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Sao Paolo's Céu celebrates the solstice with a new album and a Thursday El Rey concert

Brazilian singer has new album and El Rey concert.
Brazilian singer has new album and El Rey concert.
Renan Costa Lima & Ivo Lopes Araújo

As we hit the solstice, it’s time to hunt for that perfect summer song for 2012. Well, here’s a strong candidate, a perky, flirty tune capturing the spirit of getting out of the dirty city, putting the top down and heading out for sunshine, fresh air and fun. 

Okay, so the lyrics are in Portuguese. And the song, “Falta de Ar,” and singer, Céu, come from Brazil, where this solstice marks the Southern Hemisphere start of winter, not summer. Still...

“The title means ‘Lack of air,’ when you cannot breathe, you know what I mean?” says the song’s singer, the popular Sao Paolo-based Céu, on her way to L.A. for her Thursday concert at the El Rey. “You are in a big town like Sao Paolo and want to go out and take the road, travel to another place, a beach or somewhere better than a metropolis like Sao Paolo.”

As we said, perfect. And the song, written by her co-producer and musical collaborator Gui Amabis, is just the start of a 35-minute musical road trip, leading off Céu’s new third album, Caravana Sereia Bloom.

“I had the summer spirit on the album,” says the young singer-songwriter, whose full name is Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças. “Somehow I was trying to talk about this road in the northeast of Brazil. It’s an album about the road, image of the road, the northeast and north. It’s pretty hard over there.”

And that in turn led her to the notion of a road movie-in-music.

“Being on the road is all about images going really fast on your eyes,” she says. “Different images, different places. And somehow a lot of different movies inspired me a lot, some movies from the ‘70s like Bye Bye Brazil.

 That movie itself, a colorfully allegorical tale of a traveling circus, was not surprisingly something that came to mind to Céu in her musical travels with her band. And in fact the album, she says, is a tribute to that cinematic circus, the Caravana Rolidei. In each song she embodies one of the troupe’s characters, with inspiration also coming from a few other favorite films.

“There is one specific song, ‘Palhaço,’ which means clown,” she says. “I took this image of this clown from the Fellini film [The Clowns]. It is a very traditional samba from Brazil [by singer-guitarist Nelson Cavaquinho] this song. But I wanted to introduce my road atmosphere, so it’s the story of a clown who is crying back stage for some reason and doesn’t want to go on stage again. Someone tells him, ‘Go back on stage, make people laugh, everyone’s waiting for you.’ It’s a beautiful story. I called Gui the producer to put some cinematic atmosphere in the arrangement.”

Is she the clown, not wanting to go on stage?

“Somehow all these songs are always about me,” she admits, noting the the life on the road of a touring musician is not quite as free as the journeys portrayed on the album. 

But there’s another very personal aspect to this one.

“I have a special relation with this song, first because I love the composer,” she says. “He’s one of my favorite composers ever. And the guy who introduced me to this composer’s music is my father (Edgard Poças]. And my father played guitar with me on this song. He was not playing, had an accident before I was born. He was an amazing guitarist but because of the accident with his hand he had to stop playing. He could play, but not as good. For him it was not enough. So he stopped playing but did his own work, music for children, music for broadcasting and film, taught a lot of musicians. And somehow I think I was talking about him in this song, because I called him to come back to the stage. A special moment for me for sure.” 

The whole album, she says, also feels special. Musically it sees her maturing from the somewhat scattered, though often arresting, tones of her previous two. On one hand, a few songs  evoke the post-Tropicalia pop of Caetano Veloso et al. On the other, some modern urban sounds are incorporated in a way much more organic than she has done before. It’s traditional, yet new and, for the first time, feels totally true to her.

“I feel really happy you said that,” she says. “Though it is my album that is farthest away from samba and bossa nova. I enjoyed doing the third album. The first you are a blank stage, no one knows you, talking about your influences a lot. The second one has a lot of pressure, what are you really wanting to do? And the third, somehow it’s like a story, just a story going on, and I am enjoying it.”