Laiojan Sebastian was the band that made me decide to cover Uruguayan unsigned artists on MusicKO. I learned of their existence in late 2009. I had recently became acquainted with Ismael Pardo Di Nardo, the drummer and percussionist of the band. His older brother Andrés was the lead singer and sole composer of the songs the band (a very representative exponent of River Plate rock) was to record for a self-titled debut that was sadly never to be released. I recall the impression that the CD caused on me when Ismael played the first song (“Despierta”) [Wake Up] over his speakers – it was a truly alive piece of music. It felt as if the message of the lyrics had been deprived of its mobility by the indifference that befell the whole album, but its ability to move others remained unscathed. I wouldn’t say that I become an awakened one that day. But I felt less dormant for certain.
Of course, that the disc hit me so hard when I first listened to it was no coincidence – not when I learned that the bass player and the lead guitarist were Andrés Puppo and Alejandro Reyes, two professional musicians that had been part of the local scene for some time now.
Another thing that caught my immediate fancy was the cover art. Andrés had designed it, and a well-known Argentinean comic artist put his thumb into motion to bring the nominal character to life. The manga influence was palpable by a mile, and the Iojan Sebastian that we can see pictured there seemed the closest to a living paradox to me, with a mien that expressed as many emotions as the ones it counter-expressed. I could imagine him saying “It is all in vain. Nothing means anything except everything. And you can get everything in life except nothing. But” – he would continue with a grin – “there is always a way to get anything.”
And if “Despierta” was a song that told of latent possibilities, the remaining songs were to deal with their realization. One of the clearest examples was to be “Jhonny Balón”, a fairy story about a child soccer prodigy that dies during a match only to resurrect and score at the last minute as his team reaches the final many years later. The song offers up a raving mixture of funky passages with murga drumming (conveying the tragedy of the protagonist’s death) and in the last section (the match) Andrés emulates a commentator over real ambience noise.
But nowhere is the line between what is attainable and what is not drawn so preciously as in “Abrelo” [“Open It Up”]. The song is the true heart of the album – it is located right in the middle, and when you reach it you do realize where all the beating beauty and amazement that preceded (and that is to succeed) did come from. An enumeration of objects used for artistic purposes and mundane items is made on the lyrics, and they are all elevated until the will to live and artistic drive become indissoluble.
Possibilities and adversities were also examined in “Pedro y Sol” [“Pedro And Sol”], an acoustic composition that recalled narratives like “Tweeter And The Monkey Man“, only that the subject was closer to home, what with a couple falling in love at la Rambla (Montevideo’s boulevard) and then becoming estranged from one another. The song says that they separate without a reason. That is not true. If you make ten random Uruguayans listen to this song and then you question them individually, all of them will know the reason. But not a single one of them could express it.
Romantic themes are likewise at the forefront of songs like the bouncy “Mariana” and the reggae-tinged “Todas Las Noches” [“Every Single Night”], and these sentiments are balanced by the world-weariness of “Quiero Dejar Algo” [“I Want To Leave Something Behind”] and “Brasas Del Alma” [“Coals Of The Soul”]. For its part, “Sin Más Verguenza” [“Ashamed No More”] tackles social conscience and makes a clear case against conservatism, something that is felt very strongly in Uruguay – for better and for worse.
Personally, I am no big fan of “Chango” [“Hooker”] and “Dame” [“Bring It On”], although to be fair to the guys I have never liked a song about a hooker in my life – not even John Entwistle’s “Trick Of The Light”. And don’t even get me started on “Sweet Painted Lady”, “Island Girl” and related tunes written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
The truly memorable songs to me are the ones that I discussed to great lengths at the beginning of the review. The others are more than enjoyable, too. The one thing is that you inevitably feel that you have listened to songs like these before. The stories of songs like “Mariana”, “Quiero Dejar Algo” and “Brasas Del Alma” are standard fare. Yet, remember the words of Andrés in “Pedro Y Sol” when he explains that the story of the title characters “a mí me la contó uno mejor” [somebody told it to me much better]. Sometimes, it does not matter if the story has already been told endlessly. What matters is the heart the narrator is giving. And in this album, that is practically boundless. And to quote “Pedro Y Sol” again: “son muy pocos los momentos que te regala la vida cuando el alma no termina de encender” [these moments when your soul lights up time and again are truly far and far between]. Well, this album has clearly more of these moments than a fair share of debuts I have listened to.
A French proverb says that in love there is one that kisses and one that lends the cheek. The same applies to telling a story, really: you need someone that speaks and someone that listens. Love that starts and ends in one person is not love, it is merely a form of longing that can move no-one but the one who feels it in the end. And a story that doesn’t reach any ears is not a story for the same reasons. I decided to begin covering Uruguayan bands without a contract because of Laiojan Sebastian. And I think that fact alone speaks of what they achieved in this unreleased album. Someone who sings a song and has you tapping your fingers as he goes is an entertainer, and someone you can get to love for sure. But someone who sings a song and wants to make you know more about the spaces where that song was born (and its every adjacent element) is something else. He is a true motivator of these individual processes required to keep art as a viable way to articulate the collective force of imagination of any culture.
You can download the entire album for free here.
Andrés Pardo Di Nardo has recently started Lady Madonna, a multiproduction artistic company. You can visit it here. And you can get in touch with him at pardodinardo [at] gmail.com.