Dracula, I Love You

Periodically, I like to dive into my old “A Track, A Day” blog archives for music I’ve written about before but I feel still hasn’t gotten its fair shake. What better time than Halloween to revisit Tuca’s (real name Valeniza Zagni da Silva) curious masterpiece: Dracula, I Love You? Curious because it’s unlike much released at it’s time. It’s mix of modern Euro-Chanson atmospherics with Brazilian post-Tropicalia MPB melodies still sounds timeless and little travelled by much anyone else. Let’s go back to what I said then (3 years ago) and how I feel about it now…

Now, this is a blog exclusive [and still is…unfortunately – Ed.]. Hopefully, we all somehow know who Tuca is. Tuca, to refresh your memory, was the guitarist and arranger for both French chanteuse Françoise Hardy’s “La Question” and Brazilian cantora e compositora Nara Leao’s “Dez Anos Depois“. Supremely gifted in creating an unheard of mix of both Brazilian samba/bossanova music and European Chanson-style and composition, Tuca by pure osmosis and by forming a huge part in the creation of these two masterpieces should have cemented her place in musical history. However, few people knew what or heard of anything that transpired afterwards for Tuca.

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Tuca, to provide a little background, was born in Brazil but seeking to escape the censorship and martial rule of the Brazilian junta, took a chance to immigrate to France. A woman with a husky demeanor in both voice and look, faced troubles overcoming what the industry demanded for someone like her to “make it”. Early successes in Brazil winning songwriting contests led to little success as her albums were released at the height of the military junta’s grip. Searching for escape she immigrated to France and made Paris her new home. It was in France that Tuca caught the musical eye one Françoise Hardy who spotted her performing in some Brazilian restaurant one night. For Françoise Hardy it was musical love at first. A brief trip to Brazil had shown Françoise that through Brazilian music she could escape her cutesy, pop image. With Tuca she could really explore new boundaries.

From the first song that Tuca gave to Françoise (one originally meant for someone else), “Même Sous La Pluie“, to the final one they both crafted for the album (their stunning transmutation of Tuca’s friend Taiguara’s “A Transa” into “Rêve“) in the background was a truly stunning tale of two women coming into their own as full-fledged songwriters together. It was an album completing the dialog coursing through their musical conversation. For Tuca, it was pouring all the emotions she had of unrequited sapphic love into gorgeous songs which were intensely not of either world — European or Brazilian. For Françoise, it was to actually tap into the full potential of her experimentation, to really take the reins of her music, putting the musical practice they both work diligently on (before any track was laid) into its full work — from the first note laid to the final fader being set. That floating sentimentality, lush emotional resonance, and sweeping orchestration which would make “La Question” such a defining album would mark a turning point for Tuca. Her sublime work with Nara Leao, later on that same year, in Dez Anos Depois, underlining a sea change she helped wrought.

With all that personal, creative success behind her, Tuca came back to Brazil and signed on to the Som Livre label. Given free reign to sing and play how she wanted to, Tuca went a bit further herself. Kneading into the quasi-Gallic pop of before Tuca sifted through English neo-pastoral traditions (very similar to Pentangle or Trees), and light electronic synthesizer treatments. Her voice now vacillated around all the styles, exposing marvelous phrasing from such a deep vocal range. Enlisting the help of sometime Magma keyboardist François Cahen, Brazilian producer Mario de Castro, and noted arranger Christian Chevallier, Tuca crafted and vocalized songs that spoke of a far more intense pain than anything she had let on in the work of Françoise and Nara with orchestration that roared around her.

Dracula, I Love You tries to tap into the zeitgeist of the times — part glam, part zolo-esque tent pitching — to use a certain theatricality as a means to present personal turmoil. The obvious top notes are the songs in the videos posted here. The stock of the album, though, are in the leftfield, dark folk songs like the title track, or “Pra Você Com Amor”, and “O Cisne Negro” that speak of very personal loss and music that feels too painfully in sync with the meandering thoughts of Tuca. Brazilian sambas seeming to disintegrate and boil themselves into something else, both stunning and like little else you’ll ever hear.

I know the backstory that would continue for Tuca. Unable to get much help from her record label to promote her album and somehow losing what little promotion she stood to gain from their pitch to create a mini film to use these same songs, just four years later Tuca would pass away due to complications from following a dangerous weight-loss regimen. Trying to play the dire musical industry game, put Tuca in a position to never find the support necessary to carry her where she needed to be and to prevent her from going a bad way. For me, though, I prefer to focus on the gorgeous sentiments and songs she did leave us. Always on repeat, at least whenever I file through them, “Oui Je Suis Heureuse”,”Teia Viva”, and “Ilha Do Quarto Azul”, still sound like so much potential left unfulfilled and speak of an album that desperately needs to be heard by more than a select few.

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For those who have some time (and want to see some beyond rare performances by Tuca), check out this video collection by Brazil’s Retro AM…