Bebel Gilberto embodies the essence of bossa nova’s modern evolution. Last Wednesday (Aug. 16), the singer-songwriter showcased this on stage at a sold-out show at Poisson Rouge, nestled in the heart of New York’s storied bohemian neighborhood Greenwich Village, where she gave audiences an early preview of her latest album João (out Friday, Aug. 25), a heartfelt tribute to her late Brazilian father, João Gilberto.
As the daughter of the bossa nova legend — and also of Brazilian music icon Miúcha — Bebel’s art is deeply rooted in her musical heritage. Yet the singer has carved a distinct path of her own, fusing traditional Brazilian rhythms with electronic flourishes and global influences. On João, she brings it all back home. With her ethereal voice and innovative production, Bebel effortlessly transcends the classic genre, reimagining the sonic boundaries of Brazilian music with a New York state of mind, and a thrust for cultural exploration.
Last week on stage, the Brazilian chanteuse — who wore a vintage-style black Prada dress and her carefully messy hair pinned up — was a musical force: spunky yet elegant with a dashing sense of humor. “Sorry, but for some reason I’m feeling Beyoncé,” she said as she gave the sound engineers feedback to take out some reverb. Applying red lipstick, she declared, “I’m not just bossa nova, I’m punk. I lived in New York City for 29 years.” She then proceeded to invite a cute shih tzu dog on stage while crooning, “I love you.” For the encore, she came out sipping on a Corona, while her mellifluous melodies weaved an intricate tapestry of emotions.
New York City was just one stop of her international João Tour, where she’ll make her way to major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Quebec City, Stockholm and London. Recorded at Reservoir Studios in New York, João was created alongside producer Thomas Bartlett, with Bebel gathering a collective of musicians such as her nephew drummer Chico Brown, as well as guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and music arranger and trombone player, Clark Gayton.
Billboard Español caught up with the artist to discuss five essential songs from João.
I would start with the opening song, “Adeus América.” It’s a song that I discovered through my father’s voice. He had done a live presentation [of it] at the [19th] Montreux Jazz Festival, the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival [in Switzerland]. He was coming back to Brazil after being in the United States, and touring around the world for the last 20 years. The fact that he sang that song [to me] inspired me to open the album with it. It was the first song I recorded.
The guitar is from Guilherme Monteiro, who’s been touring with me. He did incredible work, researching my father’s chord changes, dissecting the way that daddy played, and the right vibe. I love the production by Thomas Bartlett — who was super open, opinionated, as he’s not Brazilian, you know? It was like a trip into my dad’s music. I have deep love for “Adeus América” in particular, and I love the result. It is catchy and I hold it in my heart. It’s one of my favorites.
Editor’s note: the original song was recorded in 1985, and released two years later on the album Live in Montreux.
“Eu Vim Da Bahia”
My second selection is “Eu Vim Da Bahia,” a song that’s on another album from my dad’s, which is known as the White Album [Ed. Note: It’s João Gilberto’s 1973 self-titled album]. “Eu vim da bahia” in English means “I came from Bahia.” The original song is from Gilberto Gil, who actually shares the same name as my father, and people kept confusing them. Gil’s recording has a totally different vibe.
When daddy did it, it was so intense — and it tells the story of Bahia, the background, why he came from Bahia and why he wants to come back. It’s also a nostalgic song, and I believe that is one of my best interpretations. I was a big fan for a long time, but I never thought I was going to one day record it. It was one of the songs that I easily did. I’m very happy with my vocals. It took me two or three takes; it wasn’t a big effort. I really took a trip on it and it was really beautiful. I love the results.
“É Preciso Perdoar”
“É Preciso Perdoar” is one of the most beautiful songs of the album, and maybe my favorite song ever. My father also recorded it on that same White Album and it’s been recorded by Cesária Évora, [Ryuichi Sakamoto and Caetano Veloso] on the Red Hot & Rio album that got so famous, [where] David Byrne also participated. But the words reflect the state of mind that I am currently in.
There is also an electronic effect that Thomas did. It’s really beautiful, and I think it captures the mantra that the song has. I’m very courageous to take the chance to re-record such a classic. I have beautiful drummers playing on it. One of them is my nephew, Chico Brown, Carlinhos Brown’s son. He did incredible work and programming. I also really love Guilherme Monteiro’s guitar.
The video is really beautiful. When I created the vibe, I wanted to do a little bit of acting on it. [The song has] very deep words. I decided to do something inspired by Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” [music video]. Later, she left us. I wish she knew. She inspired so many people around the world, and probably she didn’t even know that.
That one is my father’s composition. It’s an instrumental song my father created on his guitar. My father loved yoga and he loved mantras. He really practiced yoga as [much as] the guitar. His obsession with religion was also the way of playing the guitar. That song sounds like a mantra, it’s beautiful. Thomas Bartlett also plays accordion on that song. It’s quite psychedelic in a way. I’m very happy to take that step away from the classics and do an untouched song from my dad.
The fifth one is called “the duck.” It’s a song that my father got very famous for at the beginning of his career. It’s very funny; it sounds like a song from a cartoon. I was involved in all the arrangements and invited this great, incredible trombone player, Clark Gayton, who developed all the arrangements with me. It sounds a little playful — [to have] the horns, which are adorable, playing against the guitar and the drums. I love it. It sounds a little funky and childish at the same time. It’s very fun and I’m very happy that I recreated such a classic in a totally different approach.
Full stream of João below: