We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
On her third release, Momento, Brazilian-bred singer Bebel Gilberto seems to have found a comfort zone between her bossa nova roots and the electronic sounds that have been part of her music since her 2000 debut, Tanto Tempo. “Caçada,” a track at the heart of the disc, was written in the ’70s by her uncle, Chico Buarque, one of Brazil’s best-loved popular composers. Gilberto reworks it as a forró, a Brazilian folk style that’s a world apart from the sophisticated music that’s made by Rio de Janeiro’s music-school-educated composers. Forró is built on completely organic sounds—hand-held bass drum, accordion, wooden flutes, and other rustic instruments—and its syncopated beat is made for dancing. Gilberto, whose origins are rather lofty—she grew up in New York and Rio and is the daughter of bossa nova prime mover João Gilberto—embraces the genre and sounds at home with it. But she’s just as comfortable on her cover of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” which receives a ’50s bossa nova treatment, and “Bring Back the Love,” an uplifting tune written by longtime collaborators Didi Gutman and Sabina Sciubba of the Brazilian Girls, which boasts a samba-inflected dance beat. Momento evokes the cities where it was recorded: Rio, New York, and London. The bilingual “Os Novo Yorkinos” addresses the residents of New York (who “do not need to sleep/Because we are in a living dream,” she sings in Portuguese), featuring a backbeat of capoeira handclaps and a chorus singing “farofa”—roughly, Portuguese for “melting pot.” She also nods to her Latin music influences on “Tranquilo,” a laid-back mambo-inflected tune. By first making a name for herself outside of Brazil—thus avoiding the “daughter of bossa nova” stigma that would have certainly damaged her career—Gilberto has managed to do what few Brazilian singer-songwriters have done. Instead of following what was going on in the market, she created her own sound, in the process influencing younger artists like Six Degrees labelmates Céu and Cibelle. Some Brazilian critics might turn their noses up at her music, which is easygoing and accessible; in fact, she’s more popular in the U.S. and Europe than she is in Brazil, where critics also take issue with her singing in English. It is exactly those points, though, that distinguish her as an artist. Momento is refreshingly personal and unpretentious and a welcome addition to the Brazilian-fusion genre.