Seu Jorge performing as part of the Small world Music Festival 2005 at Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), tonight (Thursday, September 22), 9 pm. $25, advance $20. 416-588-0307, 416-631-4311. Rating: NNNNN
He may be known as samba-soul Brother No. 1 throughout the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but Seu Jorge is probably best know outside Brazil for his film work. That was Jorge playing guitar-strumming shipmate Pelé dos Santos, whose Portuguese renditions of David Bowie tunes served to connect the disjointed plot of Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
It was apparently Jorge's stellar performance as bus driver Knockout Ned in Fernando Meirelles's brilliant City Of God that first indicated to Anderson that he might be right for the role of the singing sailor. Fortunately, Jorge wasn't quizzed on his knowledge of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie at the screen test. Otherwise, he might never have gotten the role.
"There was already a part in the script for a Brazilian sailor who could sing," explains Jorge through a translator. "So Wes Anderson set out looking for a Brazilian musician who could also act. He'd seen City Of God, so he called me.
"When I found out I'd have to play some songs by David Bowie, I knew who he was because his song Let's Dance got a lot of radio play in Brazil, but I wasn't familiar with his other music. He was never that popular where I'm from. Instead of trying to learn his songs well enough to translate them into Portuguese, I just created my own lyrics and sang them as if they were coming from Pelé dos Santos. That seemed to work."
Although Jorge plans to continue acting in films he plays the key support role of Massu in Andrucha Waddington's epic House Of Sand, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last week he's astutely trying to use his film notoriety to kick-start his music career in North America.
Unfortunately, Jorge's poorly recorded versions of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust material released on the soundtrack to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou did little to enhance his reputation as the next-big-thing musician from Brazil.
The recently released Cru (Wrasse) album, deftly produced by Favela Chic club DJ Gringo da Parada, is a much better bet, showing off Jorge's captivating voice and considerable guitar-playing, writing and arranging skills. Cru which translates to "raw" also clarifies Jorge's connection to Brazil's samba-soul stars of the 70s like Banda Black Rio, Cassiano, Di Melo, Carlos Dafé and Toni Tornado, whose music has lately been enjoying a revival in dance clubs.
"The title reference to "raw' has more to do with the attitude of the music than with the production style. There are fewer musicians involved on this album, and less time was spent in the studio. I wanted to make an album that was very simple, focusing on my voice and guitar.
"It's great to hear that the samba-soul sound of the 70s is becoming better known outside Brazil. City Of God might've had something to do with it that's the music you hear in the film.
"The artists you mentioned were all favourites of mine when I was younger. In fact, Carlos Dafé was like an uncle to me. They were the artists who came to the favelas to play, not the bigger stars like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. That was my music."
Considering Jorge's rising fortunes as a stage and screen star, a song claiming Eu Sou Favela (I Am Favela) might not have the resonance he intended. His attempt at keepin' it real could actually come off more like his own version of Jenny From The Block, but Jorge isn't having any of it.
"In the favela, if someone buys a new dress for his daughter he's called a sellout. I don't have a fancy house with tennis courts or wear expensive jewellery. Even if I do have 10 cars in my garage, I've worked for them, so I don't see any contradiction in what I'm singing about in Eu Sou Favela.
"I'm not that familiar with the music of Jennifer Lopez, but I can tell you that I'm not in the lip-synch business. I play real live music, as you'll hear in Toronto."