By Ernest Barteldes
As someone who frequently writes about jazz, World (especially Brazilian) and neo-soul music, I have always found certain similarities between contemporary soul and the music of Brazil. I was aware that James Brown, Sly Stone and Funkadelic (to name a three) had informed the careers of artists like Tim Maia and Jorge Benjor and that the bossa nova of Jobim and Gilberto had greatly influenced American jazz (after having borrowed from West Coast jazz in the first place). However, it took a while for me to realize that the cross-pollination has gone farther than that – and that some of our favorite artists not only drank from the fountain but also collaborated with Brazilian artists over the years.
One of the earliest of these that I have encountered was a re-creation of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Water to Drink” by Incognito with São Paulo-born Ana Caram and British-singer Omar that appeared on the 1996 Red Hot + Rio (Verve) AIDS awareness compilation. That version differs sharply from the various earlier samba-based recordings of the song, and gives it more of a dance groove.
On the same album, neo-soul pioneer Maxwell appears on “Segurança” (Security), an original tune that features Rio de Janeiro-born Vinicius Cantuaria on guitar and percussion. Maxwell had toured Brazil the year before, and was certainly acquainted with the sounds of the land, and came up with a gem of a song that has been criminally overlooked.
While the first Red Hot + Rio celebrated classic bossa nova, the 2011 version (eOne) went further into the late 60s Tropicalia movement, which is considered Brazil’s response to the psychedelics of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Among the featured artists (Aloe Blacc, Bebel Gilberto) on this two-disc compilation is John Legend’s beautiful “Love I’ve Never Known,” a charming samba that somehow went under the radar.
Legend also worked with legendary pianist and arranger Sergio Mendes on the Wil.I.am-produced Timeless (Concord, 2006), on “Please Baby Don’t,” a downtempo samba about the end of a love affair. The song probably went unnoticed because the album had many strong moments, including a new take on “Mas Que Nada” featuring the Black Eyed Peas.
The 2011 movie Rio told the story of a Minnesota-based blue macaw (Jesse Eisenberg) that is taken to Brazil to save his species and then finds himself fighting bird smugglers while falling for a female macaw (voiced by Oscar winner Anne Hathaway) with the help of two party-loving birds voiced by Jamie Foxx and Will.I.Am.
Halfway through the film, Foxx’s character tries to create a mood for the two ‘lovebirds’ by singing “Fly Love,” a beautiful bossa written by percussionist Carlinhos Brown, who also co-wrote many of the tunes on the movie’s soundtrack alongside Mendes and Will.I.Am. Foxx and Will.I.Am also share vocals on the dance-inflected “I Wanna Party,” which combines elements of soul with samba and Rio’s ‘baile funk.
We close this collection – which was done entirely from memory – with Ledisi’s contribution to Mendes’ 2008 disc Encanto (Verve, also co-produced by Will.I.Am) – a modern re-reading of Jobim’s “Waters of March” – a classic from Brazil that is given a new life with this fantastic arrangement.
Do you know of any other collaboration that I might have overlooked? If so, please add to the comments box below.