Gaël le Cornec speaks to the Cinematic Orchestra singer Heidi Vogel about music, passion and Brazil.
In the lounge of a busy 5-star hotel, Heidi Vogel sits waiting on a couch, black mini-dress, high heels, dark ringlets – her unmistakable trademark. Heidi made her professional debut touring with Cirque du Soleil ten years ago. She became, on her return, a frequent face in the London and LA Jazz and soul scene where she got involved with the Cinematic Orchestra, first starting as a backing vocal and quickly rising to the lead singer position.
What differentiates Heidi Vogel from other Jazz singers of her generation? A voice that comes from the deepest places of the heart, honest interpretation of songs, a powerful childlike presence on stage that makes her so watchable. This is the blend that emerges out of her recently released Album Lágrimas de um Pássaro – Tears of a Bird where Heidi interprets songs of great composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes and Joe Henderson.
Heidi, could you tell us the origin of this album, where the ideas came from?
Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I’m not sure there was an idea behind it, I would say there was like… a passion. I wanted to record and sing the songs that I love.
And most of the songs are in Portuguese…
Yeah, I love Brazilian music a lot. I didn’t intentionally choose to do the whole album in Portuguese, but when I looked at the songs that I chose, I realised that’s what I wanted to do. I know this sounds a bit unusual… but I tried to do it, really, for myself. I just wanted an album with the music that I love, because the connection that I feel with Brazilian music is something that harmonically I’ve got a lot of admiration for and a deep relationship with.
When did it start, this passion for Brazilian music?
It was in my late teens. I was touring with Cirque du Soleil and there were loads of Brazilian musicians and two Brazilian girls, doing… hmm… You know, in the circus they have this ring that they intertwine the two bodies on the ring? In the sky?
Yeah, it’s like a trapeze but they made the ring themselves with their bodies.
Yeah, they were trapezists.
(laughter) They were amazing. And they had some sort of Brazilianesque jazz original music in that part of the show. I would sing along to that and the three guys from the band who were Brazilian were like “Heidi, Heidi, you have to sing in Portuguese!” So that was my first time…
Since then, you learnt the language?
Actually, I started learning it more recently. Because it took a long time of listening to assimilate enough to be able to chat. Then I went to Brazil and threw myself at in the deep end.
How many times have you been to Brasil?
Yeah, once with the Cinematic, then again with my own work. Only after that I started to take Portuguese lessons cause I can see now where my holes are! (Laughter)
I was quite surprised by your spot-on Brazilian accent in the album by the way. And you’ve got some songs here that are like forgotten Brazilian pearls. “Medo de Amar”, how did you find this song?
I LOVE Tom Jobim. I am more than a fan. I consider people who compose like Tom Jobim to be in the same league as Mozart and Beethoven in our time. You never get tired of those composers because there is always more to learn, always more to see. And there is a great album called Jobim sings Moraes. That’s where I heard that song. One of my favourite albums. Actually probably all songs are…
… from that album!
This is Heidi sings Jobim sings Moraes! (pause) No, there are also two jazz standards.
(More mutual laughter)
And you work with Brazilian musicians in the UK, who also play your Jazz songs and all. How does it work?
I love working with Brazilian musicians, but not only because they are Brazilian. I want to play with the best musicians. Someone like Josue (Ferreira) for me is not only a Brazilian musician, he plays the Brazilian guitar but also knows classical guitar, jazz, blues, a bit of everything, he is a rounded musician. So is Gustavo (Marques). That’s why I like playing with Josue and Gustavo. Ernesto (Simpson) is not only a Cuban musician, Ivo (Neame), who is English, is a great jazz pianist. Jasper (Hoybe) is one of the best bass players around. Then there is Adriano (Adewale) who is fantastic…. And that sound, Adriano, Josue, me, funk, jazz, samba, it’s not like Heidi Vogel trying to be Brazilian.
Exactly. Josue and I did a gig about a month ago to young people, and I was feeling like OK, I’m coming to do this urban soul theme and they gonna think like “who is this old jazz lady?” (Laughter) That’s how I felt like, you know what I mean? Because I’m not coming with a really funky and hip-hop style of songs, just doing like, sitting down on a chair with Josue, just doing like Bossa Nova… (Laughter) But they loved it!
I have this theory that when the music is really good, it touches people. It doesn’t matter what kind of audience you have, as long as there is quality and dedication, people will hear your soul.
True, I agree with that. About this album, what I wanted to tell you is that it is slightly different from my live show. I didn’t want to do my original sound yet, because if I get that wrong, I’d have messed up an album. But, with this genre of music I knew I couldn’t go wrong. If people don’t like it, they don’t like it, but I knew I’d like it. And I knew the simplicity that I wanted, I couldn’t make a mistake with that. And I don’t know if there is an audience for it because the mood is so particular but I had really nice feedback from some of the best soul, classical and jazz singers in the country. And this is not me asking “Do you like the album? do you like the album?” (Laughter) Because sometimes, you know, I do that to my friends, when I’m not sure about it. But in this case I didn’t have to!
They just came to you…
Yes, and they said it naturally. A friend of mine said that this album is so high in communication level, so intimate and direct that it goes beyond the genre of the style, that even if people don’t know this kind of music, they’ll be touched by it.
Nice. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
I was thinking about that today. I was thinking that the sound I have with The Cinematic Orchestra is very particular. I don’t perform or compose with anybody else like that. So I would like to still be working with the Cinematic in the future and still be performing my own work in a lot of Jazz festivals.
Do you prefer recording or playing live?
Do you feel nervous before going on stage?
No. Because even when I was playing at the Royal Albert Hall I wasn’t nervous. I felt… elevated to the event. Excited.
Who is your hero?
Eska! [Mtungwazi] She is amazing.
She is one of my favourite musicians ever. Even internationally, she is one of the best people around.
A singer from the old times you really like?
I can see some similarities. What are your influences?
Jazz, Brazilian music, Blues, hip-hop – but hip-hop is too broad a term, I like Funk Fusion, Reggae, a lot of different things, really. But my favourite at the moment is… Brazilian music, really.
Interview by Gaël le Cornec
Lágrimas De Um Pássaro – Tears Of A Bird is available now on iTunes.
Or to buy on CD order here : kudosrecords.co.uk/index.php?page=detail&product=CD001HV2011
The long-awaited Album launch will be on September 6th at Pizza Express Soho Jazz.
Bookings: 0845 6027 017 or pizzaexpresslive.com.
Here’s a clip of Heidi performing “Midnight Sun” at her last performance at the Pizza Express Soho Jazz Club on July 20th: