Interview: Bebel Gilberto

I’D LOVE to be able to pretend that bossa nova has been a big part of my life for years and years, but the fact is I didn’t really get it – or any of that easy, lounge stuff – until I heard Bebel Gilberto’s major label debut, Tanto Tempo, in 2000. After that, there was no stopping me.

She didn’t play up north until a few years later and I made it my business to sort out a face-to-face interview with her when she finally made it.

She was lovely, the gig was great, the interview was okay.

This is a reworked, slightly longer version of the piece that eventually ended up in the Big Issue in the North. It’s followed by the transcript of a phoner with her I did for City Life a year or so later.

* * *

“I WAS always a traveller,” says Bebel Gilberto, glancing out of a hotel window across the Manchester Ship canal, as she pulls on a lock of jet-black hair. “I started travelling when I was a baby with my parents, because my father was touring, and I have been travelling ever since.”

Over the last few days, Gilbert has been in Spain and Holland playing gigs before coming to the UK for a meeting with the producer of her new album in London and travelling up to Manchester for tonight’s gig.

She is in Manchester as part of a short solo UK tour before she supports Simply Red around Europe.

“Sleeping is a big problem, I have trouble, I guess because of being in so many different places,” she says in charmingly accented English. “But lately I don’t know .. I don’t even want to talk about it because I think my body can hear – and then I’m not going to be able to sleep again. But I’ve had like 11 hours of sleep. So I’m in a very good mood.”

bebelBorn in New York and raised in Mexico City, São Paulo and Rio de Janiero, much of the early childhood of the only daughter of Brazilian bossa nova legends João and Miúcha Gilberto was spent touring the world. Her “totally hippy” parents were not exactly what you would call conventional.

A couple of lives dates in Mexico City, en route back to Brazil, for example, turned into a two-year stopover.

“We had a beautiful house with a big peacock walking around in it,” she tells me with a big smile, “but we had no furniture at all. We did have a TV and we all watched Brazil in the 1970 World Cup and it was fantastic.”

Her parents weren’t the only entertainers in the family – her uncle, her mother’s brother, is the poet, playwright and singer Chico Buarque.

But while the songs on her astounding major label debut retain the Zen-like simplicity of her father’s best-loved work, while her honey-toned voice recalls that of her now famously reclusive mother, Bebel Gilberto is more than merely a chip off the old block. However, growing up in a showbiz family – even a globetrotting Brazilian bossa nova hippy family – brings its own problems ..

Read the rest of this piece at the new home of Expletive Undeleted here.

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