons behind the decision. I feel as if I would've appreciated the smaller group's sensibility had it preceded the more brazen, thundering stuff, instead I was too busy sorting myself out!

The disc is also quite captivating, heaving around the thick muscular beats, amidst the vocal fanfares. Some other Maracatu recordings I've heard have been a little skimpy on the percussion breaks. While Nunca Antes cuts them down a little bit from the live show, there's no sense that the pieces are truncated at all. Each track breathes very naturally, with a good balance between all the elements. The recording itself is also very clear and crisp without sacrificing the all-too-crucial bottom end at all. A subtle production effect that I really enjoy is that, frequently the vocals are mixed just slightly lower than one would expect, giving the drums a bit more space to plough through.

On two tracks they include additional harmonic instruments. "Mar Sem Fim" drops some tasteful African-tinged guitar into the mix, lightening up the sound a little bit. "Mãe Sereia", however, employs a horn section (courtesy of Scott Good, Richard Underhill and Tim Hamel) which to my ears sounds completely extraneous, and yet somehow kind of incomplete. While the players are more than competent, the parts have a tentative feel to them, giving them the air of being tacked on. The effect is vaguely similar to that of the guitar, but where the guitar adds some nice agility to the pulse rhythms of the piece, the sustained horn notes steal the fire from the drums and singing. I would've far preferred to hear vocal parts covering what the horns do instead.

Fortunately there are 15 other immaculate tracks in addition to this less successful piece:

"Casa Diamante", one of the most energetic songs from their live set, is cast in a new light on CD. After an accapella call-and response intro the listener is catapulted full-force drum-choir acrobatics. Live, the sheer force nearly knocks you over, whereas the crisp detail the CD allows is immersive in its own way, the agile drum-work carving out a web of intersecting rhythmic trajectories.

Opener, "Bombo de Là" builds steadily, also starting with a choral intro before entering into a more elusive rhyhtmic space, with lotsa trompe-l'oreille temporal tricks going on in the background. Particularly tasty is the break where all but the bass drums drop out beneath the vocals!

Really, though instead of reading about this you should go investigate for yourself at the band's myspace: - End of WOrld Music Blog

"Groove! Maracatu Nunca Antes CD review"

Toronto’s Nunca Antes (“never before”) is the first Canadian group devoted to Maracatu de Baque Virado, Northeastern Brazil’s precursor to samba batucada. Led by Aline Morales and her husband Alex Bordokas, Nunca Antes remains faithful to the heavily Afro-inspired rituals: call and response songs, ceremonial dances and costumes, and powerful processional rhythms centred on the alfaia, a wooden drum tied with rope and played off the shoulder. But Morales makes room for fresh collaborations as well as traditional numbers, all of which are here on Beat Migration (named after their live percussion event series). The chanting choruses riding the heavy grooves — snares, massive bells, shakers and alfais — comprise folk songs and original compositions, mostly written by Morales, though Nunca Antes updates one famous song (“Oro-mi-má”) from Candomblé (a Yoruban-Brazilian religion) with an innovative new beat. The original compositions are catchy too, featuring swelling horns headed by Juno-winning saxophonist Richard Underhill, with guitar, bass and arrangements by David Arcus on a the sublime mermaid’s tale (“Mãe Sereia”). As well there are djembe and distinct fusions of West African and Afro-Brazilian sounds (“Mar Sem Fim,” “Tudo Passa Tudo”). Morales and Nunca Antes are Canadian pioneers of a unique Afro-Brazilian tradition.

Besides the style of music, what makes Nunca Antes different than all the other Afro-Brazilian percussion groups around Toronto?
Alex: The style is a huge thing because it affects who we are in other ways as well. People who come to play with us already have certain tastes — more like our style, different and raw. Few people know this rhythm; we feel honoured to be the first to present Maracatu to them. Aline: Being a woman, a group leader and Brazilian carries a lot of responsibility. I have to “keep it real” in a musical and cultural sense but also adapt to life in Toronto.

Nunca Antes’ tagline is “rhythm, beat, movement, excitement.” Describe your most fulfilling moment in performance over the past year.
Alex: The five-year anniversary of the group was in this old vaudeville theatre that we decorated like a São João festival in Brazil — colourful flags across the ceiling and big silks down the side. It was so hot with the energy and everyone dancing that people were transported to another place. Aline: The ceiling had drops of sweat! I would look to the people on the stage playing, they were so happy and the crowd was giving us energy back! Alex: When we went off the stage into the crowd, the place was ecstatic, I really felt one with the whole experience, not like I was performing. Pure bliss. We were playing, people were dancing; people were dancing, so we were playing. (Independent) - Exclaim Magazine


The Beat Migration, 2007
1. Bombo de La (radio airplay)
2. Sobrado de Mamae (radio airplay)
3. Baque Instrumental
4. Mae Sereia (radio airplay)
5. Cafune
6. Mar Sem Fim (radio airplay)
7. Baque Novo Velha Nacao
8. Cafune (nunca antes) (radio airplay)
9. Oro-mi-ma (radio airplay)
10. Casa Diamante
11. Coco da Lagoa
12. Navio Chegando
13. Evolucao Percussiva
14. Nas Ruas de Toronto
15. Nunca Antes Ta na Rua
16. Tudo Passa Tudo (Makru-catu)

Nunca Antes: Baque de Maracatu, 2005
1. Nunca Antes Tem Raiz
2. Mashdahash
3.Segue Embaixador
4. Moro-mi-ma
5. Santa Barbara
6. Baques de Maracatu



Nunca Antes is an afro-brazilian percussion and performance troupe that plays the roots music of traditional Maracatu and complements it with their own styles and sensibilities. Bandleader Aline Morales is at the forefront of Nunca Antes’ mystical and high-energy show. While their greatest school of influence is Maracatu Estrela Brilhante de Recife, various groups and traditions inspire their approach, the afoxés and côcos of North East Brasil to the 6/8 rhythms of West Africa. This is the world citizen’s sound for a multi-cultural planet of raw energy and acoustic bass-head dub.

With the release of their first full length CD “the Beat Migration,” Nunca Antes brings a raw freshness and a wealth of musical dynamics to percussive music, while tracing themes of identity at play in our global village. The CD highlights the creative talent of Aline as she presents the perfect combination of sweet melodies and deep rhythms. Born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, her introduction to afro-brazilian rhythms began in her early teens with capoeira. Aline comes from a family of multi-talented artists, with two of her sisters working with circus and music. After being introduced to Maracatu by Eder Rocha, her musical journey began. In Recife, Aline became the first woman to play caixa in Maracatu Estrela Brilhante at carnival, and in her home city played with cutting edge groups Elefante Groove and Uakti. In 2003 she moved to Toronto and formed Nunca Antes, greatly influencing the musical landscape of the city. She moves beyond the pop stereotypes of Brazilian music using traditional sound to invoke a new musical movement.

Nunca Antes has played at Hillside, Sunfest, Mariposa, Nuits D’Afriques, Pridefest, Harbourfront Center, and the Muhtadi International Drum Festival in Tobago. Community-oriented and artistically focused, Aline Morales and Nunca Antes are a living sound system manifested through song, rhythm, movement and excitement.

More info about Nunca Antes? Please feel free to contact Alex at 647-293-2266,