Stellar samba jazz LP combining classic Brazilian melodies and the rhythms of the Orixas. Saved by the Drums is the solo album from acclaimed drummer Stéphane San Juan, long-time drummer for Amadou & Mariam and percussionist for Bernard Purdie. Stéphane is currently drummer and percussionist on David Byrne’s world tour.
Produced by Stéphane and recorded almost entirely in Rio de Janeiro, Saved by the Drums is dedicated to the great Brazilian drum and percussion master Wilson das Neves (1936-2017). The legendary “rhythmist” of the Impera Serrano, one of the most traditional Samba schools in Rio, participated in many of the most important Samba Jazz and MPB albums and accompanied Chico Buarque for nearly 3 decades. Stéphane calls him “my spiritual father”.
“He was the person who encouraged me from the beginning to deepen not only my passion for Brazilian music, but especially my creative work as a songwriter,” he says. Mr. Wilson, in turn, described Stéphane as “the most Brazilian French I have met” and used to compliment him for his mastery of local rhythms, highlighting their shared African origins.
Wilson das Neves died in August 2017, but had the time to lend the immense charisma of his octogenarian voice for the song “The day the favela will come down and it will not be the carnival”, the version Stéphane made of the classic piece of the samba, “O Dia Em Que O Morro Descer E Não For Carnaval”. Stéphane’s version maintains the strength of the political message in the French translation, and was duly approved by the famous lyricist Paulo César Pinheiro. “Wilson wanted to take me to his house to show him the verses in French,” Stéphane recalls. The percussion in the track is managed by another name of noble lineage: Armando Marcal, grandson of Marcal (1902-1947), one of the pioneering composers of samba and son of Master Marcal (1930-1994), legendary director of drums and samba schools.
To the musical blessings of Wilson das Neves are added others, as, from the opening, the 8 minute tour de force of “Elegua”, so named in connection with the first deity for whom drums are playd in the worship of Yoruba ancestors. If Wilson is the one who guided Stéphane to Ifa, his initiation to the hand of Orunmila and the ceremony were made by Zero Telles, another great percussionist in Rio, known for his deep knowledge of religious rhythms. It is he who calls the Orixas (Yoruba saints) in the introduction of the song, formatted in song after the initial third.