If you can imagine sitting in a velvet room in the stillness of winter, you’ll understand what listening to Dom La Nena’s first album feels like. At least that’s how she describes her 2013 debut, “Ela,” a collection of chamber-pop songs written in multiple locales and sung in different languages, all with the intimacy of bedroom recordings.
The Brazilian singer-songwriter and cellist’s new sophomore album, though, courses with an electric energy. “Soyo” is warm and rhythmic, with songs begging to be heard under starry summer skies. There’s nothing wintry about it. Or, as she puts it, “I wanted to make a record for the other season, something more shiny and festive.”
Dom La Nena, who plays Café 939 on Thursday, was born Dominique Pinto in the coastal city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil. Her performance name, inspired by a nickname, translates to “Dom the little girl,” and there is in fact a childlike sense of wonder in her imagery and her voice.
She belongs to the tradition of soft singers (Astrud Gilberto, Keren Ann, Juana Molina) who prefer the power of suggestion over blunt force. Pinto never rises above a whisper on either of her albums; it would be out of line with the deep currents of nostalgia and memory at play in her songs.
Pinto is young, just shy of 25, but already has an extraordinary backstory that, when pointed out by a reporter, doesn’t seem especially so to her. As a child, her family relocated to Paris while her father pursued his doctorate. She had been studying piano at around age 5, and a few years later became consumed by the cello.
Enough so that, while in her teens, she tracked down the famed American cellist Christine Walevska and called her on the phone. Pinto wanted her advice for a good cello teacher and was stunned when Walevska suggested she move to Buenos Aires, where she was living at the time, to become her student.
“I think I was very lucky to find the right people in the right moment,” Pinto says. “I left home at 13 to study cello, and I think things just happened quickly, and it was very natural for me to start working so young.”
With her parents’ support, Pinto moved alone to Argentina, where she honed her skills as a musician. It’s no wonder transience and isolation are familiar tropes in her songwriting — she knows those feelings well. By the time she turned 18, she had recorded a session backing the English singer and actress Jane Birkin, with whom she then toured as a cello player for more than 100 shows.
“Very often I think about her when I’m onstage, because she has such a power,” Pinto says. “She was a very inspiring woman for me.”
As Dom La Nena, her debut was almost an accidental affair. Still steeped in the classical world, she had no aspirations to venture into pop music. In Paris, where she and her husband live, Pinto befriended the English singer-songwriter Piers Faccini. He encouraged her to record at his studio and ended up co-producing “Ela,” a turn of events that signaled a new direction for Pinto.
She admits she prefers to work in private, recording her parts alone and sharing them only when she has a good handle on what she wants. For “Soyo,” she recruited Marcelo Camelo, a composer best known for his work as lead guitarist for the Brazilian band Los Hermanos, to produce and work out arrangements. She credits him with helping her to open the songs to wider possibilities, and together they played all of the instruments, adding layers of supple harmonies, Brazilian percussion, and sparkling choruses.
She sings in Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English on “Soyo,” whose title can be read as a play on the words “Soy yo,” or “It’s me.” Even with a shinier exterior, the album has a delicate core. Pinto holds her songs close to her chest, whether she’s remembering an adolescence of loneliness or honoring a loved one. Her music feels far removed from her roots as an artist who was taught she should play in service to the music, not to herself.
“As a child, I was only into classical music,” Pinto says. “But in my teenage years, of course, I started to listen to all kinds of music, including popular music. But it was something I never thought I could do. I started to feel bored with classical music, that I didn’t have any freedom. I was so happy to find I could do popular music, that there was a place for me.”James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.