Nation Beat will bring sounds of Brazil and New Orleans to Maplewoodstock

by Marty Lipp
nation beat maplewood

KRYSTAL PAGÁN

Nation Beat (from left, Paul Carlon, Tom McHugh, Scott Kettner, Mark Collins and Heather Ewer) will perform at Maplewoodstock, July 13.

Maplewoodstock may not have the generational impact that its namesake festival had in 1969, but Woodstock didn’t have food trucks and bouncy houses.

Founded in 2004 by a group of neighbors and musicians, the Maplewoodstock Music & Art Festival has grown into a two-day event with food, vendors, a Kid Zone, and both local and nationally known musicians.

The cover of Nation Beat’s album, “Archaic Humans.”

One of the 22 acts this year, in fact, is both locally based and nationally known: Percussionist Scott Kettner of Maplewood is bringing his band Nation Beat to the festival on the heels of its new album, Archaic Humans, on Ropeadope Records.

“I’ve always wanted to perform for all of my friends and the community here in Maplewood,” says Kettner, who has lived in the town for almost 13 years. “One of the reasons that made this town so appealing was the amount of artists and artistic people and the support for the arts. So for us, and for me personally, it’s a great opportunity to share this music with people who appreciate music in this town.”

Nation Beat melds music from Brazil with various American genres, including jazz, funk and a heavy dollop of New Orleans-style brass band music. Kettner began his career as a jazz percussionist, but a mentor, jazz drummer Billy Hart, pointed him in the direction of the folkloric music of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco. Kettner went to Brazil and immersed himself in the music and has gone back and forth over the years. In 2013, Nation Beat received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to tour The United States with the Brazilian folkloric performance troupe Maracatu Nação Estrela Brilhante.

Initially, the band combined Brazilian rural styles such as forró with American country music, even collaborating at Farm Aid for a set with Willie Nelson in 2008. In recent years, it has leaned more heavily into brass and percussion that takes a cue from New Orleans.

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Melanie Scholtz, front center, with Nation Beat.

For Archaic Humans, the band’s seventh album, the songs are all original except for the classic “Inútil Paisagem” (listen below) by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim. The band adds new elements to its sound with guest appearances by D.C.-based rapper Christylez Bacon and South African jazz singer Melanie Scholtz (who both will be with the band at Maplewoodstock).

Kettner said the album title refers to the unplugged music the band plays, which is growing rarer as music becomes more electronic and digitized.

“We’ve always had a foot in the traditions in the past, but we’ve never tried to recreate what was already done,” Kettner says. “So one of the concepts musically is that we’re carrying the past into the present as we look to the future. … We made the album acoustically without any AI technology or electronics. It’s starting to become an arcane thing to see people play music and musical instruments. When was the last time you saw a Super Bowl show with real instruments onstage?”

The Brazilian influences are most obvious when Kettner steps away from his drum kit and plays the triangle, which is primary in forró, or the pandeiro, which looks like a tambourine but is played in a much more complicated way to extract a panoply of sounds and rhythms. On the song “A New Flow” (listen below), he slaps out a breakneck rhythm as the sole accompaniment to Bacon’s rapping and beatboxing.

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NATION BEAT

On two slower, sweeter songs written and sung by Scholtz, Kettner’s soft but propulsive rhythms underlie the gentle vocals — a characteristic of one vein of Brazilian music, starting with bossa nova.

“It requires more attention to detail,” Kettner says, “because you don’t want to just slap anything over that and expect it to work. It requires a little bit more thought and time and nuance to find the right groove that’s heavy but not overbearing.”

He says of Nation Beat, “There’s something familiar there, but there’s also something very unique and different that people haven’t heard yet. That’s what we always try to do: bring something new to the table. But with the beats, the grooves and the harmonies and the melodies, it’s very accessible.

“Jazz used to be a form of dance music, and then at some point it lost the dance. And so my personal mission, and also with the group … what we’re trying to do is create a style of jazz that embraces the dance element. So it’s music that is intellectual — you can listen to it — and you can dance to it.”

The Maplewoodstock Music & Art Festival is free and will take place from noon to 10 p.m. on July 13 and from noon to 9:30 p.m. on July 14 at Memorial Park in Maplewood. Nation Beat will perform at 7 p.m. July 13. Other July 13 performers will include Remember Jones and DJ Prince Hakim, while Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country, The Tia Holt Experience and Alessandra & the Smallworld Band are among those scheduled for July 14. Visit Maplewoodstock.com.

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