The best of the new releases
Far Out, £11.99
Brazil may be hot, wild and edgy, but boy do they like their women’s voices cool.
There’s something about a light, clear and rather knowing female voice floating over a shunting neo-African rhythm that speaks powerfully to the Brazilian soul. In the Sixties, Astrud Gilberto made this sound global with The Girl from Ipanema, and a generation later, Bebel Gilberto gave it a digital makeover, opening the floodgates to a wave of cool-voiced sirens.
This year’s two contenders employ a broadly similar palette: the hypnotic lilt of bossa nova and the sweaty funk of samba updated with understated electronica. Yet beneath the superficial similarities they are worlds apart.
From Brazil’s second city São Paulo, Céu (it means “sky” in Portuguese and is pronounced “sell”) is the first world artist to receive the endorsement of Starbucks’ Hear Music record label. But don’t let that put you off. On this classy debut, she takes the São Paulo sound into after-hours territory, framing her fragile voice with space-warped reggae beats, DJ scratching and some beautiful, dark-toned horns. If her less-is-more delivery can feel a touch stark at times, she allows warmer jazz and R&B inflections to creep in, and there’s an old-school, almost fado feel to the exquisite all-acoustic Valsa pra Biu Roque.
Rio’s Sabrina Malheiros brings a lusher, more populist approach to her second album, drawing on her city’s rich bossa nova tradition. She has updated it with a disco sweep to the flutes and strings, and the itchy samba rhythms are underpinned by a throbbing house pulse. Malheiros’s voice has an easier feel than Céu’s, projecting an effortless luminosity, while retaining that essential Brazilian cool.
The experimental Céu is perhaps the more interesting artist, but Malheiros’s irresistibly propulsive Connexao gets my vote as the year’s most compelling summer anthem so far.