In the high-energy world of Brazilian popular music, Marisa Monte has always stood apart -- a pensive pop star more interested in making beauty than shaking booty.
Since her debut live album in 1989, Monte has conquered the charts with her gorgeous, silky voice and thoughtful, gentle elegance. She has always taken time between her intricately crafted releases and her latest reflects her self-conscious decision to make music in what she calls "a more natural time."
In a recent phone interview from Rio, Monte said moving at a frenetic pace is not just prevalent in the recording industry. "I think it's a contemporary challenge for every human being, because we live in such a noisy world with too much information. Sometimes we don't have silence enough to listen to our inner voice, the need of our souls to follow our own speed.
"Some people," she continued, "are trying to take care of their time in a different way or to be more aware of how to spend life; how to deal with time and how to look for some silence -- to read, to search for information instead of being bombed with information."
Monte named her latest album on Blue Note O Que Você Quer Saber de Verdade (which she translates to "What you really want to know") because the theme that emerged was the need for us 21st century 24/7ers to listen for our own faint inner voice. "Maybe the most important subject of the album is the silence: how to be able to listen to what really matters for each one because that is an individual task."
"Most of the songs in the album," she said, "they care about how to spend well our time and our life and how to enjoy living and how to be able to listen to the needs of our souls -- the things that are really important for each one. The main song is about what we really want and how to feel fine about where you are and to be satisfied with what you have."
The making of the album reflects Monte's insistent desire to create music in a more natural way that flows from the pace and concerns of her own life. "I produced it myself so I could take the time I wanted," she said. "I wasn't attached to someone else's schedule."
After recording basic tracks, Monte traveled the world with her hard drive under her arm, collaborating with old friends and new friends in New York, Los Angeles and Sao Paolo. For her latest hit, the tango-infused "Ainda Bem," she said the basic song "flowed" quickly, but she built on the basic tracks with a trip to Los Angeles to record with Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla, who played guitar and the traditional stringed instrument called the ronroco.
While the album's lyrics call for listeners to slow down, the album is not generally a slow album -- it's one of her most consistently strong albums with an eclectic mix of sounds and rhythms. One playful tune uses forro, the country music of Brazil's rural northeast, while "Seja Feliz" is a simple, upbeat pop tune reminding listeners "life is so short -- enjoy life."
One highlight is "Aquela Velha Canção (That Old Song)," which builds to a hypnotic climax with Monte's vocals rising and rising with the sweetly silly alliterative chorus "Alô a Lua, Alô Amor (Hello, moon; Hello love)." Another standout is "Verdade, Uma Ilusão (Truth, a Big Illusion)," a walking blues with, of all things, a bossa nova feel, recorded with a string section and clarinet that gives it a contemporary classical feel.
At 45, Monte can look back not just at a career of chart-topping hits, but one of musical growth. Raised in a musical family (her father was the cultural director of the venerable Portela samba school), Monte recalled that even a as nine-year-old girl, people would come up to her and say, "sing for us, Marisa." She went on to study bel canto opera in Italy, but a teacher pointed her back to Brazil with the suggestion she explore her own country's musical tradition.
"At first, I was just a voice," she said, someone who interpreted others' songs. She then took on more song-writing and eventually producing. Recently, she jumped fields and produced a movie about traditional samba in Rio. "When I look back to my records," she said. "I see them as part of this movement, this history, and they were all important steps that were able to make me more mature."
Her current tour, which is now hitting a few cities in the U.S., has been to 100 concert halls. With nine musicians, she is accompanying her music with a visual presentation of contemporary Brazilian artists. "It's someone else's feeling in communication, in dialogue, with the music," she said. "I'm very proud to do that and take it outside of Brazil: the beauty of Brazilian art in this moment."
Monte dances to her latest hit with Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter Anderson Silva
A quiet tune with Paulinho da Viola