Céu @ Jazz Cafe (11/07/11)
Strutting down the stairs to her opening number, it was obvious that Brazilian songstress Céu meant business. After all, with two critically acclaimed albums under her belt, as well as a nomination for Best Contemporary Brazilian Pop Record at last years Latin Grammys, the twenty-nine-year-old diva had a lot to live up to.
Born in Sao Paulo, Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças comes from a circle of musicians known for their ingenious as well as innovative music. Along with Curumin, Beto Villares, Instituto, Apollo Nove, Guizado, Turbo Trio, Nação Zumbi and 3 Na Massa, Céu’s music wavers towards a heady mixture of traditional Brazilian sounds with an international pop-esque quality that tends towards an African-American appeal than anything else. Such subtle flavourings as samba, choro and candomblé-rhythms with reggae, dub, electro-pop and rock can be heard on Céu’s recorded material but even more so in her live performances.
With tracks off her previous albums, Céu (2005) and Vagarosa (2009), Céu bedazzled the audience with her smooth, sultry vocals and the odd burst of scat singing. Her dedicated backing band included DJ Marco at the turntables, adding some extra rhythmic seasoning, Lucas Martins on bass guitar, Bruno Buarque playing drums, and Dustan Gallas on guitar. Reflecting a strong influence of American divas such as Erykah Badu, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Lauren Hill, Céu’s laid-back, self-assured style mesmerised her devout following. “Malemolencia” captivated the essence of the Brazilian’s style, especially with its dub-drenched bass and hip-hop scratches that set the scene for Céu’s lush vocals and relaxed dance moves. The term “malemolência” is also known amongst Brazilian youth culture as a “relaxed” and “flowing” and from last night’s musical magic, Céu is the epitomy of such style. However, after a couple of tracks with the same cool-latin-jazz flavour, the music needed a little more drive to drown out the rising chit-chats.
One of the many highlights was “Rainha,” a homage to one of Céu’s musical heroes, Tony Allen, drummer of Nigerian musical activist, Fela Kuti. At this point, the vibe of the gig seemed to wake-up. If only the afrobeat gem could have been introduced towards the beginning of the set. By the end of the night, it seemed that Céu had cast her magic over the dancing crowd, who by this time had been transported from Camden over the Atlantic to a hot summer’s night in Sao Paulo.
Words by Amy Cunningham
Photo by Steven Shingler