Brazilian chanteuse Marisa Monte is one of the most popular singers in her homeland (get familiar with that MPB!), garnering three nominations and one win at the Latin Grammys two weeks ago. This Tuesday, she finishes up a rare US tour at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. We had a chance to talk to her about the tour and her two most recent albums, Infinito Particular (a pop album) and Universo ao Meu Redor (an unconventional samba record melding throwback musicians with Beastie Boys producer Mario Caldato Jr), and you can read up after the jump.
Are you excited for these shows? It’s been a while since you’ve performed in America.
Yes, yes. I come often here, but performing, the last time it was like five years ago or something.
Do you ever perform in smaller clubs?
Sometimes I do special projects, but my tours have been in big places for many years. Big places like in Brazil with theatres of 2,000. In Europe also, most of the theatres and places were big venues.
What’s the most exciting part about this American tour for you?
It’s a challenge to travel with all this apparatus from Brazil, and its something that is not usual for Brazilian artists. My last tour we did the same, we brought everything. It’s a different approach for American audiences because it’s not only about music—it’s music, but it is the whole concept that can help the communication through the music, because the final intention is to communicate to the people. I think all this stuff helps me to communicate the whole concept of my work. And also I have a lot of friends here, so it is a big pleasure to have them come and see me. I think it is very important to be here—the physical presence, the contact between artist and audience, is the most solid relationship in music that can exist. It’s very important to be here and have this direct contact. I think it is stronger than listening on the radio or listening on CD. Watching, it is very remarkable to me. All the concerts I saw, I remember them better than songs. It is only through this that we can build a concrete relationship.
Where did you draw inspiration for the songs on Universo au Meu Redor?
From the contact with the interviews [of old musicians]. I listened to them, to their histories, to their music, their songs, and it gave me the opportunity to get in contact with something that was really inspiring for me: the fact that they weren’t professionals. They used to do music in the ’40s and the ’50s and the ’60s as a way of celebrating life, as a way of getting together on the weekends of expressing real human feelings that had to come out. Not because of any professional pressure, they were doing it just for love. And this purity, this pure relationship with music is something that is moving and very inspiring, and I think that is what inspired me most to compose—listening to that and being aware of this pure feeling.
There is something about the lyrics that’s very touching.
It is philosophical, a lot of outer knowledge, truth of the songs. You listen to them and you know about it yourself, you know about human beings and about common feelings, it’s a source of knowledge. They are masters not because of their melodies and their music but because of their philosophy, their way of seeing life, their way of dealing with problems of getting older, with love, with nature, and with a lot of subjects that are common to everybody. They used to have a very beautiful philosophy, very simple, very pure, and that is sometimes very rare. It’s amazing how we complicate, and it is getting harder and harder to be obvious. And it is very good to be obvious sometimes. It is simpler. Listening to your heart is harder and harder. We live in a world that is very busy, too much noise, too much cell phones, too much cars in the street, appointments, time for this, time for that, you don’t know what you want to do. What you really want to listen to, what you really want to know. Is it really important for you to know all this information, does it make you happy?
They were very honest, and very pure. They used to feel. Another thing nowadays that is weird, nobody wants to feel, there is Prozac and drugs nowadays, but they used to feel and suffer. They used to live with a lot of dignity, they took life how it is, and they were much stronger. If you talk to them, problems are not problems. They also have this dimension, very clear in their songs, you see them and it is very beautiful. They are really masters.
Your voice defines the songs very well and makes the instrumentation seem sparse when really it isn’t.
There are a lot of instruments but they are built up very free. We did a lot of editing and a lot of processing, so we created this psychedelic atmosphere. We used synthesizers and instruments from the last generation, orchestral instruments like harp and cello and bassoon and also some vintage keyboards, but we had a lot of freedom in terms of sonority.
I wanted of course to do a record with a samba repertoire, but I didn’t want to do a traditional samba record—which I’m very familiar with because I produced two samba records with old guys in Brazil. There was Velha Guarda da Portela, which is a group of 12 eighty year old guys, veterans from one of the most traditional samba schools in Rio. The other one is Argemiro Patrocínio, who is one of the guys from the group that I produced two years after, so these two records were very pure, very delicate and very traditional. But I wanted to do something that I could call mine, that I could dialogue with my other references, so that’s why I invited Mario Caldato, who produced the Beastie Boys and Jack Johnson and Bjork. He’s more connected with this kind of information and I asked him, “I have this repertoire that sounds very classical but I want to find my own sonority for my samba, something so that I can call it mine.” And he understood this desire and he helped me to create this record—which for me sounds like a classical psychedelic samba record. You listen to the songs and you almost feel like you heard them before, because they are very classical; meanwhile, you listen and you know that it was recorded nowadays. It’s postmodern; this balance was something that I wanted to relate, to be genuine, to be honest.