Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images Move out of the way because Beyonce is playing…
- Posted on Jul 21st 2009 4:30PM by Steve Hochman
With just Rodrigo Campos' cavaquinho (sort of a Brazilian ukulele) backing Céu's lilting voice, this song entrances in a way completely opposite of the first album: no electronics, no cross-culture gimmicks -- just a stripped-down, vulnerable mix of sweetness in sound and emotional exploration in the vocals.
And then the next song carries on the exact same tone. How cool! And the next, as well ... and the next ... oh, wait! There's something wrong with the CD so that it keeps playing the first song over and over.
"That's good that you liked the first song," says , laughing when told of the defect. Not to mention laughing at the listener's failure to realize what was going on until it had played a few times. Hey! It's a short song, and a cool vibe. Very easy to get lost in it.
The big problem, though, is that first misimpression seemed certain to dissolve into a letdown with the hearing of the real rest of the album.
No dice. The whole set is full of revelations -- some as far aesthetically from that simple, naturalistic opening as possible. The biggest revelation, though, is that the first album didn't really present a true representation of this artist.
"When you are in a situation, you cannot understand it exactly," she says of her debut. "I didn't even know I could compose and do my own music and travel around with a band. I never imagined something like this. I wanted to show first my influences. This second one, I wanted to see myself."
It's an impressive sight. The view takes in classic samba, bossa nova, reggae dub, Jamaican nyabinghi, psychedelia and ambient jazz, among others, often overlapping or gene-spliced into a very distinct and very personal landscape. And against that are lyrics that link the old traditions taught by her musicologist father to new traditions she's carrying on in her new role as parent, all with a very distinctive and colorful perspective.
Remarkably, all of these things come together in one song, arguably the album's centerpiece and artistic zenith. 'Rosa Menina Rosa,' a song originated with '60s-'70s Brazil legend Jorge Ben in an arrangement inspired by a version from São Paulo band Los Sebosos Postizos (which plays with her on the track). Its swirl of trippy guitar, vibraphone, organ and dubbed-out rhythms around Céu's casually seductive singing creates an ambiance that's both past and future. And at the core is an ultimate intimacy.
Céu, 'Rosa Menina Rosa'
"Rosa is the name of my daughter," Céu explains. "This is a song I sang to her."
Baby Rosa herself is one of the keys to her mom's desire to more fully express herself this time around.
"A lot of things happened since I released my first one," she says. "Traveled around with my music -- to be with the band was great. Also I got pregnant, had my daughter. A lot of changes. For this second album, I just wanted to somehow go back to the essence of the music in my life. Music is such an important thing, and 'Vagarosa,' the name of the album -- I don't know how to exactly translate, but it means 'slowly.' With all the things that happened, I wanted to go down and try with all the new technologies, information, things you need to do day by day, just to slow down, to be in the places I am, not be in places traveling around. That was the idea of the album. Also, it's the second one, I was more on me, you know."
She laughs suddenly as she grasps for fitting words and phrases, apologetically saying, "My English is weird."
"To put myself more," she concludes. "Not just the influences."
So she has 'Rosa' for her daughter. And she has 'Papa' for her father, reminding herself of some parental wisdom.
"It was a moment when everything was happening: 'You must do this and that,'" she says. "Was doing a lot of shows. And I was just having a conversation with my father and he said I should sometimes not take everything so serious. Serious is another thing, not your life. Misery is much more serious. The war is serious. So it was a great conversation with my father."
And with that, she was free to explore the great wealth of music in her life. What jumps out of the mix most prominently are the Jamaican sounds, though the influences are often integrated fully in with other sounds, on such tracks as 'Bubuia' making for a true São Paulo-Kingston hybrid:
"I think my show when I played live, it was already more a Jamaican vibe," she says. "I don't know exactly when it started. I probably could say I was 15 years old maybe. I'm a big fan of dub and dancehall. I grew up in a musical family listening to especially traditional music from Brazil -- old-school sambas, music from the northeast. I'm a big fan of Baden Powel, of various traditional things. But I also liked a lot of Jamaican and Afrobeat stuff too. I have a lot of Studio One albums, like the Upsetters, King Tubby, Lee Perry, all this. Nice artists. It's everything -- the vibe, the beat, the melody.
"I think just the way I write my melodies, the music and also the lyrics, it's kind of a personal diary. I live in a huge city, so many people from all over Brazil here, from north to south. It's a big mixture of so many cultures. I think I have something that is just part of my culture. I bring a lot of different influences, but I try to reduce all this on my own vision of music. If I'm going to do a samba album -- no, I'm not just samba. It's not just a rhythm. It's a whole way you live your life, and I'm not like this. I've traveled. I had the opportunity to live in New York. And these things change you. I try for my music to be true to myself as a diary. It's traditional music but from the whole Brazilian culture."
In that regard, 'Espaçonave,' the last song on the album, might be the most "traditional." Well, as traditional as something with a title that translates as "spaceship" can be. In this case, the traditions trace to Os Mutantes, the out-there ensemble that was at the core of the Beatles-inspired, anything-goes tropicalia movement of the '60s and '70s. Of course, adding her own twists give the song a funky skip almost out of New Orleans via P-Funk and Prince.
"The song starts like a Nyabinghi song," Céu says. "I was here in São Paulo and full of all this pollution and concrete, and I just wanted to get away. I was making a connection between the nature and a spaceship -- Mother Nature -- It's a kind of psychedelic song."
But now having gone all the way on this journey to the stratosphere, let's suppose the whole album had been along the lines of that persistent opener, 'Sobre o Amor e Seu Trabalho Silencioso.' From the way Céu talks about the song, that wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
"It's about the chemical process when you fall in love -- the love thing," she says. "When you meet someone and all the things start to happen in your body as the silence works, you don't have to do nothing. It just happens to you."