Friday, April 13, 2007

Paul de Barros previews CéU's concert in Seattle.

Forget Bebel Gilberto.

There's a new Brazilian voice in town, and her name is CéU.

A 2005 Latin Grammy nominee with a strong indie debut in Brazil, this stunning new chanteuse debuts Sunday at the Triple Door.

As the French say, she is something amazing — smart, cheeky, sexy, upbeat and with a voice like a soft bell ringing through the humid air.

Raised in a big, middle-class family in São Paulo by songwriter/maestro Edgard Poças (her full name is Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças), this 26-year-old singer/songwriter grew up knowing famous composers such as Pixinguinha, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Baden Powell. Enamored of North American funk and Jamaican rock steady (and dub), CéU (pronounced say-OO) also became a connoisseur of the traditional sambas and marchinhas played by the carnival samba schools.

"I was always asking musical things to him," she recalled of her dad, in a phone interview from Philadelphia. CéU speaks English fairly well, but her songs are almost all in Portuguese. "He was my teacher," she continued. "He's a Brazilian old-school music researcher."

He is also well-connected, and got her gigs singing backup with Brazilian veteran Johnny Alf and for studio jingles.

At 18, she struck out for New York and, by a crazy coincidence, while working at a restaurant met Brazilian film composer Antonio Pinto ("Central Station," "City of God"), who was down on his luck. She took him in and discovered he was a distant cousin.

Back in São Paulo, Pinto would later return the favor, working with the brilliant producer Beto Villares on CéU's self-named debut album. The result, picked up in the States last year by Six Degrees, is a delight.

Like the Brazilian landscape itself, CéU's sound has a pastel softness while maintaining a rich body and sharp edge. Her lyrics aren't bad, either.

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