Céu captivated the world with her self-titled debut album in 2007, her follow up release has been widely anticipated. After being chosen as the first international artist featured in Starbucks' Hear Music™ Debut series, Céu earned both Grammy and Latin Grammy nominations, countless press accolades, and chart topping numbers. So how does one of the most successful Brazilian female artists of our time respond? With her typical grace and artistry.
First came Cangote in May of 2009, a teaser four-song EP that was a harbinger of wonderful things to come, as the full-length album Vagarosa demonstrates. Vagarosa, which translates to "slow, easygoing, and leisurely," perfectly reflects the vibe that runs throughout the album. Everywhere on Vagarosa is evidence of Céu's ever-deepening musical sophistication and intelligence. Notice the album's opening track, for example: on the surface it's all gentle sweetness, nothing but Céu's flutelike voice accompanied by Rodrigo Campos on the cavaquinho, a sort of Brazilian ukelele. But the song's title hints at more serious concerns – titled "Sobre o Amor e Seu Trabalho Silencioso" ("Concerning Love and Its Silent Work"), it celebrates, in Céu's words, "the invisible chemistry of love, when it awakes," but the song also makes quiet reference to love's demands. That song leads beautifully into "Cangote," which deepens and darkens the mood and prepares you for the myriad sounds and flavors to come later in the program.
"Comadi," a song that Céu co-wrote with with Beto Villares, and that she explains is about "how much women struggle for their position in life," is dense and funky, with lots of wah-wah guitars, low reeds, and a slow and soulful groove. The musical texture opens up a bit with "Bubuia," on which the percussion skitters lightly on the surface, hinting at a sort of jungle breakbeat, but Céu's smoothly languid vocals keep the groove anchored in a relaxed medium tempo even as the intensity begins to build near the middle of the song. "Grains de Beauté" is a frankly sensual love song on which she invites the beloved to draw lines connecting the beauty marks on his lover's body.
One of the most interesting things about Vagarosa is the extent to which organic acoustic sounds and cutting-edge electronic textures are woven together into a completely natural-sounding whole. On "Nascente," a basically acoustic backing track is twisted and refracted by electronic means, while a hot horn chart and a feline rhythm give the impression of a cat stalking its prey – perhaps amorously and perhaps not. "Papa," the album's only English-language track, encourages the listener not to "take yourself so seriously" while placing Céu's voice in an echo chamber with electronically altered acoustic instruments; the combination of the wet ambience and the mysterious, minor-key melody draws you in – until the song suddenly ends after less than a minute and a half.
And yet some of the album's most transcendentally beautiful moments are also its simplest and least complex. On "Vira Lata," which deals with the problem of falling in love with "an unfaithful but lovable person," a flugelhorn and cavaquinho provide tastefully minimal backing, showcasing Céu's voice as gently as a jewel in a simple but elegant velvet box. When the layers of multi-tracked flutes come in near the song's end, the effect is like the arrival of a flock of rare and lovely birds. "Ponteiro" (which again touches on serious issues related to the passing of time) features a circus organ and a metronomically plucked electric guitar – a rather blocky arrangement that nicely complements Céu's airy voice and the delicate melody she sings. On "Cordão da Insônia" she sings of "when the city sleeps and everything becomes quiet," a moment when often "the creative energy starts to flow, making one stay awake, not able to sleep, creating." This song returns to a reggae groove, with some nifty backwards guitar and lounge-flavored mallet keyboards. "Espaçonave" layers Céu's voice on itself, multi-tracking harmony lines in a way that suggests a Brazilian version of Zap Mama, while the churning groove is more like 1960s funk with a slippery New Orleans drum part. This album's music and lyrics have been informed by a number of recent developments in Céu's life, including the birth of her daughter – an event that is celebrated here by a gentle and lovely rendition of the old Jorge Ben song "Rosa Menina Rosa." While "Sonâmbulo's" subject matter is unusually pointed: the song's image of a sleepwalker is intended as a critique of those who allow their own personalities to atrophy in deference to the preferences and expectations of others.
The production of the album started in mid-2008 at Ambulante Studios in São Paulo, Brazil. Céu teamed up with her old accomplice, producer Beto Villares to produce and record her new compositions. In the process, they also involved producer and engineer Gustavo Lenza (Céu's touring engineer for the past 4 years, who recently produced Curumin's last two records) and soundtrack producer Gui Amabis, who has collaborated with Céu on the Sonantes project. Throughout the album Céu enjoys the assistance of many top-notch musician friends: members of Los Sebozos Postizos make an appearance on "Rosa Menina Rosa"; Curumin plays drums on "Cordão da Insônia"; Luiz Melodia provides exquisite guest vocals on "Vira Lata." Pupillo and Dengue from Nação Zumbi contribute drums and bass on "Ponteiro," and Siba (a founder of the regionally famous Pernambucan band Mestre Ambrósio) co-wrote "Nascente" with her.
The ever-proliferating crowd of Brazilian musicians lining up to record with Céu, combined with her deepening penetration of the world's music markets, is more than enough to bear out the optimistic predictions of the music media. But really, all the proof of her unique talent is right here: in the beautifully simple melodies, the sophisticated complexity of the arrangements, the wide-ranging musical references, and the general warmth and attractiveness of her songwriting.
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