Artists are often expected to reflect their native communities, but Céu doesn’t claim that her music captures the essence of her hometown, São Paulo -- and she doesn't need to.
Countless musical currents flow through the teeming, supremely cosmopolitan commercial capital of Brazil, by far the largest metropolis in the Americas (add Chicago’s population to Mexico City and there’s still a quarter-million more Paulistanos). Céu’s music doesn’t try encompass that multiplicity, but her new album Tropix, on San Francisco-based Six Degrees Records, sounds as if it's risen sleek and cool from São Paulo’s ceaseless nocturnal energy.
“The greatest thing about music in São Paulo is that we are really connected to all Brazilian culture, not only the roots like samba,” says Céu, 36, who performs at the Great American Music Hall on Friday, June 17 (and the closing day of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival in Boonville on June 19). “We have these Brazilian rhythms and styles, but we’re always connected with the world. Sometimes it’s chaotic, but I grew up here and it’s my city.”
Working with French producer Hervé Salters (aka General Elektriks) and Pupillo, drummer for the influential manguebeat band Nação Zumbi, Céu sounds more at home than ever on Tropix, which evokes São Paulo's collision of past, present and future. Focusing on her telegraphic original songs, Céu wends her way through a thicket of electronic beats. Lithe and unsettling strings add darkly shimmering undercurrents on several tracks, with charts contributed by Los Angeles composer/arranger Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (the sonic wizard who put his stamp on recordings by a far-flung constellation of artists, including Lianne La Havas, Rihanna, Seu Jorge, Flying Lotus, and Céu’s labelmate Bebel Gilberto, for starters).
“We’ve watched Céu grow into a really confident, really strong woman who has found her true voice in music over a series of albums,” says Bob Duskis, who co-founded Six Degrees with Pat Berry and has released all four of Céu's studio releases. “Each record has been very different. Her second album Vagarosa was more into dub and hip-hop. Her last one Caravana Sereia Bloom is more rocky and influenced by older Brazilian psychedelia. Tropix is funkier music. She really delves into electronics, and even disco.”
A decade after Céu's Grammy Award-nominated self-titled 2005 debut, she decided to “bring beats back to my sound,” she says. “Brazilian music is so rich with imagery. We have this natural swing in our songs and way of life. On this album I was trying to find a machine way of playing in my musical environment, while still being tropical.”