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Culture Reviews
Zuko 103
By Ben Ishmael
Lilian V: “We just want everyone to dance and have a good time...”

The term ‘world beat’ is an old one, used so often that it has long branched out into smaller denominations. Speaking with Zuko 103 at Tinkoff during the interview and subsequently watching them live, I could see that ‘world beat’ definitely fits them to a tee. Based out of the Netherlands, the group has been touring many different parts of the world to preach their gospel of fun and dance. Largely Latin-influenced, their diverse musical backgrounds are evident in the music they play, and gets the crowd going with the music, regardless of what language the lyrics are in.

Let’s take a look at the nucleus. Stefan Kruger, a true world traveller, plays the drums and relishes in discovering many different new sounds. Stefan Schmid left Munich 15 years ago and was a classically trained pianist before picking up jazz and discovering Latin music, later branching out into programming and producing. Finally, Lilian Vieira came from Brazil with a deep awareness of classic Brazilian music, particularly in the Northeast where there is a dominance of rhythms influenced by African drums. Indeed, while Lilian provides the Portuguese-language content and vocals, she more importantly acts as the band’s muse – their source of inspiration.

Stefan S: “[A successful show happens when] the band plays well… A gig is a gig; no matter what, you do your best.”

They played well alright. The band played to inspired heights all throughout the evening, from beginning to end. The smell of White Widow hung heavily in the air, but it was never necessary. The band played damn well, and the crowd damn well enjoyed it.

In describing Zuko 103’s unique sound, these adjectives appear more than once: Latin, energetic, jazzy, funky, and groovy. The first song was a awesome, using all of the above adjectives as the testament of their refined music. The sweet sound of Lilian’s voice in Portuguese, accompanied by a perfect rhythm section and excellent percussion from the drum set and congo drums. The airy guitar announced the samba bridge, with the keyboards adding up to the build-up. Before you knew it, everybody in the group was jamming, playing full out. An excellent opening song.

The band soon also played a certified hip-shaker, with some audience participation fuelled by Lilian. The beat’s simplicity allowed the audience to clap along. It soon gave way to a hard bossa nova and then another samba number, and by this time the audience was duly primed, dancing at the Tinkoff. This was one happy crowd!

Stefan S: “Thelonious Monk is my own personal hero…”

It was at this point that the band decided to switch gears a little bit. The next song had three changes to their beat, switching not only tempo but the actual rhythmic progression. It was a genuine bossa nova track, but with a very jazz-inspired interpretation. I could sense that this was Stefan S.’ time to shine, and I was right. Needless to say, his jazz piano solo was outright incredible, with his own unique voice coming through loud and clear with the help of his keyboard. His backup and percussion were playing in fine form, too; a very strong performance.

The band then shifted into a Brazilian-style rhumba, which was probably the strongest number in the whole set. In what was the strongest in terms of audience participation, it was also the strongest in terms of the band’s playing. Playing with reckless abandon, the guys were absolutely amazing. The groovy shifting bass line just seemed to be icing on the cake.

With the next number, Stefan S. once again stepped up to plate, this time offering some crazy music that had me wondering whether the smell in the air had managed to affect me. His second piano solo was out of this earth improvising that sounded like space-age techno. It soon took off even further, with slow metamorphosis into some threateningly trippy programming. Different, but damn good.

Lilian V: “We want to tell a story… but not [have the audience] worry about the lyrics.”

For the rest of the show, the band played some more danceable tunes, featuring a faster beat and Lilian’s scatting and rapping like a Premiere League football announcer. The band later followed up with some drum & bass, starting ambient but later played to full effect, featuring some congo.

In an another delightful sonic experiment, the band played the lone love song in the set, having the beat quickly pick up then back again to a slow sedated affair. Lilian gave a very passionate performance in this track, making me feel like it was something truly personal that inspired her to write and perform it so. I didn’t need to understand her Portuguese lyrics, but in watching and listening to her performance, I totally got a feel for what she was trying to express.

The finale and the encores proved to be something else, Lilian recapping the names of the band members to a song more along the lines of a funky soulful R&B in the finale. The first encore went on the pulse of a heartbeat, going into some electro pickup and then fully maturing into Latinized trance. Finally, the second encore was outstanding, a groovy downtempo R&B call-&-answer, with Lilian providing the lead in the sing-along. What a terrific end to a terrific night.

Too often I’ve heard a song that is categorized ‘world beat’, but it loses that flavour from the parts of the world it’s supposed to have come from. Zuko 103 is something special; their music remains strongly tied to its influences from the past, while it progressively grows to the beat of the future.

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