I like to sing, 'Hear the new sound of my bossa nova,' because it's good to say I have a new sound when I play my new album," says Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto. The line comes from "Baby," which opens Gilberto's new album, Bebel Gilberto (Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees), and it introduces the challenge that foreign-language music poses for American audiences. Hearing Gilberto coo "baby, baby" over a mid-tempo bossa nova is simply sexy, but when written by Caetano Veloso in 1968, it was a critique of consumerism. Gilberto sings the English lyrics, translated by Os Mutantes, and deadpans, "You must try the new ice cream flavor," but the romantic feeling remains.
"I always loved that song," she says by phone from New York City. "I loved Os Mutantes' version and think that it brings a touch of humor that is part of my personality that doesn't really come across on Tanto Tempo," her 2000 album.
Tanto Tempo almost single-handedly popularized world fusion, the combination of electronica and international music. The lovely Gilberto was the face of the sound, and her breathy, intimate voice seemed familiar because of its superficial resemblance to godmother Astrud Gilberto's on the definitive bossa nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema" (which featured Bebel's father Joao on guitar). With producer Suba, she created a bossa nova animated by rave-offshoot drums and bass, a hip, urbane sound that sold so well it inspired a remix album a year later. Before her, Arto Lindsay's Mundo Civilizado explored the drum and bass-bossa nova combination in 1997, and the first release on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label was 1989's Brazil Classics 1: Beleza Tropical.
But neither release had the impact of Bebel Gilberto's album, which opened the door for Cibelle, Zuco 103 and Venezuela-by-way-of-Brooklyn's Los Amigos Invisibles. Her pedigree helped -- the daughter of bossa nova pioneer Joao Gilberto and singer Miucha -- but more than that, it is the sound for the 21st century jet set.
Suba, unfortunately, died in a fire in 1999 before Tanto Tempo was completed, but he was essential to helping Gilberto make the record. "I make a lot of loops of existing sounds," Gilberto says. "I like to try to find sounds that I can describe as like a blow on your ear or a taste of a fruit. What [Suba] did was create the sounds, then I'd say, 'I do like that, I don't like that,' and we did things together. The same thing happened with Alé Siqueira, Carlinhos Brown," two of the producers of Bebel Gilberto.
The new album, however, is not simply a follow-up to Tanto Tempo. The album's sensibility is in many ways traditional. Primarily produced by Marius de Vries, known for producing Bjork, the album is less obviously electronic. A number of tracks seem to have looped percussion, and with the heavily echoed vibraphone, the summery "Jabuticaba" sounds like a progression from her first solo album. On the other hand, the treble percussion pattern sounds like it could be a shaker egg, or drum programming, and it's the only technological touch on the melancholy "All Around."
"That's not a sad song," Gilberto says, "and when we did the video, I thought it was not really playful like the personality the music and I have." The song is one of the few on Bebel Gilberto she wrote in English. "I thought, 'Do you know how it is without anyone?" she says, quoting a line from the song. "That came in the beginning. When I did the melody, the song came with me.
"'Simplesmente,'" she concedes, "is a pretty sad song, but it's lovely." The lush ballad is half in English and half in her native Portuguese. The song also started with her writing in English. "After I had the English thoughts together, I felt like I had to make a translation for that, and it touched my heart," Gilberto says. With a poet's sense of economy, she conveys sadness and distance, writing, "And all the tears I've cried / Are maybe drops of rain / After all / And every sunset sky / Is here with us forever now."
"I think Brazilian music is being recognized as a sad music, but not a 'bad' sad," she says.
In Gilberto's case, the lyrics are a reflection of the price of success. "I'm not able to hang out as much as I did with my friends. I no longer have the free time to say, 'OK, what am I going to do today?'" she says, "'Take a yoga class or lay in the park or sleep?' I could do what I wanted because I never had a 9-to-5 job." That sense of separation and isolation is an undercurrent throughout the album, perhaps because of the way the songs were written. "I was touring when I wrote most of the songs, but alone in hotel rooms or in my own place only for a few days because I had to go away again," she says. "The good part about that was that I was surrounded by the musicians who knew what style I was going for."
- "I think Brazilian music is being recognized as a sad music, but not a 'bad' sad," says Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto, who has helped popularize the world-fusion sound.