[JPL] A Brazilian Singer Finds That Many Musical Styles Are Just the Right One

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 20 13:25:42 EST 2006

November 14, 2006
A Brazilian Singer Finds That Many Musical Styles Are
Just the Right One 
RIO DE JANEIRO — From Carmen Miranda to Elis Regina
and Gal Costa, Brazil has a long and proud history of
producing gifted female singers. Marisa Monte
continues that tradition, but she has never hesitated
to break the rules, gently and ever so quietly, when
she thinks they get in her way.

More than just an interpreter of songs, the role
typically assigned to women in Brazilian pop music,
Ms. Monte, 39, is also a composer, record producer,
bandleader and businesswoman, with full control of her
career, repertory and recordings. And she is not
willing to confine herself to a single musical style.

“I’ve never started from the premise that my music is
this or that,” she said during a recent interview
here. “Even for me, it’s difficult to pick a label.
People don’t know if I’m pop or something else. The
labels never last long anyway, because at any moment
it becomes easy for me to destroy all the theories.”

After three years in which she chose to remain out of
the spotlight, Ms. Monte has recently resurfaced, and
in a big way. She has issued a pair of new albums —
one with a pop flavor, the other a nod to the samba
tradition she cherishes, both electronically enhanced
— and undertaken a world tour that will bring her to
the Beacon Theater in New York on Tuesday.

Though she plays guitar, ukulele, bass, xylophone and
autoharp on the new albums, Ms. Monte’s main
instrument is, of course, her voice. Silvery and
liquid, it glides, flutters and skips above her songs
with a delicacy that invites listeners to relax and
enjoy the ride.

“Her voice is one of the most perfect in the world,”
said Carlinhos Brown, the Brazilian percussionist,
vocalist and composer who is one of Ms. Monte’s
frequent songwriting partners. “It’s like the wind:
soft, gentle and caressing, but it messes with
everything in its path.”

Originally, Ms. Monte, captivated by Maria Callas, set
out to be an opera singer. She went so far as to study
in Italy, where she eventually had a change of heart
and began singing Brazilian pop music in small bars
and clubs in Venice.

“She was only 19 then, but she had a knowledge of
Brazilian music and a naturalness and a charisma that
were truly impressive,” said Nelson Motta, a
songwriter, critic, producer and novelist who saw her
there and shepherded her career through its early
stages. “From the start, she knew exactly what she
wanted, which was to make modern pop music and at the
same time indulge her passion for classic samba.”

Born in Rio, Ms. Monte grew up in a middle-class
household with parents who loved the samba and
frequented Portela, one of the main samba schools that
play in the annual Carnival parade here. That gave
their daughter a respect for music with African roots
and rhythms, whether samba or jazz.

“When I signed my contract with EMI, the first thing I
did was to go into their archives,” she recalled.
“They were the oldest record company in Brazil, and
they had all that Carmen Miranda, Pixinguinha and
Dorival Caymmi stuff, so I would go do research with a
pen and paper and ask them to make cassettes of what I
wanted. It would take months, but I’d go back again
and ask for more.”

Her first record, released here in 1989 and produced
by Mr. Motta, included Miss Miranda’s “South American
Way,” as well as songs written by Kurt Weill, Os
Mutantes, Marvin Gaye and George Gershwin. The Miranda
influence, both then and now, also expresses itself
onstage in dramatic poses and her wardrobe: long,
flowing ensembles and Gypsy-style scarves and jewelry.

“I love Carmen Miranda,” Ms. Monte said. “I think
she’s absolutely the greatest singer.” But, she added,
Miss Miranda was at the same time a cautionary example
of an artist “who made a lot of personal sacrifices
for a brilliant career and ended up not being able to
hear her own internal rhythm, which is what you really
need to be happy.”

For all her pride in her Brazilian roots, though, Ms.
Monte has also shown herself to be very much at home
with the New York pop musical vanguard. She has worked
steadily with Arto Lindsay since the early 1990s and
has also collaborated with Laurie Anderson, David
Byrne, Marc Ribot, Bernie Worrell and Philip Glass,
who wrote the string and horn arrangements for a pair
of songs on “Infinito Particular” (“Personal
Infinity”), one of the two new albums.

“Philip is interested in Brazilian music, has a lot of
Brazilian friends, speaks the language a bit, and
understands what I am doing,” she said. “He did an
arrangement for me back in 1994 that was incredible,
and this time, when I needed a written arrangement for
quartet that I could use in my live show, I asked him
to resolve the problem for me, and he came up with the

Mr. Lindsay, an American guitarist who grew up in
Brazil and has produced or engineered several of Ms.
Monte’s records and shows, said: “Her taste is very
wide, but also very mainstream. One of the secrets of
her success is that she has really popular taste, and
so is very honest about doing what she does and
looking for the best from every genre.”

Ms. Monte’s biggest commercial success came in a
partnership with Mr. Brown and Arnaldo Antunes called
“Os Tribalistas.” Originally meant to be a modest home
recording, it sold more than 1.5 million copies.
“After years of doing a solo career, to be part of
something larger and to be able to divide up thoughts
and decisions and not have to be out front was what I
wanted most,” she explained. “It was such a relief and
a pleasure to not have it be just me, me, me all the

During the last stages of recording “Os Tribalistas,”
Ms. Monte became pregnant. She took some time off to
stay with her son, who will be 4 next month, and
remained out of the public eye.

The new CDs also reflect the influence of some of the
music she listened to during her hiatus, using
electronics to expand and modernize her sound. Both
records feature processed vocals and instruments,
including one track, “Pernambucobucolismo,” that makes
her multi-tracked voice sound like an electric guitar.

“I love manipulating the sound of everything, ” she
said. “You can create new instruments that don’t exist
or new tonalities for traditional instruments. Plus,
the mixture of the pure sound with the processed sound
is really cool.”

The samba record, “Universo ao Meu Redor” (“The
Universe Around Me”), which recently won a Latin
Grammy, is a particular departure and a genre-buster.
Though some of the songs date back to the 1940s, Ms.
Monte chose as her co-producer Mario Caldato, who has
worked with the Beastie Boys, Beck and Jack Johnson.

“I thought he could understand this desire of mine to
be more experimental, to be more psychedelic and have
freedom of sound in the instruments,” she explained.
“I wanted to use instruments you don’t hear in samba,
so that the record would sound like samba from someone
who lives in today’s world and listens to drum ’n’
bass and contemporary pop.”

With both records selling well here and her reputation
abroad growing, Ms. Monte is now at a point where she
can do whatever she pleases. She said that she wanted
most of all to find “new forms of communicating with
the world through music,” which could augur even
greater changes in her sound.

“She tends to go in one direction and then shift,” Mr.
Lindsay said. “She laid out her career the way she
wanted, and she has stuck to her guns.” 


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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