Bringing Brazilian beats to the Capital

BRAZILIAN BEATS: Back Brazil, Alda Rezenda was newsreader and TV host, here she is best known for her music.
BRAZILIAN BEATS: Back Brazil, Alda Rezenda was newsreader and TV host, here she is best known for her music.

Love brought Brazilian singer Alda Rezende to Wellington, and love of music saw her start the Latin Club at Meow Cafe, writes Diana Dekker . 

Alda Rezende has chosen the work of Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim for her Wellington Jazz Festival concert. She calls him "the Brazilian Gershwin - thrilling, marvellous music". He's famous for his role in creating bossa nova music in the 1950s and even more famous for writing that catchy tune Girl from Ipanema.

Girl from Ipanema, says Rezende, is one of the five most-played songs in the world, "and not by a long shot is it his best song". Nor, she says, is it as simple as it seems.

"His music is complicated. Girl from Ipanema, like the bossa nova, is so easy on the ear it tricks you into thinking it's simple. When you introduce musicians to it, they say they know it, and they try it and find the dissonant chords and the changes of key and rhythm complex."

The 48-year-old Rezende shifted from Brazil to Wellington a decade ago to be with a New Zealand lawyer she met hiking in Nepal. They have a 9-year-old son together.

In her home city of Belo Horizonte, population 5 million, she was known as a television newsreader, radio host and singer.

"I started singing in church at 4 or 5, in a choir and then a soloist. I left at 15 and never went back, but singing remained."

So did a concept of music having an element of the supernatural. "I think artists connect humans with something more than human, you could say divine."

In Wellington, she became a Portuguese interpreter and a mum, but she is is best known in jazz circles and is behind the Latin Club, for local and Latin musicians, each Tuesday at Meow Cafe.

"Since what I do is not mainstream music, you had to create a scene. Meow was an idea waiting to happen. We had a packed house from day one.

"I had to start everything again from day one. No-one knew me and Latin music was not mainstream music. People were not aware of what is good and what is average . . . It's better than 10 years ago, but still a novelty."

Still, she says, her first surprise in New Zealand was finding that people "could get the music without knowing what the words mean, get the feeling of the music".

She doesn't classify herself a jazz singer. "If I like the music, I sing the music. I'm classically trained and thought of singing opera, but I have a very different voice. I'm an alto, not a mezzo soprano. There are not a lot of roles . . . With popular music there's much more room for interpretation."

And Rezende rates the interpretation of music as paramount. "A singer is always at the service of the music. I don't like singers pushing themselves up front, forgetting they are at the service of the music. You can be a songwriter as well but the role of a singer is to discover new composers, to research and to find fantastic pieces of music, whether by people not singers."

Some singers, she says, are so eager to write, it's as if they feel diminished as a singer by not doing so.

"Singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Haley didn't write music. They interpreted the work of great composers. Sinatra as well. They gave completely unique perspectives to the music." Rezende herself has composed songs for her several albums and is pursuing a project with the help of the Brazilian Embassy in which elements of Maori and Brazilian music are melded in original compositions being executed via Skype.

"But if a singer thinks it's diminishing to sing others' compositions, that's like a saxophone player having to be a songwriter. Sometimes - by not looking for new composers and people really good at crafting songs - they remain without a voice, singers without good quality compositions. I find it a bit funny. It gives lots of bad music to the world."

Rezende, settled contentedly in Wellington - "which is a good place to raise a child" - returns sporadically to Brazil and will sing at a festival there in September - "for my Brazilian fix".

"It took quite a while for me to be happy here. The ideal would be winters in Brazil."

The Tom Jobim Songbook: Beyond Ipanema by the Alda Rezende Sextet is on at Wellington's Opera House on June 7 as part of next week's Wellington Jazz Festival.

The Dominion Post