So Nice to Céu

The soulful singer-songwriter from Sao Paulo returns to the UK on Monday night to play at The Jazz Café in Camden. We decided the the time was right to ask her a few questions.

Barely out of her 20s, Céu has already established herself as one of Brazil’s most respected artists. Her laidback style reflects her influences, ranging from samba and bossa nova to reggae and soul.

The release of her self-titled debut album in 2005 saw her nominated for the “Best New Artist” category at the Latin Grammies in 2006 and “Best Contemporary World Album” in 2007.

Her 2009 album, Vagarosa reached number two on the US Billboard World Music Chart and earned her her third Latin Grammy nomination for “Best Brazilian Contemporary Pop Album”.

In a review for the Observer, the late Charlie Gillett wrote of Vagarosa: “It’s not often possible to recognise the future as soon as it arrives, but here it is.”

Céu’s subsequent projects have included collaborations with Brazilian artists Otto and Tulipa; a track on jazz legend Herbie Hancock’s 2010 album, Imagine Project; and her most recent offering on the Red Hot + Rio 2 album.

After numerous failed attempts to speak to her over a land line, I finally managed to get hold of Céu on a shaky internet phone connection to Sao Paulo. In spite of the technical limitations, she was eager to talk about her career and music in general.

I asked about her plans to release a third album. “I’m in the preliminary stages of bringing things together for recording. The album will be produced by Gui Amabis who I worked with on Vagarosa. There’ll be collaborations with my friends, who are an inspiration to me.

“It’s very early to go into details, but I can say I’m really excited about the project and I’ll probably have something more concrete by early next year.”

I asked if she was excited about returning to England. “I adore England. I love spreading the word about Brazilian music and bringing it into a culture which is completely different from my own.

“Musically, England is really important. From its influence on rock, to contemporary music, England has a lot of things that are worth looking into. I’m always interested in finding out what you’re up to over there.

“I’ve played with Martina Topley Bird [the British singer who has recorded with Tricky, Massive Attack and Gorillaz]. I was already an admirer of her work and when she came to Brazil we got the chance to play together. I loved it.”

Céu has played twice in the UK to great acclaim (below is a for-the-cameras performance at Hackney Empire last summer). I asked what we could expect from her live show on Monday. “Like before, it will be a mixture of the two albums, but this time I’ll be bringing a guitarist instead of a DJ, which gives the show more of a jazzy feel.”

Apart from award nominations and interest from international record labels (Céu was the first international artist to be signed to Starbucks’ Hear Music Debut Series) she has also been the subject of extensive praise from the press.

Vagarosa was included in lists of the best albums of 2009 compiled by The Times and the BBC; the Guardian’s Robin Denselow called it “the finest Brazilian album of the year”; and the Telegraph awarded it 5 stars.

I asked what this kind of praise means to her. “It’s really encouraging to know that people enjoy what you do. But I don’t focus on pleasing the critics. Even if I tried to, I wouldn’t know what they were looking for. It’s a matter of taste, and that varies from person to person.”

I was curious to know how an artist like Céu – who sings the majority of her songs in Portuguese – has become so well known in Europe.

“Of course there are always Brazilians at my concerts because there are so many Brazilians all over the world anyway, and I love that. But it’s surprising how many local people I get at my European shows.

“I think it has to do with the places I’ve played at ever since I started coming over. I’ve always played at more alternative venues where the people know about foreign music. At some of the more out of the way places in France and Germany, I’ve played to audiences without any Brazilians at all.”

Céu’s career is promising to bring as much excitement in the near future as it has over the last few years. Make sure you are there on Monday night to bear witness to the new Brazilian sound.

by Tom Allsop

You can find out the details of Céu’s show at Jazz Cafe here. We also published a list of six albums that have had a big influence on her, which you can read (and watch) here.

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