Gilles Peterson



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Biography

In 2014, all roads lead to Brazil. As the World Cup draws near, the not-so-sleeping giant of South America will move to centre-stage, and its irresistible rhythms will become the soundtrack of the summer. Cheesy compilations will line up to cash in, peddling worn-out clichés of girls from Ipanema. But for those who want the real musical flavour of Brazil - its super-dynamic present and its majestic heritage - the go-to record has to be Gilles Peterson’s extraordinary new project Sonzeira.

One of the world’s most respected DJs, Gilles can count two million global listeners to his weekly radio ... Read more

In 2014, all roads lead to Brazil. As the World Cup draws near, the not-so-sleeping giant of South America will move to centre-stage, and its irresistible rhythms will become the soundtrack of the summer. Cheesy compilations will line up to cash in, peddling worn-out clichés of girls from Ipanema. But for those who want the real musical flavour of Brazil - its super-dynamic present and its majestic heritage - the go-to record has to be Gilles Peterson’s extraordinary new project Sonzeira.

One of the world’s most respected DJs, Gilles can count two million global listeners to his weekly radio show. Few people have done as much to promote and celebrate Brazilian music, not least through six outstanding compilation albums focused on Brazilian music which he has curated. These are just part of a career catalogue of more than 100 compilations, making him the world leader in the field.

For this ambitious venture Gilles has turned producer, setting up camp in Rio de Janeiro with young UK production tyro Sam Shepherd (Floating Points); Dilip Harris and Rob Gallagher from 2 Banks of 4; and Kassin from Rio big band Orquestra Imperial. Together they set about recording all-new material with a stellar line-up of Brazilian talent, under the name Sonzeira. The result, ‘Brasil – Bam Bam Bam’, is an inspirational portrait of a nation in sound. At its heart are mesmerising vocal performances from superstars young and old, including ‘City of God’ actor and singer Seu Jorge, and the grande dame of samba, 76-year-old powerhouse Elza Soares.

‘Brazil’s music culture is massive,’ says Gilles. ‘There’s the North – Bahia, Recife, the afro-brazilian sound. There’s batucada, the heavy sambas. Then bossa nova - Tom Jobim and all that history. There’s baile funk. There’s Tropicalia and the more soulful, funky scene championed by groups like Banda Black Rio, Trio Mocoto and icons like Gilberto Gil. Such a huge amount of stuff to fit in. I wanted to try and cover it all – to make a kind of Buena Vista meets club culture, but to keep it sonically very modern.’

It’s certainly a long way from Sundays at the Belvedere Arms in Richmond, one of Gilles's first residencies, where as a 17-year-old he threw down his first Brazilian records. His inspiration came from the sheer exuberance of Brazilian tunes that pioneering DJs like Bob Jones and Chris Bangs played at soul weekenders, into which the young Gilles would slip as an under-age voyeur.

‘That was my pirate radio days, in the mid-80s,’ he says, ‘and there was one record called ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ by George Duke that had loads of guests on it like Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim – some of the deeper Brazilian artists. That was it for me. Now all these years later, I wanted to incorporate the different elements that I love. But as well as the deeper moments the new record had to have that kick.’

For depth with a kick, look no further than opening track 'Where Nana Hides', a haunting rhythm composed and played by world-renowned percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, who summons the ghosts of a land that was the final destination of more slaves than any other country. Brazil was also the last nation to abolish slavery, and as Vasconcelos plays, the voice of Fela Kuti’s youngest son Seun, recorded at Gilles’s studio in London, recalls its sad history. ‘In Rio we saw where the slaves were unloaded,’ says Gilles. ‘The music comes from Africa – the slaves brought the music to Brazil, and Brazilians have kept the spirit of that.’

But the core of that Brazilian spirit is celebration in the face of adversity, and it’s Seu Jorge who gets the party started over the thundering carnival drums of ‘Sambaio’, which sees the ‘Life Aquatic’ star leaving behind the gentle David Bowie covers to MC over some speaker-blowing batucada. ‘He was excited about doing something different,’ says Gilles. ‘I took a risk and went to LA to see if I could get the final piece for the jigsaw with the Brazilian musician who is probably best known in the world today. Luckily Jorge was in town and we got him in an amazing analogue studio with Mario Caldato Jr producing, who has done albums with the Beastie Boys, Beck, Jack Johnson and many others. It’s a full-on samba track.’

The polished, cosmopolitan face of modern Brazil is to fore on a cover of the 1970s classic ‘Brasil Pandeiro’, a duet between songwriter Arlindo Cruz and the effortlessly glamorous Emanuelle Araujo, whose lilting voice floats breezily over the signature sound of Arlindo’s tiny cavaquinho guitar. Emanuelle also doubles up as a star of one of the country’s famous ‘telenovela’ soap operas. ‘It was a bit disconcerting,’ says Gilles. ’Every time we went to the restaurant to have break you’d look up and there was her face on a giant plasma screen.’

From another time and place in Brazilian TV history comes a very different vocal style: the rasping, weather-beaten intonation of samba queen Elza Soares. Soares captured hearts in the late 1950s, when she won the equivalent of ‘The Voice’ and became a household name, not least for her tempestuous marriage to the wayward football idol Garrincha. She even represented Brazil at a World Cup herself, singing at the culture festival for the 1962 tournament in Chile. For Gilles it was a total coup to tempt her into the studio. Elsa didn’t disappoint.

On ‘Nana’, Soares pairs up with singer and drummer Wilson Das Neves from Os Ipanemas to deliver an Eartha Kitt-style vocal that is equal parts sex and utter contempt. But it’s on the standard ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ that she steals the show. With the help of stirring strings from British arranger Sean O’Hagan (Stereolab, High Llamas), she turns a much-loved salute to her homeland into five minutes of pure heartbreak – perhaps her own, perhaps the sadness of a nation beset with problems even as the world turns towards it.

‘There were tears in the studio,’ says Gilles. ‘This track will last forever in Brazil. People will always go back to this version - I am sure of it. Our Brazilian co-producer Alexandre Kassin was saying that to treat that song the way we did – changing it to minor chords, slowing the tempo – is like when The Sex Pistols did ‘My Way’. But I wanted to have some of that melancholy. They have their problems. They have pushed everyone out of the favelas to prepare for the World Cup and the Olympics. There is a lot of unrest.’

But if the Sonzeira project captures one thing it is the sense that despite its worries, this is a country where joy and a sense of beauty are never far away. Emanuelle Araujo’s bossa nova take on the UK jazz-funk hit ‘Southern Freeez’ brings a smile to the face; samba singer Mart’nalia’s ‘Mystery of Man’ is so laid-back it’s practically horizontal; indie dude Lucas Santtana finds something mystical in a new song written by long-time Gilles collaborator Rob Galliano. Of ‘Xi Ba Ba’ Gilles simply says: ‘I can play this at any party, any time – house, jazz, whatever – and it’s just banging.’

‘Making this record, I asked myself about my own history with Brazilian music,’ he continues. ‘What is a French boy, living in South London, doing putting up aerials at the age of 15 so he can play batucadas on pirate radio? Why was I doing that? Where did that come from?’ By the time Seu Jorge reprises the carnival mayhem of ‘Bam Bam Bam’ on the album’s closing track, you’ll be wanting to put up an aerial of your own.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

In 2014, all roads lead to Brazil. As the World Cup draws near, the not-so-sleeping giant of South America will move to centre-stage, and its irresistible rhythms will become the soundtrack of the summer. Cheesy compilations will line up to cash in, peddling worn-out clichés of girls from Ipanema. But for those who want the real musical flavour of Brazil - its super-dynamic present and its majestic heritage - the go-to record has to be Gilles Peterson’s extraordinary new project Sonzeira.

One of the world’s most respected DJs, Gilles can count two million global listeners to his weekly radio show. Few people have done as much to promote and celebrate Brazilian music, not least through six outstanding compilation albums focused on Brazilian music which he has curated. These are just part of a career catalogue of more than 100 compilations, making him the world leader in the field.

For this ambitious venture Gilles has turned producer, setting up camp in Rio de Janeiro with young UK production tyro Sam Shepherd (Floating Points); Dilip Harris and Rob Gallagher from 2 Banks of 4; and Kassin from Rio big band Orquestra Imperial. Together they set about recording all-new material with a stellar line-up of Brazilian talent, under the name Sonzeira. The result, ‘Brasil – Bam Bam Bam’, is an inspirational portrait of a nation in sound. At its heart are mesmerising vocal performances from superstars young and old, including ‘City of God’ actor and singer Seu Jorge, and the grande dame of samba, 76-year-old powerhouse Elza Soares.

‘Brazil’s music culture is massive,’ says Gilles. ‘There’s the North – Bahia, Recife, the afro-brazilian sound. There’s batucada, the heavy sambas. Then bossa nova - Tom Jobim and all that history. There’s baile funk. There’s Tropicalia and the more soulful, funky scene championed by groups like Banda Black Rio, Trio Mocoto and icons like Gilberto Gil. Such a huge amount of stuff to fit in. I wanted to try and cover it all – to make a kind of Buena Vista meets club culture, but to keep it sonically very modern.’

It’s certainly a long way from Sundays at the Belvedere Arms in Richmond, one of Gilles's first residencies, where as a 17-year-old he threw down his first Brazilian records. His inspiration came from the sheer exuberance of Brazilian tunes that pioneering DJs like Bob Jones and Chris Bangs played at soul weekenders, into which the young Gilles would slip as an under-age voyeur.

‘That was my pirate radio days, in the mid-80s,’ he says, ‘and there was one record called ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ by George Duke that had loads of guests on it like Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim – some of the deeper Brazilian artists. That was it for me. Now all these years later, I wanted to incorporate the different elements that I love. But as well as the deeper moments the new record had to have that kick.’

For depth with a kick, look no further than opening track 'Where Nana Hides', a haunting rhythm composed and played by world-renowned percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, who summons the ghosts of a land that was the final destination of more slaves than any other country. Brazil was also the last nation to abolish slavery, and as Vasconcelos plays, the voice of Fela Kuti’s youngest son Seun, recorded at Gilles’s studio in London, recalls its sad history. ‘In Rio we saw where the slaves were unloaded,’ says Gilles. ‘The music comes from Africa – the slaves brought the music to Brazil, and Brazilians have kept the spirit of that.’

But the core of that Brazilian spirit is celebration in the face of adversity, and it’s Seu Jorge who gets the party started over the thundering carnival drums of ‘Sambaio’, which sees the ‘Life Aquatic’ star leaving behind the gentle David Bowie covers to MC over some speaker-blowing batucada. ‘He was excited about doing something different,’ says Gilles. ‘I took a risk and went to LA to see if I could get the final piece for the jigsaw with the Brazilian musician who is probably best known in the world today. Luckily Jorge was in town and we got him in an amazing analogue studio with Mario Caldato Jr producing, who has done albums with the Beastie Boys, Beck, Jack Johnson and many others. It’s a full-on samba track.’

The polished, cosmopolitan face of modern Brazil is to fore on a cover of the 1970s classic ‘Brasil Pandeiro’, a duet between songwriter Arlindo Cruz and the effortlessly glamorous Emanuelle Araujo, whose lilting voice floats breezily over the signature sound of Arlindo’s tiny cavaquinho guitar. Emanuelle also doubles up as a star of one of the country’s famous ‘telenovela’ soap operas. ‘It was a bit disconcerting,’ says Gilles. ’Every time we went to the restaurant to have break you’d look up and there was her face on a giant plasma screen.’

From another time and place in Brazilian TV history comes a very different vocal style: the rasping, weather-beaten intonation of samba queen Elza Soares. Soares captured hearts in the late 1950s, when she won the equivalent of ‘The Voice’ and became a household name, not least for her tempestuous marriage to the wayward football idol Garrincha. She even represented Brazil at a World Cup herself, singing at the culture festival for the 1962 tournament in Chile. For Gilles it was a total coup to tempt her into the studio. Elsa didn’t disappoint.

On ‘Nana’, Soares pairs up with singer and drummer Wilson Das Neves from Os Ipanemas to deliver an Eartha Kitt-style vocal that is equal parts sex and utter contempt. But it’s on the standard ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ that she steals the show. With the help of stirring strings from British arranger Sean O’Hagan (Stereolab, High Llamas), she turns a much-loved salute to her homeland into five minutes of pure heartbreak – perhaps her own, perhaps the sadness of a nation beset with problems even as the world turns towards it.

‘There were tears in the studio,’ says Gilles. ‘This track will last forever in Brazil. People will always go back to this version - I am sure of it. Our Brazilian co-producer Alexandre Kassin was saying that to treat that song the way we did – changing it to minor chords, slowing the tempo – is like when The Sex Pistols did ‘My Way’. But I wanted to have some of that melancholy. They have their problems. They have pushed everyone out of the favelas to prepare for the World Cup and the Olympics. There is a lot of unrest.’

But if the Sonzeira project captures one thing it is the sense that despite its worries, this is a country where joy and a sense of beauty are never far away. Emanuelle Araujo’s bossa nova take on the UK jazz-funk hit ‘Southern Freeez’ brings a smile to the face; samba singer Mart’nalia’s ‘Mystery of Man’ is so laid-back it’s practically horizontal; indie dude Lucas Santtana finds something mystical in a new song written by long-time Gilles collaborator Rob Galliano. Of ‘Xi Ba Ba’ Gilles simply says: ‘I can play this at any party, any time – house, jazz, whatever – and it’s just banging.’

‘Making this record, I asked myself about my own history with Brazilian music,’ he continues. ‘What is a French boy, living in South London, doing putting up aerials at the age of 15 so he can play batucadas on pirate radio? Why was I doing that? Where did that come from?’ By the time Seu Jorge reprises the carnival mayhem of ‘Bam Bam Bam’ on the album’s closing track, you’ll be wanting to put up an aerial of your own.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

In 2014, all roads lead to Brazil. As the World Cup draws near, the not-so-sleeping giant of South America will move to centre-stage, and its irresistible rhythms will become the soundtrack of the summer. Cheesy compilations will line up to cash in, peddling worn-out clichés of girls from Ipanema. But for those who want the real musical flavour of Brazil - its super-dynamic present and its majestic heritage - the go-to record has to be Gilles Peterson’s extraordinary new project Sonzeira.

One of the world’s most respected DJs, Gilles can count two million global listeners to his weekly radio show. Few people have done as much to promote and celebrate Brazilian music, not least through six outstanding compilation albums focused on Brazilian music which he has curated. These are just part of a career catalogue of more than 100 compilations, making him the world leader in the field.

For this ambitious venture Gilles has turned producer, setting up camp in Rio de Janeiro with young UK production tyro Sam Shepherd (Floating Points); Dilip Harris and Rob Gallagher from 2 Banks of 4; and Kassin from Rio big band Orquestra Imperial. Together they set about recording all-new material with a stellar line-up of Brazilian talent, under the name Sonzeira. The result, ‘Brasil – Bam Bam Bam’, is an inspirational portrait of a nation in sound. At its heart are mesmerising vocal performances from superstars young and old, including ‘City of God’ actor and singer Seu Jorge, and the grande dame of samba, 76-year-old powerhouse Elza Soares.

‘Brazil’s music culture is massive,’ says Gilles. ‘There’s the North – Bahia, Recife, the afro-brazilian sound. There’s batucada, the heavy sambas. Then bossa nova - Tom Jobim and all that history. There’s baile funk. There’s Tropicalia and the more soulful, funky scene championed by groups like Banda Black Rio, Trio Mocoto and icons like Gilberto Gil. Such a huge amount of stuff to fit in. I wanted to try and cover it all – to make a kind of Buena Vista meets club culture, but to keep it sonically very modern.’

It’s certainly a long way from Sundays at the Belvedere Arms in Richmond, one of Gilles's first residencies, where as a 17-year-old he threw down his first Brazilian records. His inspiration came from the sheer exuberance of Brazilian tunes that pioneering DJs like Bob Jones and Chris Bangs played at soul weekenders, into which the young Gilles would slip as an under-age voyeur.

‘That was my pirate radio days, in the mid-80s,’ he says, ‘and there was one record called ‘Brazilian Love Affair’ by George Duke that had loads of guests on it like Milton Nascimento, Flora Purim – some of the deeper Brazilian artists. That was it for me. Now all these years later, I wanted to incorporate the different elements that I love. But as well as the deeper moments the new record had to have that kick.’

For depth with a kick, look no further than opening track 'Where Nana Hides', a haunting rhythm composed and played by world-renowned percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, who summons the ghosts of a land that was the final destination of more slaves than any other country. Brazil was also the last nation to abolish slavery, and as Vasconcelos plays, the voice of Fela Kuti’s youngest son Seun, recorded at Gilles’s studio in London, recalls its sad history. ‘In Rio we saw where the slaves were unloaded,’ says Gilles. ‘The music comes from Africa – the slaves brought the music to Brazil, and Brazilians have kept the spirit of that.’

But the core of that Brazilian spirit is celebration in the face of adversity, and it’s Seu Jorge who gets the party started over the thundering carnival drums of ‘Sambaio’, which sees the ‘Life Aquatic’ star leaving behind the gentle David Bowie covers to MC over some speaker-blowing batucada. ‘He was excited about doing something different,’ says Gilles. ‘I took a risk and went to LA to see if I could get the final piece for the jigsaw with the Brazilian musician who is probably best known in the world today. Luckily Jorge was in town and we got him in an amazing analogue studio with Mario Caldato Jr producing, who has done albums with the Beastie Boys, Beck, Jack Johnson and many others. It’s a full-on samba track.’

The polished, cosmopolitan face of modern Brazil is to fore on a cover of the 1970s classic ‘Brasil Pandeiro’, a duet between songwriter Arlindo Cruz and the effortlessly glamorous Emanuelle Araujo, whose lilting voice floats breezily over the signature sound of Arlindo’s tiny cavaquinho guitar. Emanuelle also doubles up as a star of one of the country’s famous ‘telenovela’ soap operas. ‘It was a bit disconcerting,’ says Gilles. ’Every time we went to the restaurant to have break you’d look up and there was her face on a giant plasma screen.’

From another time and place in Brazilian TV history comes a very different vocal style: the rasping, weather-beaten intonation of samba queen Elza Soares. Soares captured hearts in the late 1950s, when she won the equivalent of ‘The Voice’ and became a household name, not least for her tempestuous marriage to the wayward football idol Garrincha. She even represented Brazil at a World Cup herself, singing at the culture festival for the 1962 tournament in Chile. For Gilles it was a total coup to tempt her into the studio. Elsa didn’t disappoint.

On ‘Nana’, Soares pairs up with singer and drummer Wilson Das Neves from Os Ipanemas to deliver an Eartha Kitt-style vocal that is equal parts sex and utter contempt. But it’s on the standard ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ that she steals the show. With the help of stirring strings from British arranger Sean O’Hagan (Stereolab, High Llamas), she turns a much-loved salute to her homeland into five minutes of pure heartbreak – perhaps her own, perhaps the sadness of a nation beset with problems even as the world turns towards it.

‘There were tears in the studio,’ says Gilles. ‘This track will last forever in Brazil. People will always go back to this version - I am sure of it. Our Brazilian co-producer Alexandre Kassin was saying that to treat that song the way we did – changing it to minor chords, slowing the tempo – is like when The Sex Pistols did ‘My Way’. But I wanted to have some of that melancholy. They have their problems. They have pushed everyone out of the favelas to prepare for the World Cup and the Olympics. There is a lot of unrest.’

But if the Sonzeira project captures one thing it is the sense that despite its worries, this is a country where joy and a sense of beauty are never far away. Emanuelle Araujo’s bossa nova take on the UK jazz-funk hit ‘Southern Freeez’ brings a smile to the face; samba singer Mart’nalia’s ‘Mystery of Man’ is so laid-back it’s practically horizontal; indie dude Lucas Santtana finds something mystical in a new song written by long-time Gilles collaborator Rob Galliano. Of ‘Xi Ba Ba’ Gilles simply says: ‘I can play this at any party, any time – house, jazz, whatever – and it’s just banging.’

‘Making this record, I asked myself about my own history with Brazilian music,’ he continues. ‘What is a French boy, living in South London, doing putting up aerials at the age of 15 so he can play batucadas on pirate radio? Why was I doing that? Where did that come from?’ By the time Seu Jorge reprises the carnival mayhem of ‘Bam Bam Bam’ on the album’s closing track, you’ll be wanting to put up an aerial of your own.

This biography was provided by the artist or their representative.

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