CÉU / “Roda (Bombay Dub Orchestra’s Grateful Dub Mix)”
Céu is the lastest iteration of a trend started by Astrud Gilberto when bossa nova became the international rage. The light, airy, bordering on fragile voice became the standard for what one expected from a Brazilian female vocalist. Of course, Brazil has a very diverse range of styles and voice types, so the Astrud sound is far from the only or the main style of vocal work. Indeed, it’s not even the norm when you consider all of the samba singers.
On the other hand, Brazilian Portuguese is a very lyrical language and is especially seductive when whispered. The soft sound of the Brazillian syllables has the luminance of moonlight without the heat of noonday sun. To draw the image out, if Astrud sang like moonlight, I’d say Céu is a sunrise/sunset sound—stronger, heavier and, yes, funkier than moonlight, but still gentle, still romantic.
I was never a big fan of Astrud. Not enough substance for me even though I could appreciate the gossamer wisps of her style. No surprise then that what I like most about Céu is the music overall rather than a focus on mainly the vocals.
That’s one thing—actually, two things: the sound of the voice and the substance of the music. The other thing is the transformation of Céu’s music in the three main ways of creating music: studio, live, remix. Not a lot of musicians sound equally good across that spectrum, especially given the wizardry available in the studio, many contemporary musicians tend to be a bummer live and the remix usually just makes the song more danceable. Céu excels at covering herself live and the remixes are equally enjoyable.
The live versions are taken from a concert at the North Sea music festival (go here to hear the concert). The remixes are from Céu’s new EP, which is rather simply titled Remixed EP. The studio cuts are from Ceu, her self-titled debut album.
Usually I have no trouble choosing a preference but with these Céu tracks I vacillate. Perhaps my ambivalence is because the three versions are often very different. In the case of “Rainha” I include two remixes for a total of four versions. In the live version Céu introduces “Rainha” as a homage to Fela Kuti and Tony Allen. The afrobeat elements which had been muted in the studio version spring fully to life in the liver version and in Zaman’s remix. The fourth version is more of a modified bossa nova than an afrobeat workout.
These different versions of Céu’s music are interesting to me because regardless of production style, the music remains inventive and Céu sounds good in each of the three contexts. There definitely is something significant going down with her voice—it’s understated and unshowy but there is an attractive x-factor that holds your attention. What else could account for how consistently good Céu sounds?
One other consideration: live concerts today have a hard time matching the studio cuts and the remixes that employ all sorts of sound alteration that is usually done over a period of days, weeks and even months rather than instantly in really time. In Céu’s case, the live versions are not only strong production-wise with a DJ and a good ear and sure hand on the sound board, but additionally the live version manages to sound like a recording in terms of the impact of the sound. Most studio recordings are compressed; little sweetening touches are added to the basic sound: some echo here, a little doubling and delay there, maybe some tempo or pitch corrections, plus a whole bag of engineering augmentations that are as easy as making a double-click with the mouse. Live tracks tend to sound thin compared to the phat studio sound but Céu’s live show at North Sea could easily have been a studio product.
“Roda (Live)” is particularly strong because of the DJ elements. I would have made it the featured song except that the Bombay Dub Orchestra’s Grateful Dub Mix is an absolute charmer. On the other hand, if you’re into Brazilian funk check out both the remix and the live version of “Malemolencia.” “Lenda” is the only track where I clearly favor the live version over both the studio and the remix. Nevertheless, all in all, the remixes hold their own when measured against the original studio versions and the live versions.
I’m not easily impressed by remix albums—most of them sound hit or miss to me, especially as the aim is usually to produce a club hit rather than an artistic transformation of the song. Perhaps because there are only six remixes, the smaller number adds up to a major impact. You can’t go wrong adding Céu’s Remixed EP to your collection.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
“Everything comes from Africa”
The comparison with Astrud’s voice makes sense. So does the other comment you made about Céu’s voice. What she seems to do is start her phrases in that light Astrud territory before ending in a deeper, more substantial register. Her voice is also more flexible than Astrud’s. Of course, she doesn’t have that intangible, almost mystical sound of innocence that Astrud has. (But then, who’s does?)
I checked out Céu’s Wikipedia entry. Two interesting bits stuck with me. The first is that she echoes a theme we’ve talked about many times here: that so much of what we call “American” music or “Western” music or “modern” music is actually derived from African music. We point this out not to be racially elitist or to ruffle feathers, but to give credit where credit is due.
Every culture, every race has made their contributions to the world. The great contribution of black Americans has been in the area of music. Without blues, jazz, gospel, R&B and hip-hop, the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries would be rendered suddenly unrecognizable. What would modern life sound like? What would it look like? Who can even say?
Here’s what Céu had to say on the subject:
Interviewer: Your music pays tribute to a lot of rhythms that have roots in Africa and the Black culture, be it Samba or Reggae.
Céu: I have a passion for Black culture, from jazz divas to Afro Beat. Everything comes from Africa. With Samba, I have a very strong connection to the old school that we call “Samba de Raiz” (Root Samba). I am a vinyl listener, so I tried to bring some of that to the CD, mixing it with modern things like rap or even “Brega,” which is the newest thing in Brazil.
Elsewhere in the article quoted by Wikipedia, Céu talks about how she was influenced musically by a year spent in the USA. She says, “I started listening to artists that I wasn’t aware of, like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, singers and songwriters that put their toes into hip-hop. Until then, I only listened to Brazilian music.”
Here, we have a Brazilian artist who grew up listening to and being conscious of the African elements and influences on samba who then began listening to American hip-hop and soul from the same perspective. All of that colors her music. It also helps to explain why Kalamu digs her sound so much. Kalamu likes that sort of consciousness in his music.
I can’t understand anything Céu is saying, so I don’t know how political or conscious her lyrics are. But just like Max Roach once said about the resolutely apolitical lyrics of LL Cool J, “The politics is in the drums.” Even if you don’t understand her words, you can hear some of Céu’s politics in her grooves.
The second interesting bit comes from the trivia section:
Céu’s birth name is Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças. … ‘Céu’ means ‘sky.’
I’m happy to know that. Now I know that Bebel Gilberto has a song named “Distant Sky” (“Céu Distante”), Marisa Monte has a song (“O Céu”) that must be a tribute to the sky and the Brazilian duo Rosanna & Zelia have a song that probably means “Sky Of Gold” (“Céu Do Olho”). Nice to know what some of my favorite Brazilian songs are actually about.
—Mtume ya Salaam
P.S. I just realized I didn’t say much about the actual tunes Kalamu posted. I dig ‘em, of course. How could I not? This artist is mixing MPB and samba (two of my favorite styles of music) with reggae and dub (ditto) and spicing it up with a little influence from American hip-hop (my #1 favorite style of music). Honestly, I can’t help but like this music. … If I had to pick a favorite right now, I’d probably go with the live version of “Roda.” The live dub effects are nice. (Although something bizarre is going on at the end. Don’t know if that’s the MP3 glitching out or if it’s some kind of stage malfunction. In any event, since the track is eight minutes long, it doesn’t really matter that there’s something wrong with the very end.)
P.P.S. We gave you some Wiki trivia; here’s some BoL trivia. At the end of the live version of “Rainha,” when Céu starts singing (in English), “Don’t take my kindness for weakness,” she’s quoting a Tony Allen song named “Kindness” from Allen’s 2003 CD Home Cooking.
Still broken beat but it’s been fixed
Mtume, the version you heard had digital dropouts. I re-ripped “Roda” and now it’s the way it sounded at the performance. BoL listeners will still hear “breaks” in the sound, which is the DJ doing his thing on the turntables but they won’t be hearing the interruptions that Mtume heard.
Which all brings me to the beauty of this thing Céu is doing, this live dubbing it up. When da brethren in Jamaica started dub it was a physical manipulation of the tapes, literally laying hands on the machines, slowing down and altering the rotation of the reels (it was also the actually cutting, with a razor blade, and twisting, etc. of the tapes). Dub was a physical technique and turntablism is a physical technique as opposed to the digital manipulation that happens when one uses a computer. So as strange as what I’m about to say may sound: the real deal is that Céu’s addition of a DJ to her band is an acoustic/analog and not a digital addition.
Technically turnablism is analog and much of the current music production techniques are digital. Thus, Céu’s sound is…, well what was it Erykah said: “an analog girl in a digital world”! Hey, if you don’t know, you better ask somebody. The more things change….
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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