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Bebel Gilberto Interview

In 2009 WXGR interviewed Bebel Giberto

Bebel Gilberto has appeared on albums by some of the most important artists of our time. Caetano Veloso (Circulado), David Byrne (David Byrne), Jo“o Gilberto (dueting on "ChÍga de Saudade" on Jo“o Gilberto Prado Pereira de Oliveira) and Chico Buarque (Francisco). On her first solo effort, a self-titled 1986 EP, she collaborated with one of the greatest Brazilian composers and performers of the day, Cazuza. Since then she sang "The Girl from Ipanema" on Kenny G's platinum selling Classics in the Key of G and made several contributions to the delicious bossa nova-infused score for Next Stop Wonderland. Her and Cazuza's hit "Preciso Dizer Que Te Amo" closed the great Red Hot & Rio compilation. She has also worked with such cutting-edge talents as Towa Tei (of Deee Lite fame,) Smoke City, Amon Tobin and the Thievery Corporation.

Bebel Gilberto is, simply put, royalty. Her father, Jo“o Gilberto, is the most revered musician in Brazil, period. With his gentle whisper and his revolutionary ability to distill the complex rhythms of the samba in a guitar strum, Jo“o Gilberto created bossa nova. Sure there were others, and of course, bossa nova needed its great composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. But Jobim himself was the first to point out, "Without Jo“o, there would have been no bossa nova." If her father is a musical king, Bebel's mother is a musical queen. Miucha is one of Brazil's finest singers, and one of only three vocalists to share an entire album with Antonio Carlos Jobim (Elis Regina and Frank Sinatra are the two others.)

Bebel says, "My mother deserves all the credit, because she was very important to me, in terms of learning how to sing. My mother was really my first singing teacher. She taught me how to improvise and do vocal harmonizing, since I was a little girl." When Bebel was nine years old, she appeared at Carnegie Hall with her mother and Stan Getz, as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. Around the same time she was appearing on children's television shows in Brazil.

Further enhancing the family tree, Miucha's brother, Bebel's uncle, is the composer-singer Chico Buarque, another revered figure in Brazilian music. All of this may help explain the long delay in the recording of Bebel's first full-length album. As she puts it, "Sometimes it's hard to be an artist in a family of artists." She says, "It's difficult, especially in Brazil. That's one of the reasons that I left Brazil almost 10 years ago. There's a lot of pressure. People look at you expecting a lot from you. It's almost impossible to do something."

By the time Bebel left Brazil, she had already done plenty of acting, soundtrack work, and guest vocal appearances. Her 1986 debut EP, Bebel Gilberto, led to one of the biggest Brazilian pop hits of the 1980s, "Preciso Dizer Que Te Amo," a Top 10 hit for Marina (and winner of the 1989 Premio Sharp Award for Single of the Year). Ten years later, another song from that EP, "Mais Feliz," was covered by pop star Adriana Calcanhoto and became a huge hit. Both songs were co-written by the great Cazuza, who, tragically died of AIDS in July of 1990 at the age of 32, before his growing fame could reach outside of Brazil. Bebel calls Cazuza "the most powerful poet of the 80's generation in Brazil."

So, in 1991, Bebel Gilberto moved from Rio, where she grew up, to the city where she was born, New York. There, Bebel began working with such artists as David Byrne, Arto Lindsay, Nana Vasconcelos and Romero Lubambo. She headlined in clubs and at Lincoln Center and appeared in the controversial video for Caetano Veloso's single "Fora Da Ordem." When Arto Lindsay and producer BÈco Dranoff sought out fresh voices for the Next Stop Wonderland soundtrack, they teamed Bebel with Vinicius Cantuaria for updated takes on bossa nova classics.

Bebel began working with producers who were bringing the sounds of Brazilian music to contemporary dance floors. Her work with dj-producer Towa Tei on his albums Future Listening and Sound Museum led to a worldwide dance hit, "Technova," which she co-wrote. She worked with Washington D.C.'s Thievery Corporation on their single "SÛ Com VocÍ" and with Dutch duo Arling and Cameron on "Sem ContenÁ“o," which first appeared on Brasil 2mil, a compilation of new Brazilian music which came out on Crammed Discs' Ziriguiboom imprint.

When her father, Jo“o Gilberto, made his first New York appearance in a decade, at a sold-out Carnegie Hall concert in 1998, Bebel joined him for a touching duet. By then, Bebel had moved from New York to London. She says, "It's incredible how people love Brazilian music in Europe. I think people admire it more than they do in the U.S. In Europe I'm finding now a big opening in France, the U.K., and Germany. It's incredible. It's really exciting."

As the 20th century was winding down, Bebel started working on the entracing Tanto Tempo. Her old friend BÈco Dranoff introduced her to Marc Hollander and his Crammed Discs label, a working relationship was struck, and very soon Bebel was recording in Brazil, alongside producer Suba (the brilliant Yugoslavian expatriate from S“o Paulo, whose own debut album was also about to come out on Ziriguiboom/Crammed). So, twenty-five years after she made her recording debut (she was 7 at the time) on an album by her mother, Bebel Gilberto has finally made her first full-length album. Tanto Tempo takes the classic sound of bossa nova, Bebel Gilberto's birthright, and brings it into the cool light of the 21st century.

About it, Bebel Gilberto says, "The album's name in Portuguese, in a way means, 'So Long.' Tanto is 'so much' and tempoí is 'time.' It's funny - sometimes people make jokes and say, "It's taken you so long."

Tanto Tempo features a mix of old and new songs. From the bossa nova era of the 60's comes Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes'í "Samba da BenÁao" and Marcos Valle's delicious "So Nice (Summer Samba)," which was a Top 40 hit in 1966 for organist Walter Wanderley. There's Chico Buarque's lovely "Samba e Amor," and Jo“o Donato and Gilberto Gil's "Bananeira" featuring the legendary Jo“o Donato on keyboards. There are also new and old Bebel compositions, including her and Cazuza's "Mais Feliz" from her first EP, and fresh collaborations like "August Day Song," "Sem ContenÁ“o," "Lonely," "Close Your Eyes," "Alguem," and the title track. Among the album's many collaborators are Amon Tobin, Carlinhos Brown, Jo“o Parahyba, Smoke City,Thievery Corporation, Celso Fonseca, Mario Caldato, Jr., and producer Suba, who died tragically in a fire before the album was finished.

Tanto Tempo is lean and clear - uncluttered, unfussy, unironic, unfettered with bells and whistles. It updates but doesn't obscure the bittersweet beauty of bossa nova. It presents timeless bossa in a new way, by a singer and songwriter who was to the music born. So often artists are shoved into the spotlight long before they are ready, especially when there's a famous name to be exploited. In this case however, Bebel Gilberto, who sings with equal distinction in Portuguese and English, and who may have taken "so much time" before she was ready to make Tanto Tempo, has allowed for a mature and masterful effort that adds another proud chapter to a dynamic musical legacy.

Nice. So nice.