[ALBUM REVIEW] Brazilian pop promise Marina Sena’s “De Primeira” is a dazzling debut album

A high-pitched voice belting in melodies verging on psychedelia; a range of instrumentals meshing different genres of Brazilian popular music. With this description, I could be talking about Gal Costa in Legal (1970), or about another album released more than 50 years later: singer and songwriter Marina Sena’s De Primeira (2021).

The association is natural — Costa, one of Brazils most notable sopranos, was fundamental to make high-pitched vocals popular in Brazilian pop music, during the Tropicália movement in the late 1960s. Sena’s voice has a different texture, a screechier one, in the best way possible. It’s slicky and sensual, just like her interpretations.

However, the magic of De Primeira lies in more than just its resemblance with singers like Gal Costa, or even with the vibratos of singers like Tulipa Ruiz. De Primeira is a brilliant contemporary pop album. It flirts with a variety of genres, from samba to funk carioca, and even a bit of rock and trap (in tracks like “Por Supuesto”). Yet the album relies mostly on reggae and axé, making it a tropical, delicious one.

Trying to identify the genres in Sena’s music is less interesting than surrendering to it, or dance to it. Sena floats across this sonic miscellany comfortably, her voice conducting the voyage in such a sassy way, you almost feel like she’s tricking you into places you hadn’t agreed on going to. There’s nothing holding Sena back: from the way she uses her voice to the way she uses her body in the music videos, she oozes freedom.

The album is opened by the catchy and cheeky “Me Toca”, a gourmet axé track tailored in the same style of 1990s hits from Brazilian bands such as É o Tchan!. In other words: this is music composed with dance in mind. Even if Sena herself hadn’t created a perfect TikTok choreography for the track (which she did), the chorus of “Me Toca” naturally induces a person’s brain to create their own dance moves.

There are other danceable moments in De Primeira, such as “Voltei pra Mim”, which combines the beat pattern of funk carioca with a bewitching vocal performance from Sena. She sounds gorgeous both in the lower and the higher registers. “Temporal”, for its part, is a psychedelic reggae track with dramatic melodies. The lyrics, too, evoke the sensation of getting lost in a feeling: “It devours me without knowing / Still, I’m in heaven”.

Sena proves herself a handy samba interpreter as well in “Tamborim”. She has the sauce and swag for the genre, and for lyrics like: “You can bet on it / I’m gonna play crazy and show up at your house’s door”. If that’s one thing Sena is not afraid of in De Primeira, is to sound crazy.

But don’t let Sena’s playful performances mistaken her for an immature vocalist. She’s perfectly capable to hand dense, theatrical melodies too. In the context of De Primeira, these melodies sound even more impressive in how well they mesh with instrumentals that suggest dancing rather than suffering. For example, in songs like “Cabelo” and “Amiúde”, made of hip hop and afrobeat, Sena gives her best vocal interpretations. And it doesn’t hurt that, vocals aside, these songs are the best, most fascinating from the album too.

De Primeira is Marina Sena’s first album as a solo artist. Anyone keeping up with her career on projects such as Rosa Neon is probably not surprised by how fun she can be with her music. Still, De Primeira surprises by its ambition. De Primeira means “At first”, like in getting something right in the first time; so it’s clear Sena wanted to create something big for her debut. Be it for the vocals, the range of sounds, or the quality of the compositions, De Primeira shows that her promises are not empty.

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My work as a music writer and critic is independent.

I am currently a staff writer at PopMatters, an independent, digital magazine of cultural criticism and analysis. My articles and reviews have also appeared in Consequence of Sound, Dummy Magazine, Remezcla, Sounds and Colours, Kultscene, and more.

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Attorney (BR), and writer (of songs & content). Top Writer in Music on Medium. Consultant at 3Três Consultoria e Criação (BR).