Born in São Paulo, Sergio Sayeg aka Sessa is a Brazilian singer-songwriter who co-founded psych-rock band Garotas Suecas in his late teens. He also spent time in New-York to play bass in various rock bands and work in an East Village record shop. During this period, he immersed himself in the abundant repository of the Afro-Brazilian musical heritage and gradually found his own voice in the process. Following on from Grandeza, his excellent 2019 début, Estrela Acesa was released on 24 June 2022 last on Brooklyn-based label Mexican Summer.

Sessa - Estrela Acesa (2022)
Sessa – Estrela Acesa (2022)

Sessa’s 2019 début Grandeza was already a minimalist record featuring hushed vocals accompanied by a nylon-stringed classical guitar, hand percussion and a cast of five female vocalists who either respond to, sing in unison or harmonise with the singer. The recording also features sparse contributions from Müsica de Selvagem, a São Paulo-based free jazz five piece ensemble. Early in the pandemic, Sessa and his percussionist Biel Basile retreated to a house the latter owned on Ilhabela, a quiet and picturesque archipelago off the coast of São Paulo State and away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. The resulting sessions gave birth to the songs making up Estrela Acesa.

The album features the same cast as on his début with additional bass guitar (Marcelo Cabral), flutes (Gabriel Milliet) and the brass ensemble now replaced by a string quartet. If “Você é a M​ú​sica” for instance showcases the same stripped-down minimalism heard on Grandeza – all four backing vocalists Ciça Góes, Ina, Paloma Mecozzi and Lau Ra also share percussive duties – all guitar-driven songs instantly lure the listener into a mellifluous   sonic delight replete with flute, orchestral and vocal arrangements (by Alex Chumak and Simon Hanes). 

Estrela Acesa is a lush production boasting a wealth of musical influences drawn from Música Popular Brasileira and in particular the Tropicália movement which sought to fuse samba, bossa-nova and other traditional styles with pop music, jazz, psychedelia and rock heard in Brazil and further afield. Pivotal musicians like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso or psych-rock band Os Mutantes for instance all exerted a lasting influence on the Brazilian musical landscape of the late 1960s and Sessa extensively revisits that era on the record. There are also hints of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s quiet bossa-nova intonations as well as elements from the elaborate arrangements prominent on “Clube da Esquina”, the landmark 1972 collaboration between Milton Nascimento and Lô Borge.

But contrasting with such ostensive complexity is a refreshing spontaneity (a few false starts on “Pele da Esfera” or “Helena” were preserved in the final mix) combined with a stark minimalism reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. Crooning all his songs in Portuguese, Sessa sustains an unwavering (and intentionally hesitant) nonchalance which he complements with sensual lyrics. 

Connections with the cosmos, gods, nature …in many cultures that means a relationship with music. I think life can be fulfilling and meaningful and music is one of those experiences. Sergio Sayeg

Singing about music, love and breakup, Sessa also suggests a subtle inherent spiritual jazz influence, a natural intuition for the transcending and sublime power of music. Such a sentiment is expressed with the dreamy “Helena”, a celestial wordless female-choir-led instrumental bathed in acoustic psychedelia. 

Borrowing elements from many Latin American luminaries – most of whom either strongly opposed the 1964-1985 military dictatorship or even went into exile – Sessa’s music is nevertheless anchored in the present, suggesting a sonic template for a paradisiacal vision of Brazil as an antidote to the wave of political violence and authoritarianism currently felt in his native country.