The forthcoming album from the Manhattan-based Brazilian chanteuse Bebel Gilberto is Tudo, which translates to “everything” and relates to the bossa nova diva’s passion for life. “I feel everything and live every moment deeply,” explains Gilberto. “I wanted to sing about each little moment, emotion, idea, melody that has been part of my life over the past year.” Popping into town for a Luminato Festival concert earlier this summer, Gilberto spoke to the Globe about maturity, singing from the heart and following her dreams.
You’ve described the making of this record as an intense experience. We normally don’t equate bossa nova as something borne out of intensity. Can you explain what you meant?
It’s just the dramatic way I speak. As for as being intense, we recorded the album in 40 days, basically every day, 11 or 12 hours a day. We were not lying on the beach, thinking about lyrics. We weren’t taking months to make a song. We were actually making two songs a day. I wanted to work with Mario Caldato Jr. as the producer, and that’s the time-frame we had to work with.
What are you like in the studio? Your father, the bossa nova legend Joao Gilberto, was known to be a perfectionist. Do you take after him in that respect?
I guess so. I see a lot of myself in him. We’re very close, now more than ever. Our birthdays are close – I just turned 48, he just turned 83. As for perfectionism, this is a grown-up time for me. This album is very mature. It represents a lot of maturity, as a woman, as a songwriter, as a South American singer who has been in North America for so long. That makes you a different person.
Has being up here for so long affected your music? You have your own take on the bossa nova, but to many North Americans you’re seen as the genre’s torchbearer.
I try to avoid that. I always say I drink from the water of bossa nova, but I don’t like to wear the crown. I leave that to my dad.
But when you first came onto the scene in 2000, with your electronic update on bossa nova, you were seen as moving the music in a more modern direction. You were the cool new face.
I just wanted people to be happy, and I wanted to be happy too. Who is cool, who is famous – I don’t think about that. I just want to enjoy life. If I can make other people happy, that’s what I’m here for.
Your version of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon is marvellous. You sing “Come a little bit closer, hear what I have to say,” which is not only a perfect start to such a sweet, gentle song, but I think we can apply it to bossa nova as well. It’s an intimate music. It doesn’t yell at you.
Well, it’s singing from the heart. It’s letting your thoughts become the song. Don’t think too much. Don’t overdo it.
Harvest Moon is one of many songs on the album with a line about dreams. And you cover Vivo Sonhando, a bossa nova classic, which was adapted in English as Dreamer. Your father’s first wife, Astrud Gilberto, recorded it in 1965. What led to you singing it?
I was looking for a pearl. A song associated with my dad especially. A friend reminded me about Dreamer, so I decided to record it. It was perfect. The words “Why do I dream silly dreams that I know won’t come true?” spoke so loudly to me. You should trust your dreams, you should follow your dreams, and you should let your dreams affect your decisions.
Given your success, is it fair to say that many of your dreams have come true?
Oh yes. And let me tell you, they aren’t silly at all.