Airto's new release, Life After That, on the Narada World label, is billed, curiously, as his first ever percussion album. But while all his previous albums have, of course, featured his percussion, it has mainly been as an accompanist to other artists. Life After That is primarily devoted to percussion and percussionists, framed by vocals, chants, and various instrumental and sampled sounds. So the first caveat: if you don't like percussion this recording is not for you. If you do this is a gold mine.
I had a chance to speak with Airto about this recording and its title. He explained that Life After That has two meanings. First, as he told me, "everyone is depressed and confused these days as a result of current world events. But life goes on; there will be life after all this is over. So this session is a celebration of life. You can see this when you get out of the cities into the small towns, all over the world; simpler people are still singing and dancing." Also, for the second meaning, there is, Airto feels, life after death. "We are essentially spirit. We have bodies right now but we are spirit - individual intelligence created by Supreme Intelligence, and so we can never die. God gives us this great gift and this is reflected in the creative energy of music."
This recording is certainly bursting with creative energy. The music is Brazilian in spirit but with overtones unique to Airto's world, a world in which Brazilian genres blending with styles from many other cultures, African, Indian, jazz.... Here Airto works with percussionists from Brazil: Marco Gibi, Nigeria: Sikuru, from Cuba: Michito, and from Puerto Rico: Giovanni Hidalgo, according to Airto the greatest conga player in the world.
On one track, Airto also pays tribute to two remarkable, recently deceased, percussionists who were very dear to him. Babatundi Olatunji, the great ambassador of percussion and African music was invited to take part in the session but died the day before. Malonga Casquelourd, a close friend of Airto's for many years, was hit and killed by a car just days after taking part in one track of the session. In memory of these two artists, Airto changed the name of the track to Baba and Molanga Went Home. In keeping with this dedication the track is all percussion with background chants and other vocal sounds. The first track, Ritmo Do Mundo, features a samba-reggae dance rhythm with chorus overlaid. O Túnel has a very pleasant Airto vocal on Hermeto Pascoal's song over guitar work by Oscar Castro-Neves. Fica Mal Com Deus is more like some of Airto's work with Flora Purim with Flora, who appears throughout the album in a supporting role, joining Airto on the vocal line over a fluid rhythm section. Gary Meek adds attractive flute work. Live Solo is a pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine) solo recorded live in concert. Hala, Tumba y Tumbal is perhaps the most intense percussion track, with rapid-fire cross rhythms, while Redland centers around Stephen Kent's didgeridoo. Mulata and Futebol is an attractive ‘street samba' dedicated to two Brazilian icons, beautiful women and soccer. The Mulata, Airto explains, is "a black/brown woman who works by day and sings and dances by night - beautifully." The song speeds up, adds samples from a football crowd, and Airto's imitation of a soccer commentator, until it reaches a climax with a goooooooaaaaal! The final track, Let it Out, Let It In, came about partially by accident in the studio when Airto and his son-in-law Krishna Booker were playing around with a beat box rhythm. Daughter Diana added lyrics and the result is a single that has DJs interested in many parts of the world.
The usual question comes up here- is this jazz? Let's just say it is World Music with jazz overtones. More importantly it is one of the finest percussion recordings in several years.