Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto is best known for her lyrical and wistful bossa nova-influenced sound: a pure melodic style which first emerged in the late fifties, shaped by many venerated artists, among them her own parents, musicians João Gilberto and Miúcha. Locally Bebel has played at musically discerning venues such as Wolf Trap and the 930 Club, but recently, over seven hundred fans packed the house at our own historic State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia to be transported hypnotically to the beautiful beaches of Bahia.
Performing favorites from her 2000 breakthrough release Tanto Tempo to her most recent release Tudo, which includes tracks in Portuguese, English, and French, Bebel breezed effortlessly across the stage as though barefoot in the sands of Ipanema. Her Tanto Tempo transformed Bebel into one of the best-selling Brazilian artists since the sixties. In 2015, the title track Tudo was nominated in the Best Brazilian Song category for the 16th Latin Grammy Awards.
“Tudo is perhaps Bebel’s most intimate recording, captur[ing] the human vulnerabilities that bring both sorrows and joy.” This latest release is characterized by “warm and playful Brazilian rhythms that include the berimbau, wood bongos, and shakers.” Bebel is also a talented voice actor, and her voice was recently featured in the animated films Rio and Rio 2, on the soundtrack and as the voice of the toucan, Eva.
After a nice tapas lunch at the Spanish restaurant Ser in Arlington, she was ready to sing. She can even whistle! The crowd joined in enthusiastically to favorites like It Would Be So Nice to which Bebel responded, “That was so nice!” My Brazilian friends shouted out their request Preciso Dezir Que Te Amo or I Need to Tell You I Love You, to which they seemed to know every word as they sang along with typical Brazilian alegria.
The performance was refreshingly simple with Bebel’s mellifluous voice accompanied by the talented Masa Shimizu on acoustic guitar. Bebel serenaded the crowd with tones as rich, sweet, and sultry as melted chocolate. Interspersed throughout the night was her ever-infectious laugh, as she interacted playfully with the delighted listeners.
Bebel was born in New York City but grew up in Rio de Janeiro. She also lived in Mexico City, which was a very special time for her, as it is where she started school and learned to speak Spanish. Currently she spends most of her time in Manhattan, but of course she loves to escape to Rio and Bahia in Brazil from time to time. Then again, who wouldn’t? Some of the most beautiful white sand beaches and blue water I have ever seen. Ah, saudade…
I was first introduced to the music of Bebel Gilberto by my great Brazilian friend Marilza Piana Iriarte of Arlington and first saw Bebel open for the legendary Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora at Wolf Trap. “That was amazing,” gushed Bebel in regards to that performance. “It was a beautiful place. I’m so happy I did it.” Later, the Ted Kelly World Party morning show would often feature her music in their eclectic international format. Since then, I have extended my enjoyment of bossa nova by creating a Pandora station entitled Bebel Brazil, and one song that popped up was from a 2003 concert in Tokyo by her father, João Gilberto.
Bebel performed for the first time at the tender age of nine at Carnegie Hall with her mother Miúcha and the eternal Stan Getz, an experience about which she still has treasured memories. Connecting with the crowd at the State Theatre, she confided, “I need you to be a part of it, because I didn’t expect so many beautiful people understanding our love. With a musical crowd we can do anything. Thank you.” One of my all-time favorites happens to be the very first song she wrote—Mais Feliz—to which I gladly added a little harmony from my seat. She expressed her hope to return to perform at the State Theatre. With the crowd clearly behind her, she shouted jestfully, “I’m gonna move to Falls Church!” What could be so nice.
Photo credit: Harper Smith