Album review: Joao Selva – ‘Navegar’: Latin optimism with endless energy

The Breakdown

Navegar is an album that deals in hope and optimism, it’s got endless bounce and energy, but it also underlines that getting to those good times is never easy … and that’s some achievement

WELL it looks like the summer vibes may need a little boost this year, so here’s a release that’s set to heat things up.

Brazilian troubadour Joao Selva, now based in Lyon, definitely aims to shake us around with his samba infused, funk primed second album, Navegar, available on Underdog records from April 2nd.

Born in Ipanema, schooled in bossa nova and steeped in capoeira’s heady blend of martial arts, dance and traditional music, Selva has some rich cultural credentials to draw from. But it’s his imagination and willingness to push the musical boundaries that gives him that individual edge within the swelling ocean of Brazilian pop. In previous bands he has worked with globetrotting rhythmicist and producer Maga Bo and in 2016 teamed up with Bruno Hovart (aka Patchworks) who according to Selva reminded him how to “dig those laid back Rio vibes”. It’s that partnership and their musical connectivity which sparked his second offering after 2017’s Natureza, the deceptively smooth but instantly uplifting Navegar.

The opening, title track leaves you in no doubt where the whole record is heading with its dedication to dance-propelling tunes that look beyond the love triangle. It kicks off as a vibrantly funky samba with percussive shakes, shimmies, clicks and dings, coloured by infectious flute lines and Selva’s relaxed but nimble vocal. As the beats take on flavours from Bahia to the Caribbean, Selva’s song highlights the musical connections first spirited across the Atlantic by African slaves in a perceptively subtle combination of moves.

“Camara” is another cut that blends the personal and political as Selva sends messages of hope to his friends back in Brazil who face uncertainty following the country’s constitutional upheaval. Here he shows his affinity with Brazilian pop’s persistent commitment, from the Tropicalia days onwards, to confronting injustice as the voice of the streets. Set against a pumping nu beat cumbia, as the rasping trombone calls the chorus to rise up and dance, “Camara”’ celebrates the real power of shared highs.

That energetic outlook jumps out of the album’s grooves time and again. Sometimes the disco soundscapes are contemporary as in the whacked electronic funk of “Cade Voce”, with its quaking synth bass and solid rhythmic smack; but in other places Selva takes the more retro route to stepping out. “Devagar” is a pure ‘feet don’t fail me now’ moment of euro-electro joy that tops choppy beats with an authentically vintage Moog snippet. Of all the movers on Navegar, this could be the one for the turntablists.

Elsewhere Joao Selva adds more acoustic finesse to this rhythmic workout without missing a step. On “Meu Mano” he teams up with rising bossa starlet Flavia Coelho for a snappily sharp mix of hiphop conversation, slinky guitar motion and tight horns. The track boasts a go-to ‘hands in the air’ lift as the band glides into the hook, a ‘loco, loco, loco’ moment waiting for a crowded floor. Selva strips things back further on the smooth slow funk of “Meu Mundo”, relaxing effortlessly into a succulent Seu Jorge groove with a meticulous arrangement right down to the perfect triangle tings.

After all the syncopation the record signs off with the atmospheric “Se Voce”, a rippling soundtrack with hints of Morricone that highlights the range and expression of Selva’s voice as well as his uncanny knack for capturing a mood.

Navegar is an album that deals in hope and optimism, it’s got endless bounce and energy, but it also underlines that getting to those good times is never easy … and that’s some achievement.

Joao Selva’s Navegar is available now from Underdog Records digitally, on CD and vinyl’; you can order yours at Bandcamp.

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