Globe-Rocker – Tiganá Santana

This article originally appeared in Songlines #94 (Aug/Sept 2013) p25. Download a pdf here.

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Not simply a composer, Brazilian guitarist and singer-songwriter Tiganá Santana is also a poet and philosopher – a formidable force full of musings and rhetorical questions. “I believe in spirituality, and I think of things like music as coming from another dimension, or another place in the world, you know? Where music comes from…” he pauses, contemplating. “I am within music. It is not within me.”

Santana started learning music when he was 14 years old and continued playing while studying philosophy at the Universidade Federal da Bahia. “I like to talk about things, that’s why I studied philosophy. I like to think about life.” Rather than distract him from music, his philosophical investigations only enhanced his songwriting. “Music, for me, is an expression of being alive. It’s an interpretation of life and then also of death.”

“The daily possibility of dying is why we do things – we dream because of that, we pretend because of that, we fulfil because of that.” His latest album, The Invention of Colour, was not only a product of this drive to create, but also honours it. “It is an homage to the creative state… it’s a matter of creating and recreating, inventing and reinventing life.”

The Invention of Colour is more than just another bossa nova album; the cool sensitivity of bossa nova is underpinned by a darker stream of poeticism. Each track is lovely but heavy, lulling you with musical beauty that somehow serves to leave you slightly on edge. Often compared to the sensitive songwriter Nick Drake, Santana has a hazy voice, which blends seamlessly with his many guests on the album. Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade graces ‘La Leyenda de los Eslabones’; Ane Brun’s jazzy voice beautifully compliments ‘Black Woman’; Brazilian singer Lazzo Matumbi elegantly lifts over Santana on ‘Lusuki’; and Maher Cissoko’s kora gently weaves around the African-flavoured title-track. “I gathered people from different parts of the world, and that’s a point I want to stand out. Shaking hands, artistically, with people from different origins, different cultural sources.”

Reaching out across the Atlantic, Santana writes and performs some songs in African languages. As well as Portuguese, Spanish and English, The Invention of Colour features songs in Kikongo and Kimbundu (from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola respectively). He was born and raised in Salvador, Bahia, which is the cultural hub of Afro-Brazilian culture. So his use of African languages seems only natural. “I grew up in that context. I didn’t look for something thoroughly outside myself or my particular experience.”

Santana’s highly individual music is further distinguished by his custom five-string ‘drumguitar’. “I was seeking a sound through which I could express myself. So it’s not only a matter of writing things; the sound itself has its own speech.” Why call it a drumguitar? “Because of the tone. Like many African drums, it has a grave sound, a bass sound, a grounded sound. And I think the ground, the soil, the earth, they have a lot to say to us.”

Ending our conversation as philosophically as it began, Santana points out “music is an experience of life, of both the collective and individual, and of endless being.” He pauses, smiles. “I don’t know if I’m helping, but I do like to think about these things, you know. We are thinking together.”

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