The Repository #11: Lailson de Holanda

Originally published in 2005, this interview with Lailson de Holanda from Recifé, Brazil’s all-time great psych group, Satwa, has been on my mind the past few weeks. Currently I am working on episode #3 of The Electric Rubicon which focuses on the inimitable Time-Lag Records. Time-Lag reissued Satwa’s only album in 2005 before reissuing things like that were all the rage. I’m not sure I can overstate just how great the record is. Mr. Bongo did a fresh round of reissues in 2011, but Time-Lag and Satwa, for me, truly began an era. Time-Lag went on to reissue two more incredible albums from this crew: Marconi Notaro’s No Sub Reino Dos Metazoários and Lulu’s solo album Rosa De Sangue (both also re-reissued by Mr. Bongo). This interview with Lailson was conducted in 2005 with the help of Time-Lag’s Nemo Bidstrup.


Most people don’t realize that Recifé, Brazil had a burgeoning psych underground back in the ’70s. Satwa and Lailson de Holanda were at the center of the scene and thanks to Time-Lag, have been resurrected from the clouds of obscurity. Satwa was a duo consisting of de Holanda and his friend and partner-in-crime, Lula. The duo kept their instrumentation simple, but the sounds and sentiment produced were nothing short of extraordinary.


Most people don’t realize that Recifé, Brazil had a burgeoning psych underground back in the ’70s. Satwa and Lailson de Holanda were at the center of the scene and thanks to Time-Lag, have been resurrected from the clouds of obscurity. Satwa was a duo consisting of de Holanda and his friend and partner-in-crime, Lula. The duo kept their instrumentation simple, but the sounds and sentiment produced were nothing short of extraordinary. 

How did you first get involved with making music? Did you have any formal training or did you just teach yourself?

My grandfather was a maestro and music has always been part of my family on both sides, but I didn’t have any formal training. Like everyone who lived in the ’60s, I discovered Beatles and Stones when I was fourteen and learned to play the guitar like everyone else, playing in teen garage bands. In 1970 I heard Hendrix and Blind Faith, and that made a difference. At the end of that year, I went to the US, to study there, and the rock/underground scene was at its best, with Zappa, Grateful Dead, and all the rest.

How did you meet Lula and what prompted you all to start Satwa?

At the end of 1972, I was invited to coordinate a music festival here that was being organized by the General Students Directory of the University. The festival was going to happen in a huge stone theater there exists in a town named Nova Jerusalém. At the Holy Week, there are live presentations of the Passion of Christ. The stages are made of stone, there are mountains in the back. With the amps turned high, the sound was fantastic. Lula had taken a trip to Morocco and had arrived a few months earlier. Like me, he was one of the musicians at the festival and we became friends right away since we had a lot in common. After the festival, we started meeting and playing together, just for the joy of it. Then we realized that we were doing something new.

What does Satwa mean?

It’s a Sanscrit word. The reality is made of three sides – or Gunas – that are called Raja, Satwa, and Tama. Satwa is the balance. It’s like the spirit between body and soul. Since we were both Brazilians but one was with an Eastern influence and the other with a Western one, the mix of the three geographic/psychic zones created a “third sound” as we called it. And the concept that what we were doing related to Satwa was clear to us.

What kind of psychedelic scene was there in Brazil in the ’70s?

There were different scenes since Brazil is a huge country (8 million square kilometers of area and at that time it had around 100 million people). So, there was an underground scene in Rio de Janeiro (which was the main cultural focus of the country), in São Paulo (the largest city and the economical center of the nation), in Bahia (which has the greatest afro-influence), and in Recife, my hometown, which is the capital city of the State of Pernambuco.

Obviously, the scene on Rio and São Paulo was the one that got more notice and made the news. What was happening here in Recife was the underground of the underground scene!

How do you feel growing up and living in Brazil influenced you and Satwa’s sound?

Pernambuco is one of the oldest states in Brazil. Recife was founded in 1537. So, it’s very traditional. But also it’s very revolutionary. Twice, in the XIX Century, the state tried to break out of the union and become an independent state. So, when the military dictatorship started, it was one of the states where the repression was more strong at the beginning, due to the political activity here.

Since it’s a traditional place with a long past of African (from the slaves) and Indian (for the native inhabitants) cultures it evolved its own kind of music. And that comes to your ears and then to your heart without you noticing. It just sinks in. It has a Moorish tint on it and also a great naif expression. Along with my influences of progressive rock, rhythm and blues and Lula’s influence from Moroccan sound at that time.

All that is in Satwa.

What was the experience like of recording the record?

At the time it was a great adventure. The idea came and we didn’t know that we were the first here to be recording independently. It seemed logical. We wanted to show what we were doing and register it. It was fun. When the album was finished and we started seeing the reactions to it, we saw that it was way out of comprehension, but some people loved it right at the start. It wasn’t commercial, obviously.

How’d you first get in touch with Nemo at Time-Lag and how did the plans for the reissue come about?

I received an e-mail from Nemo, who found my website on the web. He said that he had loved the record and that he worked with limited printings of vinyl. We started corresponding and then he asked me if Lula and I wouldn’t like to re-issue the album. Many times people here asked me to re-issue the record, but it never made sense to me. The beauty of the album is the way it was done and how it captures the presence of those times. So, just to make a commercial copy didn’t make sense. But to re-issue again in vinyl on the XXI Century (even with parallel CD copies), well, that was another story! It fit perfectly with the original story as if it were an epilogue for what we were doing at those times. Now there were more people interested in listening to it and the geographical barriers didn’t exist anymore.

And also, the name of the label: Time-Lag!

It fit so perfectly that we decided to do it again! And I’m glad we’ve done it.


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