We and the Sea
The quartet’s name goes back to the first drummer of the group, who invented an instrument designed to help him make the dozens of percussive sounds of the batucada – any group of Brazilians making samba. He called it a tamba partly because that is an African rhythm and partly because it is also a Brazilian plant, but mostly because it sounds like samba, which is the mother of Brazilian music. The drummer left, but the name stuck – and now Ohana is a batucada all by himself.
There is another very important ingredient in the Tamba sound and it goes back four centuries to the time when the cultures of the African slaves and Portuguese missionaries began mingling with that of the Brazilian Indian. The musical outcome was an exotic mixture of the profoundly melancholy airs of the Indian with the insistent, structured beat of the African and the loose, Moorish melodies of Portugal. This music is still alive in north-eastern Brazil (where most of Brazil's [blacks] live) and the Brazilian composer, Baden Powell, has drawn deeply from it for his own music. Three of his songs are on this record. This music of the north is sometimes, and confusingly, called Afro-samba, but perhaps bossa norte – “the northern thing” – would be more descriptive. It is darker in hue than bossa nova, more somber, more gutsy... Baden Powell is its prophet, and the Tamba 4 are its disciples.
So that’s where the Tamba sound comes from. It is artfully distilled on this album, which gives a shimmering cross-section of the group’s musical evolution. We and the Sea is a smooth, sinuous piece of early bossa nova, and it appeared on their first recording in 1960. Flower Girl, dating from the same period, is a moving vignette of a young girl’s first bittersweet taste of love – and Bebeto justly earns [João] Gilberto’s praise in telling it. Dolphin is new, composed by Luiz and never recorded before. It is a gentle mood piece that soothes the spirit and seduces the ear with rich, modern harmonies. The three “bossa norte” numbers, “Iemanjá,” “Chant of Ossanha,” and “Consolation,” are all haunted by the lonely flute of Bebeto. The first two, particularly, are troubled by glimpses of the pagan dieties of voodoo and macumba who have never been forgotten by the fisherman of the northeast coast (Iemanjá is goddess of the sea; Ossanha of storms). All three works have splendid moments in their arrangements: listen for Ohana’s dainty syncopated tick tick tick continuo that runs almost all through Iemanjá; or his provocative conga prelude to Ossanha.