Brazil’s Gilberto sums up a life’s experiences on ‘Tudo’

Harper Smith

Bebel Gilberto is a prolific assimilator. She was born into the first family of Brazilian pop, then shuttled between Rio de Janeiro and New York City as a child before finally relocating stateside in her 20s. She’s since crafted a personal style informed by her international view and the talents of many assorted collaborators.

Gilberto’s sound advances the bossa nova style of her parents’ generation into a contemporary milieu. She’s also recorded respectful but distinctive takes on well-known standards from her homeland, while proposing songs by the likes of Bob Marley and Neil Young for the canon.

It makes sense that her latest album is called “Tudo,” which translates from the Portuguese as “all” or “everything.” (Her previous record, released in 2009, is called “All in One.”)


“I am really an open-minded person — I can live anywhere, everywhere,” Gilberto, 48, says during a phone call from the road. “Playing for interesting crowds and different cultures and going around the world — I wouldn’t change it for anything.” She plays Brighton Music Hall on Saturday.

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For Gilberto, music is the family business. She’s the child of João Gilberto, a founding father of bossa nova — his 1964 collaboration with Stan Getz, “Getz/Gilberto,” is an emblematic document of the style’s adoption into mainstream American jazz — and the accomplished vocalist Miúcha. Influential composer/vocalist Chico Buarque is her uncle.

Though she found herself singing onstage with Getz before she was 10 years old, Gilberto took her time before fully emerging as an independent artist. After moving to New York City at age 24, she kept a weekly club engagement playing time-worn favorites of the bossa nova and samba catalog. She even relocated to London for a time, prior to making her bona fide international recording debut nine years after the initial New York move.

With “Tanto Tempo” she found a style that kept bossa at its heart, but articulated itself with electronic textures and an ear for what works on the dancefloor — or, at least, the very hip chill-out room beneath it. She collaborated with Thievery Corporation, and released album-length remix compilations for each of her first two records.

This electronic influence can be overstated, though. Her work has the effortless feel of suave, tasteful pop informed by the traditions of bossa, samba and other Brazilian styles, and not a concept-heavy experiment in fusion.


The new album swings toward more of an acoustic sound, and reflects the thematic concerns of a particularly eventful period in her life. Gilberto married and then divorced the recording engineer from her previous album, received doctors’ orders to rest and combat her creeping exhaustion, and lost her grandmother, with whom she was close. She also managed to film and release a concert DVD of a performance on the beach in Rio.

“It’s a little bit more grounded and with less electronics, which I think felt right and she was comfortable with that,” observes Mario Caldato Jr., a veteran of projects by the Beastie Boys and Beck, who produced and mixed Gilberto’s new album. “Lots of different emotions and different feelings were captured and brought into the record. . . . It’s nice to have all the different sides to it,” he adds, speaking on the phone from Brazil.

It was a particularly key endorsement, he says, to get a thumbs-up from Gilberto’s folks.

For her part, Gilberto says she inherits very different personality traits from each parent. Her father, she’s said in the past, taught her how to be a perfectionist; her mother made a different impact.

“She taught me to be free, so all the craziness and freedom and all the other wild side that I do have inside of me, it comes from my mom,” she says. “My mother taught me how to improvise, how to be on the road, to always be open to new cultures. I’m more lazy than her, but I’m still very adventurous, and I’m always traveling and open for new experiences and new situations in life.”


“Tudo” includes six songs Gilberto wrote or co-wrote, plus as many well-chosen covers. She dips into the bossa songbook with “Saudade Vem Correndo” and “Vivo Sonhando,” but also makes room for Young’s “Harvest Moon.” There’s even a French-language song (to complement the ones sung in Portuguese and English) included for good measure.

Caldato, who previously produced some tracks remotely for Gilberto’s 2000 debut and some subsequent remixes, says it’s her vocal command that particularly impressed him as they worked together in the studio.

“She’s a natural,” he says. “Everything else is trickier to get together — the tracks and the timing and stuff like that — but once it’s all lined up, she’s very focused and can knock it out.”

So just what did Gilberto have in mind when she named her new record?

“I think it was a reflection of everything for me,” she says. “It’s everything: all the talk that you have, all of the dreams that you have, experiences that come, people, drinking a drink, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, old people, birds — things like that.”

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at