By David DacksSao Paolo songstress Céu glides into Montreal's Club Soda sporting a teeny, tiny camera she picked up in Japan that looks like two film canisters stuck together. Pointing it around the club she surveys the pre-soundcheck venue soon to be filled to capacity. The jazz festival gig's been sold out for a little while; the release of her latest album has capitalized on steady touring to herald a new level of popularity. With the confidently eclectic concept album Caravana Sereia Bloom, Ceu has translated a Starbucks-approved MPB aesthetic ― Música Popular Brasileira ― into something more individual, at turns modern and retro, sexy, poetic, abstract and rocking. The album riffs on themes associated with life on the road juxtaposed with behaviours in urban environments; in a sense this stop in Montreal is just one more chapter in what she's just written. That seems to explain her careful review off these environs; once she's taken it all in, she sits down to chat.
You're really popular in Montreal — you're sold out! Yes! It's really nice. I'm surprised.
Is there something about the city that you really vibe with? I think so. I feel very comfortable here. Even the first show [ever] here was amazing.
Maybe Montreal likes a good concept album? Tell me about the process of making it. It was interesting because I decided to write all the songs about one thing so it's very different album than the others. I've been touring a lot since the first one and I started to write songs on the road and at home. It wasn't that complicated, usually I take a long time in the studio but this was fast. I recorded all the vocals in four days.
So do you think you're growing in confidence in the studio? I interviewed Curumin a few weeks ago and he was amazed at the work you did on his album. You guys are now label-mates [at Six Degrees], but it's not the first time you've worked with him? Oh yeah! I have a big friendship with all his family, his wife, his son. I think in Sao Paolo people are saying there's a new scene. I don't know about that but there is a new generation, a beautiful generation that I'm proud and glad to be a part of. Everybody knows it's hard to be part of the [music] business so there's support: "can you record a vocal for me?" And [Curumin] recorded drums on my album.
Does that look back to the original Tropicalia movement? I guess. There is a similarity, I agree. That's funny. A journalist asked me where I should be to label my music. That's a hard question for me. We had MPB, but now I don't know. It's not jazz it's not rock. And he said I think you are the daughter of Tropicalia.
That's true. MPB is really a term from the '70s and nothing's replaced it since then. If you go literally MPB is Música Popular Brasileira. I should be there. But it has a specific aesthetic that I'm not in.
Especially with this new album, it's so eclectic. It has lots of guitars.
There's also a strong Caribbean vibe to it. Yes, I was influenced by the frontier of Brazil, the North East part. I knew I wanted to talk about the road, then I realized that this imaginary road in my mind has a geographic place in the frontier, trying to understand what happens to Brazilian music when it makes its way into Latin American styles. Cumbia. Old school Lambadas, Bregas, all these rhythms that people think they're not beautiful in Brazil especially in Sao Paolo and the big cities. But it's so Brazilian.
What we would call country music here? Exactly.
So are you going to make some technobrega remixes? [Laughs] No. But if someone wants to… actually I think it's revolutionary. The way they spread around their music it's beautiful. There is a weird superstar called Gaby Amarentos she has a nice voice, she's from the North. It's such an important moment in [their] music now.
You have a couple of tracks in English, after three albums are you being pushed to do more for North American audiences? It's funny. In Brazil they ask me this, and here too. But no. the reason was the song "Streets Bloom" that Lucas Santanna wrote with me, when I started to write it. I told him the [album concept] and he started to write. He said I'll write in Spanish ― because of that frontier [mentality] I told you about ― but then he came with an English song and I loved it. So we recorded it. "Fffree" happened, I was typing to a friend of mine, an American singer, on my cellphone and I typed in English and I said "this is beautiful" and it became a song.
Have you ever felt the need to go the other way, to do Baile funk or that kind of direction? No. You mean like going very pop?
More like heavy drum machines & electronics. No. I'm OK if some guy wants to remix, it would be cool. I talk with a lot of producers who say they know DJs who would love to remix you for the clubs, and I'm OK with that.
There's a line I read in your bio "Our sense of 'progress' that pushes us to continuously grow, ends up dominating and polluting our culture." Do you seek a kind of measured growth with your music, not sudden changes? Yes. Just being myself. And not forgetting the honesty and the respect for the music. Because It's just about music it's not about me.
You've been with Six Degrees for many years, how has the label changed? We are exactly the generation between these changing times. I am the generation that downloads a lot of songs, I like it. But the hard part is how we're going to organize it. But it's ok, it was a big change but for me, it's not like I was selling a million before this.