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As Brazil celebrates over 50 years of the bossa nova music tradition, there continues to be a streaming output of new talent and innovation from this rich musical country.  A perfect example is Sonantes, a São Paolo based musical collective featuring the vocal talents of CéU in collaboration with Pupillo and Dengue, members of the Brazilian group Nação Zumbi, as well as Rica Amabis from Instituto and Gui Amabis. Guest stars include Siba, Lúcio Maia, Beto Villares, Apollo 9, and more.

In between touring the world in support of her debut album, CéU continued to work with local musicians and friends to create a new album and project called Sonantes.  For this project, she needed to look no further than her own back yard: her neighborhood, São Paolo’s Perdizes quarter, home to brothers Gui Amabis (an accomplished composer and producer of film music, including the scores to Andrew Niccols’ Lord of War and James Foley’s Perfect Stranger) and Rica Amabis (a member of the São Paolo band Instituto and an acclaimed soundtrack composer in his own right), as well as the duo Dengue and Pupillo (bassist and drummer, respectively, for Nação Zumbi, Brazil’s most popular rock band). Only in Brazil is one likely to find this kind of talent in this small an area, and it is difficult to imagine any country other than Brazil giving rise to a sound like what was created when this group of friends began making music together.

That sound began to be born when CéU was invited to sing on one track of a recording project by 3 Na Massa, an electro-bossa-nova trio consisting of Amabis, Dengue and Pupillo. The chemistry was so promising that they decided to keep on working together and, in Amabis’s words, “see what happened.”  Says Amabis, “we are very similar musically, and like all the same stuff.” His brother Gui (“a great composer,” according to Rica) was invited in to contribute music as well.

For CéU, this collaboration was a chance to get outside of herself, musically.  She characterizes her debut album like “a personal diary,” whereas with Sonantes she says that she “wanted to make sounds that were different, that didn’t just come from my own point of view.” It was also an opportunity for her to take some musical chances.  As she puts it, “I have a great deal of admiration for artists who have conducted their careers by taking risks without losing their identity.”  Recording with a band for the first time, she found an opportunity to surrender some of the musical control to “people that I’ve always listened to, always wanted to be close to. The idea [for this project] was for each of us to leave control to the others, without losing our own identities – that is, all of us added our own ideas to the process.

” Given the trust and musical openness expressed by all involved, it should come as no surprise that the group’s compositional process has tended to be relaxedandunpredictable. “Whenever someone has a song, everyone works on it,” Amabis says. “The whole thing started in our apartment, where we have a home studio. Whenever someone feels like working on it, they go to the apartment and turn on the computer – we didn’t go to a big studio to record the album; almost everything was done at home.” The result is spectacular. As fresh and exciting as CéU’s debut was, the Sonantes album is even more varied in tone and style. Here the delicacy and smoothness of CéU’s debut are still present and audible, but are layered with something a bit more crunchy and experimental: notice, for one example, the staggered rhythm on “Miopia,” and notice also that the slightly abrasive tone of that track’s guitar solo would sound perfectly at home on a Tom Waits record.

In fact, every track yields a new fusion of a styles, a different kaleidoscope of textures and flavors – it’s no wonder that the band cites influences as diverse as Roberto Carlos, The Beatles, Clara Nunes, and Bob Marley.  On “Toque de Coito,” synthesized tones resembling backwards electric guitar are woven subtly in among the more traditional sounds, while guest vocalist Siba (one of CéU‘s longtime heroes) croons in a gentle baritone and CéU provides a sweet harmony part.  “Mambobit,” on the other hand, harks cheerfully back to the classic Brazilian pop music of the 1960s and 1970s, with its soft samba rhythm and wordless “ba- ba-ba-baaah” melody. 

But not everything on the album is sweet and simple: “Defenestrando” is a churning, pulsing rocker that features multiple layers of electric and acoustic bass, spooky science-fiction analog synthesizer, and muttering electric guitar ostinatos, with CéU’s soft, insinuating voice weaving a lovely melody throughout.  On “Quilombo Te Espera,” wah-wah guitars refer back to the 1960s at the beginning of the song, then eventually cede place to bubbling multilayered percussion; “Itapeva 51” is darker, with a lovely horn chart, and an overall feeling that is a bit eerie and regretful.  “Braz” carries that mood into a slightly different place, a more quiet and contemplative one, despite a rather unsettled rhythm and throbbing keyboards.  And “Frevo da Saudade” ends the program on an upbeat note, with samba whistles, a charmingly messy synthesizer intro, and a densely complex but lightly played horn chart over which CéU delivers a sweet melody in a calm and self-possessed voice.

Every track on this album reveals a different facet of the friendship, openness and trust that produced it.  Above all, Sonantes is the sound of a group of friends who love to make music, and who get a tremendous kick out of working together.  Says CéU, “I just wanted to have fun, because I think that’s the real spirit of music.”  That’s certainly the spirit of this music, and it’s difficult to imagine any listener being able to resist getting caught up in it.  While CéU’s GRAMMY nominated debut album continues to receive
high accolades worldwide and audiences eagerly await her next record, they will be pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the sound of Sonantes.

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