Imagine singing in front of a packed house, lights shining brightly from above, jazz legend Stan Getz behind you, blowing breathy tones on his tenor sax, and your mother harmonizing by your side. Now imagine the stage is Carnegie Hall, and you, the singer, are all of nine years old.
Two years after your first professional peep into a microphone, appearing on the stage that is for most performers the ultimate prize at the crest of a career, might leave a young singer wanting for goals. It also just might weigh you down with the heavy burden of expectation, especially if your father is referred to as O Mito (the Legend) in his native Brazil, a nation where musicians (and soccer players) have assumed the status of royalty.
Such has been the fate of singer Bebel Gilberto, heiress to the throne of bossa nova, who is on tour through North America in support of her first solo album, Tanto Tempo, released in April of last year and considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of 2000. The record, and Gilberto's musical style, are continuations of the bossa nova tradition with modern elements of electronica added, from cutting-edge artists such as Thievery Corporation, Smoke City, Amon Tobin, and innovative São Paulo-based producer Suba (who died tragically last November in a house fire).
But the heart and soul of Gilberto's music is still the classic summertime sound of bossa nova, a relaxed music of soft vocals and plucked acoustic guitar chords that sways like a palm tree in the breeze. And it's little wonder that she should sing anything else, considering her pedigree and the musical education throughout her childhood from her father, João, the man who created bossa nova in the late Fifties from the compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim.
"It was so natural, the music in my family, that when I started up I didn't feel that I was in this so well-known family and situation," says Gilberto. And as if sharing genes with the Legend were not enough to ensure her musical destiny, her mother, Miucha, also prominent in Brazil and South America, is one of only three singers who have recorded an album with the master Jobim. Oh, and Gilberto's uncle is the Brazilian pop star Chico Buarque.
"They really helped me a lot in terms of getting so much music inside my brain since I was a little kid," she says of her parents. "They made me work even though I didn't know that I was working, singing along with them, listening to them, harmonizing with them, learning how to improvise. I was raised as a musician even though I didn't know what it was to be a musician."
But Bebel Gilberto's predicament as successor to a musical heritage in Brazil is not unique. Part of a generation of the sons and daughters of master musicians whose careers have now spanned decades, she and others have carried on composing and performing the Brazilian sound of bossa nova, samba, and tropicalismo with a decidedly 21st-century update.
Moreno Veloso, the 27-year-old son of tropicalismo creator Caetano Veloso (the Bob Dylan of Brazil), also is bringing a fresh revision to the old style with his recent release, Music Typewriter. His band, Moreno Veloso + 2, includes not only those "two" -- Alexandre Kassin and Domenico Lancelloti -- but also gets help from Jobim's grandson Daniel Jobim. The group has produced an album that charts the course along which Brazilian music seems to be headed, from the understated acoustic-guitar-with-voice of its opening songs to the electronica-tinged numbers at album's close.
"We all live in Brazil, and we've all been playing since we were young. We all know sambas and bossa novas; Domenico's father is a composer of samba," Moreno Veloso said in a recent interview. "But we also know about computers, electronic music, experimentalism, that sort of stuff. So we're in the middle of two things, and we could mix a lot of samba and traditional Brazilian music with our experimental music. Kassin is a very sharp experimentalist. He knows a lot of electronic stuff and programming, drum machines."
Another young turk is Marcio Menescal and his trio Bossacucanova, a group that incorporates even more elements of electronica lounge and experimentation. To bridge the gap between the traditional sounds of bossa's heyday on its first full album, Brasilidade, the band added bossa nova pioneer Roberto Menescal (who also happens to be Marcio's father) to the lineup.
And whereas the careers of their parents will eventually wind down, these electronic offspring are carrying on the musical tradition that is being embraced more and more outside Brazil.
"Yes, I kind of feel that," acknowledges Bebel Gilberto. "Especially having Moreno on my side. I saw him when he was starting up, and now our careers are crossing each other. It's kind of funny because we are becoming responsible for renewing the Brazilian music, outside of Brazil. In America people understand his music more than in Brazil. It's like, Wow, how can that be possible? How come in Brazil this music is really not that popular?"
For Gilberto mastery of the music and the sound she's developed comes from years of apprenticing as the daughter of legendary musicians and working with established artists like Caetano Veloso and David Byrne after her migration to New York in 1991.
"Towa Tei [formerly of Deee-Lite] was definitely a big help when I worked with him for the first time," says Gilberto of her life in the Big Apple. "It was kind of magic because it opened all these doors to the DJ background. That was very interesting to work with DJs and samples."
But for all the digital experiments, the most compelling aspect of the latest trend do Brasil is the same as it's always been: the whimsical, lilting melodies of the songs and the easy, soulful voices that sing them. There's a timeless quality to the music of Gilberto, both father and daughter. Too much tinkering with modern technology would be an attempt to fix something far from broken.
Gilberto explains the use of electronic elements in her work as "kind of unconscious, especially in my case, because Suba was the person who really influenced me with that kind of music. In Brazil that music is getting really popular, because people are redoing and reinventing different sounds, [using electronic gear] as a percussive instrument.
"It's really interesting for me to see how the music itself is doing so well and using so many sounds and possibilities to get wider and wider," she continues. "For me it's the best, because I think that's what gives our type of music a little bit more ... spiciness."
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