Photo by Andrew Propp
“It’s a new decade,” says Brazilian music star Seu Jorge. “It’s new for telling a new story. Forget behind, look for forward. That’s my message.”
Brazil is set to gain much more attention on the world stage in the coming years. Having won bids to host international events like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympic games, the country has an opportunity to renew and revise its global standing and image. In one well-publicized project, two Dutch artists have gone into the favelas (or shanty towns) of Rio de Janiero to help communities paint the places where they live, in order to make them more beautiful for the residents and to change the perceptions of those neighborhoods held by the greater public.
Likewise, Jorge, one of Brazil’s most prominent musical ambassadors, is trying to challenge the stereotypes people have about his country by telling a new story through music.
Seu Jorge is perhaps most famous to American audiences for his role in Wes Anderson’s 2004 film “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” where he played a crooning member of Team Zissou who strummed romantic, acoustic versions of David Bowie songs. With the lyrics translated into Portuguese, his interpretation reinvented those iconic 1970s hits for a new generation. That ability to blend genres and sounds from different cultures is at the center of his latest musical incarnation.
Born Jorge Mario da Silva, Seu Jorge spent his younger years in the Rio favelas. Music became Jorge’s mental — and later literal — escape from life on the streets. His big break came in 2002, when he appeared in the Oscar-nominated film “City of God”, a story of crime, drugs and poverty in Rio de Janiero.
These days, he hopes a new collaborative venture will help bring different genres of music to Brazil and new a new understanding of Brazil to the international community. This summer, he joined forces with three other noteworthy Brazilian musicians (bassist and well-known film composer Antonio Pinto, drummer Pupillo and guitarist Lucio Maia, with whom he worked on the 2008 film “Linha de Passe”) as Seu Jorge and Almaz. Their self-titled album spans musical genres from funk and soul to rock & roll, and features songs from American, German, and French songwriters, plus a couple Brazilian classics.
Together, Almaz is hoping to show the world that just as Brazil is more than favelas and beaches, samba and bossa nova are not the only styles that define contemporary Brazilian music.
“I want to take this [new] point of view and make something different,” says Jorge.
Art Beat caught up with Seu Jorge recently at the 930 Club in Washington, D.C.: