WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - Brazilian singer and composer Maria do Ceu combines modern rhythms with traditional Sambas to create a fresh, sexy sound that propelled her to the top of Billboard's world chart.
The 27-year-old entertainer known as Ceu, which means sky or heaven in Portuguese, is inspired by Sao Paulo's urban jungle, the rap of the streets and the music she grew up listening to at home.
This musical mixture, poured into her first CD, earned her a nomination for best new artist at the Latin Grammy last year. It was released in the United States early this month when she kicked off a tour in cities including New York and Miami.
Many of her concerts were sold out, which could be due to the exposure she gained by being the first non-English language international artist to have a CD sold at Starbucks coffee shops.
Ceu talked about her tour and what she thinks of American music lovers.
Q: Your music pays tribute to a lot of rhythms that have roots in Africa and the Black culture, be it Samba or Reggae.
A: 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.
Q: You picked up a Bob Marley song "Concrete Jungle" and put it on your first CD. Wasn't that scary?
A: I am a fan of Jamaican music from the 70's. I love this song but I felt the responsibility because his version is the definitive one. At the same time I thought music is done to be sung, and I'd love it if anyone would sing and do covers with my songs. It's also a lyric that reflects our reality in Sao Paulo, it's a Kingston-Sao Paulo connection in a way.
Q: You lived in the United States for a year in 1998/1999, how did that influence you?
A: I came here to learn about another culture, to study music, to be embedded in the culture of Jazz, the music of the streets. New York has a lot of that. I started listening to artists that I wasn't aware of, like Erykah Badu, Lauren Hill, singers and songwriters that put their toes into hip hop. Until then, I only listened to Brazilian music.
Q: You played in France and Canada before coming to the United States, in which way is the American audience different?
A: I feel that Americans are not used to listening to a language other than theirs, but at the same time they've been so receptive. Europe, especially France, is used to listening to things of the world, mainly Brazilian and African, so it's a world that they know. Here I feel it's not so common, but the reception has been great.