SHRIFT / “Lost In Portuguese”
There’s a guy named Darren who is attempting the impossible: a complete discography of vocalist Nina Miranda’s work. Darren’s discography may or may not be complete (who could verify it?), but it’s already a labyrinth. Even for a true music nut like myself, it’s been virtually impossible to follow the twists and turns of Miranda’s career. She changes collaborators the way the rest of change our pants.
I have scores of Nina Miranda songs (with no less than ten different collaborators). One of the constants among them is I’ve yet to hear a Nina Miranda song where I can be sure what she’s singing about. It isn’t that Miranda’s vocals are indistinctly sung or poorly mixed, it’s more that she seems to compose her lyrics in brief, sometimes unrelated, phrases which she then strings together in the style of something that makes sense without actually making sense…if that makes any sense. What we’re left with is a series of stream-of-consciousness musings rather than a concrete storyline, image or idea.
A further complication is presented by Miranda’s multi-lingualism: she sings fluently in both English and French, those languages in addition to her native tongue, Brazilian Portuguese. Often, but not always, she slips mid-song, or even mid-lyric, from one language to the next and back. For example, “Joga Bossa” from Smoke City’s 1997 album Flying Away. There, Miranda provides an impromptu lesson in Portuguese-English translation (“cantar is ‘to sing’ / doer is ‘to hurt’ / …abacaxi is ‘pineapple’ / banana is ‘banana’”) that is lyrically reminiscent of Caetano Veloso’s “Baby” but is sung to the tune of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s "Aguas De Março."
Miranda’s latest full-length recording is a collaboration with producer Dennis Wheatley under the name Shrift. The album is named Lost In A Moment, and Miranda performs the title track twice, once mostly in English and the second time mostly in Portuguese. Both versions sound like soundtracks to a daydream. But no matter the language of the moment and no matter what she is or isn’t singing about, Miranda performs all her vocals in the same style—a breathy near-whisper which can be traced back to another Brazilian chanteuse of limited vocal range but considerable emotional impact, Astrud Gilberto.
Miranda’s better moments sound like gorgeous accidents: when I listen to her music, it’s often hard to believe that the ethereal sounds drifting from my speakers are what Miranda and cohort had in mind when they went into the studio. Except that it’s no accident. Over the years, Miranda as shown that she can create these little miracles at will. Here, she describes the creative process she used with Matthey Timoney of Arkestra One and it sounds less like traditional song composition than it sounds like the process used by hip-hop MCs: improvised vocals over rhythms. “He’d simply stick the mic on ‘record,’” Miranda says, “and quietly leave the room. I'd then close my eyes and sing what instinctively came from my head and heart.”
Often, it’s Miranda’s (male) producers and collaborators who get the lion’s share of the credit. Sure, every reviewer mentions the delicate beauty of Miranda’s vocals but despite co-writing many of the songs she sings, Miranda never seems to get credit for being anything more than ‘the voice on the record.’ But if that is the case, how do we explain the consistent quality of Miranda’s music? (I mean that in both senses: her music is consistently good and there’s a familial ‘sameness’ to her work.) The way I see it, Miranda’s collaborators, producers and surrounding musicians are the variables. Nina Miranda herself is the constant.
—Mtume ya Salaam
- Shrift - “Lost In Portuguese” - From Lost In A Moment (2006, Six Degrees)
- Smoke City - “Joga Bossa” – From Flying Away (1997, UK Jive)
- Nitin Sawheny feat. Nina Miranda – “Homelands” – From Beyond Skin (1999, Outcaste)
- Arkestra One - “Shine” - From Arkestra One (2002, Eighteenth Street Lounge)
- Da Lata feat. Baaba Maal & Nina Miranda – “Distracted Minds” – From Serious (2003, Palm Pictures)
- Hajime Yoshizawa feat. Nina Miranda – “I Am With You” (Main Mix) – from 12” Single (2002, Especial)
I jumped into the Brazilian rabbit hole. There was no Alice. Instead her name was Cibelle Cavalli. The Chesire Cat called Suba introduced us. She was (en)chanting on his album, a voice drifting in through an open window. I went to look outside to see who it was but she was gone, only her voice trailing around the corner.
On the way somewhere one day and I caught sight of her again—I should say, caught sound of her. That voice. That floating, drifting feeling again. Like she was just ambling along and singing about whatever she saw and felt as she walked.
I’m a writer introduced to literature back in the late fifties through Langston Hughes, so I was already wide open to world experiences, world influences. It didn’t have to be black or African. It could have been Russian or Japanese. Or South American, like Cibelle. Langston made me ready to encounter Cibelle and just respond. If I liked it, I liked it. If I didn’t, I moved on. No need to label it good or bad, for me or against me. Indeed, I believe everything in the world is for me to experience.
Then came Cibelle's debut record. I didn’t like it as much as Suba’s stuff but I was intrigued a little bit. This was a crazy woman. Crazy women are good. Have been good down through the ages.
Mtume, if you like Nina Miranda as much as you do, you will be absolutely bowled over by Cibelle. She has that deep dada-ist sensibility. Montaging sounds. Collaging images. There is a strong bit of Africa resonating in her sound. It comes honestly via Brazil, but beyond that there is everything Cibelle has ever encountered; and Cibelle has encountered a lot because she is a wanderer, which (going back to Langston) is part of my sensibility. I have traveled all over. Sometimes just looking. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes ducking and dodging. (I was also an activist; guns have been pointed at me. My finger has been on a number of triggers. Fortunately, I have not killed anyone nor have I been killed.) But this is about Cibelle, not about me (even though it is “me” talking about Cibelle).
Here is what Cibelle says about what she does:
"I cannot work in any other way than completely organically. I just do what I feel and if it works, so be it. If not, then I delete and start again. There is no massive gameplan at any point. I just meet musicians I click with, and try and make beautiful music with them. The album is just a collection of my own feelings, thoughts and sounds over the last few years. In a way, it sums up everything I've been through."
There is a strong poetic tradition in Brazil. They have done some very, very interesting experiments, including concrete poetry (which must be seen on the page to be fully appreciated). Every culture has a bohemian tradition, people and sensibilities which prefer the outside to the inside, the edges to the center, the experimental over the tried and true. But Brazil has it in spades (if you can dig all the puns). Anyway, Cibelle appeals to the strange in me.
These tracks are taken from Cibelle’s captivating second release, enigmatically entitled The Shine Of Dried Electric Leaves. Go here to read her detailed write up about what Shine was about—it is a brilliant discourse that has all kinds of applications for those of us interested in making art.
Folks, right now we’re on the outer edges of the music but don’t be afeared. Hang on. Or, let go. Whatever. If you like it, embrace it. If it’s not for you, let it pass.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
P.S. Did I say: this is my response to Nina Miranda? Well, it is. Hol(l)a!
I’m With You
I’m with you about Cibelle. Whether it’s her material with Suba, either of her solo albums, or a couple other tracks I have from her that showed up on compilations, I love her work. One thing about the new album though. On the first listen (for me, at least), it just didn’t grab me. I was really disappointed too, because I’d really liked the first album. But when I first listened to Shine, it was so restrained and quiet and subtle, that I missed what Cibelle was trying to do. I kept listening to it though, and slowly, one song would start to make sense, and then another one, and another, until now, I almost think the new one might be better than the first one. Cibelle is the real deal. Check her out.
—Mtume ya Salaam
It's The Music
I know what you mean about missing it at first. I did the same thing. The difference between Cibelle and Nina Miranda is in the music. With Cibelle in order to "understand" her music, you've got to work a bit but there is something there to get, sort of like approaching late period Trane—you can’t get it with one quick listen but once you do get it there's a lot there.
While Nina’s music is good, I prefer Cibelle’s approach. Cibelle started off as a child studying music then quit and later came back to music from an intuitive standpoint. For her sophmore album, Shine, Cibelle came up with the idea to have two producers—one in London, one in Brazil—to work on the tracks. She started some in England, others in Brazil and then flew back and forth with the tapes working in the different studios with the different producers encouraging each to add to and/or alter the music to their respective tastes.
On one level this is complex music because at least three different sensibilities had a definite hand in shaping the finished sounds but on anotherr level, if you just relax and go with the sounds you will find that it's not all that difficult. It does help if you read Cibelle's statement because that gives you a handle on something that starts off way outside of an American musical orbit.
Also Cibelle encouraged the use of ambient sounds; you might called it reality sampling. While this is not my daily listening fare, when I do go to it, Cibelle’s music is a wonderful treat. But beyond the taste of her sounds, for me there is the inspiration that suggests to me new directions for my own work.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, July 15th, 2007 at 12:25 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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