Brazilian Breeze in Tokyo with Bebel Gilberto
“For me, the sun brings warmth, light, happiness, and inspiration; the birds remind me of a song, to fly and to be free; and the sea is a place that is good to be in, a place beautiful to see and beautiful to hear,”
Bebel Gilberto expresses her sublime thoughts on the petals of life that comprise Everything that breathes in the existence of beauty, love, and music—Everything that is “TUDO” (in Portugese), her latest album that she performed so excitably at the Blue Note Tokyo last November 28‐30 with her awesome music partners: Masa Shimizu (acoustic guitar), John Roggie (keyboards), Jorge Continentino (sax, flute), and Magrus Borges (drums, percussion).
Never missed as the sweet and talented precious daughter of Brazil’s bossa nova legends, Joăo Gilberto and Miúcha, Bebel has, indeed, traversed long and unsurpassable four decades of generating her life’s dedication to the passion for music. Magically balancing her hustling routine from New York to Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, and more cities across the globe in one year, Bebel has once more surrendered her seductive voice to her Japanese fans as though time never slipped away since her first Tokyo sojourn in the mid ‘90s. Her aura and enigma weave along her sentimental lyrics and whispering melodies that make her one of Brazil’s most exciting songstresses—always bubbly, charismatic, forthright, and full of life’s sugar and spice.
How nostalgic has it been for you being back in Japan?
Oh yes. I have been to Japan about six times from 1995—twice I came and played with the Japanese band Sabbat, and the other four times, I came after the release of Tanto Tempo (2000), my most recognized album. I’ve been to Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Nara. I remember during those early years in Japan, you could hardly see any English in the streets—just English for red, blue and yellow colors, but I was able to manage walking around—to the bakery and buy some baguette; to shops where I discovered different kinds of miso! I used to take a lot of red miso that I love so much. Over the years I think I had too much of it that I changed to white miso (laughs).
What was your most significant impression about Japan and the Japanese?
Definitely, the most important impression of Japan for me was meeting and playing with Towa Tei (Japanese DJ musician and record producer) and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I did the track Technova with Towa Tei under the musical direction of Sakamoto for Towa Tei’s album Future Listening! under the Elektra label that came out in 1995, which was also released under East West label that also featured Sakamoto. It was truly a wonderful experience. Sakamoto was so nice and so kind to me, and took me out, and showed me the clubs. He came to my shows about three times. He had worked with Vinicius Cantuaria, and on my second trip to Japan, he was with Vinicius. The people from the record companies took good care of me and I made many friends then. I have always been very grateful to Sakamoto. And, he liked me because of Towa Tei. So with Towa Tei I did Batucada (1995), Folknovcaa (1994), Obrigado (1994), Technova…
Were there other Japanese artists you worked with?
I have recorded songs of Yumi Matsutoya in Portugese, such as De Tarde, Vendo O Mar. I also know Lisa Ono, but she was much closer to my mother. Well, my best friend is Japanese, Masa Shimizu, my guitarist, who lives in New York as well. He auditioned way back around 2000. And since then, we have been producing songs together—Nada Năo, Momento, Words…for fourteen years! That’s not such a long time, is it? (laughs)
You’ve always been a source of both mystery and inspiration for many people, especially because of your rich family background and dual lifestyle, moving from New York and Rio back and forth…how do you manage this lifestyle?
You know, you need to have a strong personality and you can make it happen. I have a privilege because I have a penthouse with a terrace in my New York apartment. In summer, I can go out to the terrace in my bikini, relax under the sun; and in autumn, I take care of my plants. I go to the beach a lot, and go to Mexico often, almost twice a year. I love Mexico. Now that I think of it, I have not had a vacation in three years!
So, you are living a Brazilian life in New York!
Has it always felt like it was fate for you to live your life in music because of your parents? Or, did you feel at one point that you could have gone another way if you could?
I started singing when I was seven years old. I couldn’t have gone any other way. I don’t think my parents ever intended for me to go to the university. My father never asked me, “Do you want to go to the university?” No, there was no pressure. Anyway, I was a bad student at school (laughs). It was like a necessity, because I was always surrounded by them (parents), my uncle…all these musicians.
Yet, despite that very strong influence, coming from a big family of musicians, including your uncle Chico Buarque, you succeeded in finding your own voice.
That was the important thing for me and my career. And I fulfilled that when I did my first well‐known album, Tanto Tempo. With that album, everything turned into a different perspective in my life. I became more Bebel Gilberto. My repertoire was not singing with my parents, or with my uncle Chico…It was purely Bebel. I believe that in Tanto Tempo I created my true Bebel Gilberto music. I wanted people to know who I was, not just my father’s daughter. I wanted to have my own style and expression—then, I became at peace with myself.
What was the most important thing that your father, Joăo Gilberto taught you?
Both my father and mother were very strong influences in my life. But, I think my voice is very close to my mother’s. My father, however, taught me about whispering—not to shout or belt out—to do less…”less is more,” he often said. I hope I got good tips from him!
Then, later you learned to play the guitar.
Oh that! (laughs) I learned playing the guitar, but the guitar always belonged to my father. There is no comparison. One time, I was tired of chord changing, and telling my band, “Don’t do this way, do that way…” So, finally with the guitar I could find my own version. I play also a little piano, flute, percussion…but, I don’t think I am a good instrumentalist.
Finally, in 2014, we see TUDO, your mega‐album that gathers a fantastic cast of musicians—Seu Jorge, Cesar Mendez, Liminha, Kassin, Miguel Atwood‐Ferguson, and a great song from Antonio Carlos Jobim, among others, plus an incredible range of world instruments: berimbau, wood bongos and shakers….how did you prepare the collaboration for this album?
I also had the pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine), udu (African aerophone), sitar (Indian string instrument) and so many others. TUDO is Everything. It is a mix of everything put together—like a family of musicians and instruments, and everything that I have been through in my life. These days, it is easier to collaborate with musicians because they just send you the tracks, then we record them. We processed this record in just about 40 days. The response has been very good all over the world, despite it being sometimes difficult to promote, especially Brazilian music.
Has Brazilian music evolved a great deal in the last twenty years, in comparison to what you do now?
Well, in the 80s, there was a lot of rock going on in Brazil. Brazil had a lot of respectable artists then, but I just didn’t listen to that music, nor am I very fond of samba except for Zeca Pagodinho. Today, I think Brazilian music is a lot better. We have more young and promising musicians, like Seu Jorge.
What is the most important source of inspiration for you? Do you have to be in a particular setting or time to write songs?
Not at all. In songwriting, inspiration is about the sense of how you feel at that moment. I would love to be in the beach to compose, but that is not always the case. I just have to make my head work. The key to writing music is to be happy and to be well rested.
I know you have just a few days in Japan, but if you had only one day in Japan, how would you spend it?
I would go to Kyoto. I have been to Kyoto only in summer and winter, but never in spring or autumn. It must be so beautiful.
Beautiful would be an understatement of Bebel’s three‐day electrifying showcase at the Blue Note Tokyo. Swinging her arms in the air and gyrating to the dancelike chocalho shaker rhythms, Bebel and her sultry, romantic and energetic delivery of favorite tunes left the audience in utmost awe, fascination and high‐spirited delight. From the TUDO album, Nada Năo, Tout en Bleu, Somewhere Else, Areia, Tudo, a delicate rendition of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, and others, indeed, enveloped Everything that Bebel had always wanted to impart from sea to sea, and from heart to heart.
Chega De Saudade
Mas se ela voltar, se ela voltar,
Que coisa linda, que coisa louca
Pois há menos peixinhos a nadar no mar
Do que os beijinhos que eu darei
Na sua boca, dentro dos meus braços
Os abraços hăo de ser, milhőes de abraços
Apertado assim, colado assim, calado assim
Abraços e beijinhos e carinhos sem ter fim
Enough Of Longing
But if she returns, if she returns
What a lovely thing, what a crazy thing
Because there are less fish swimming in the sea
Then the kisses that I will give to her mouth
Within my arms the hugs
Have to be millions of hugs held tight that way
United that way, silent that way
Hugs and kisses and caresses without end
‐ Bebel and Joăo Gilberto duet, lyrics by Tom Jobim
With Special Thanks to Yasumasa Okada/Blue Note Tokyo and Shigeru Sekiguchi/Sony Music Labels, Inc.