A bit of Bossa nova, baby: an interview with Juliana Areias

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Nothing evokes cool quite the way Bossa nova does.  And I’ve checked, everywhere, that yes, that “n” in “nova” is lowercase.

But I digress. So … Bossa nova (lowercase “n”) is cool, no?

Sim, I always associate Bossa nova with people who are chill enough to travel to Rio on the regular, sipping Caipirinhas and generally just enjoying life.  And Brazilian music represents, to me anyway, a kind of freedom and joy that makes you happy to be alive.  That makes you appreciate the sunshine, if you’re in it, or makes you feel like you are in the sun, if you’re not.  It’s just a rhythm and vibe that many people want to be a part of.

Lucky for one woman, she is a part of it, because she is a bona fide Bossa nova singer.  Brazilian herself, Juliana Areias moved to Australia some years ago and has been performing worldwide as a singer of her beloved Bossa nova.  She now has an album, Bossa Nova Baby, which is a mix of original songs and classic Bossa nova favourites.  I was lucky enough to catch her last Sydney performance at the Foundry 616 and witnessed not just a great voice, but a wonderful onstage vibe and presence, from not just Juliana but her band too (my review via WeekendNotes is here).

In fact, here’s a bit of her gig.  Pretty cool, yeh? :)

Juliana Areias performs a song from her Bossa Nova Baby album from My Local World on Vimeo.

Juliana is the epitome of living your life with joie de vivre (and if there’s a Brazilian reading this, I would love to know what this translates to in Portuguese), and she shared her thoughts about her life, her music and what fuels her to continue sharing Bossa nova to the world.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a singer?

I started my artistic career as an actress when I was 13, when I was known as an actress who could sing. It was only when I was 20 that I became a singer who could act.

What led you to your love of music, and Bossa nova in particular?

My parents certainly contributed a lot to it. Both of them are great music appreciators and they’ve been taking me to live performances since I was a baby.  My father, particularly, loves bossa nova and also is also a singer. He can play  a bit of any instrument he touches – guitar, harmonica, accordion. I remember listening to, enjoying and singing bossa nova classics such as O Pato (The Duck) since I was a child.
When my parents separated when I was 4 years old and I no longer lived with my dad, the music and the bossa nova always helped us to feel connected. And it still does, since I left Brazil in 1996 to live in Geneva, Switzerland, Auckland, New Zealand and then Perth, Australia.

How would you describe Bossa Nova to those who are unfamiliar with that genre of music?

Bossa nova is a type of sophisticated samba, where the rhythm is softer, with jazz and classical influences in the harmony. The first so named Bossa nova was the songChega de Saudade (No More Blues), released in 1958 with Joao Gilberto playing the guitar in the recording. Joao Gilberto is the creator of the bossa nova rhythm. The song was composed by my favorite Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim and the lyricist and poet Vinicius de Moraes.  Bossa nova songs are often breeze and light, which soft voice.

A few of your songs from the album are very personal – what’s your process for writing songs that are as personal as that?

I believe everything in the world provides inspiration, and I am thankful for that. I love writing about people, places, sounds and stories – and the Bossa Nova Baby’s songs are born this way.

Aside from yourself, obviously, who else should people listen to for good Bossa nova?

The fathers of Bossa nova, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, as well as other great contemporary artists such as Leny Andrade, Rosa Passos, Leila Pinheiro, Bebel Gilberto.

What is it about Bossa Nova that you enjoy the most?  Are there other styles of music from Brazil or elsewhere that you love?

I love the whole spectrum of Brazilian music (samba, choro, baiao, maracatu) as well as other global music styles such as jazz, French swing, soul,  blues, rock, pop and flamenco. Bossa nova is my greatest musical passion because of the marriage of samba and jazz. I love the syncopated rhythm and the dissonant harmonies of it. It speaks to my heart with its gentleness and the nylon string guitar sound is just hypnotic for me.

Is Bossa Nova a mixture of different styles of music from other places? How did it develop?

It’s a genre of samba, with jazz and classical influences in the harmony. It was created by the guitarist and singer Joao Gilberto and developed by him with Antonio Carlos Jobim and other composers since the late 50’s, certainly after the end of the Second World War in 1945, when jazz recordings started to arrive in Brazil and influence pianist and composers such as Joao Donato and Johnny Alf, both precursors of Bossa nova. Joao Donato and Joao Gilberto met in Rio de Janeiro during this period and became good friends since then. They are both still alive.

Do you see your children following in the same footsteps as their parents?

My kids’ father works in the engineering field and technical drawing. Both of our kids certainly have artistic talents, both can draw and dance. My son Jobim is a natural comedian and he does Capoeira. My daughter Lilas can sing beautifully. My love and partner Geoffrey Drake-Brockman is an extraordinary artist and contemporary sculptor who incorporates eletronics, robootics and computer science into his art,  creating monumental sculptures around Perth  such as “Totem” (nicknamed “pineapple” at the Perth Arena), “Spiral”, “Read-Write”, “Interlace”. He is also an amazing father of two talented young men, who both display artistic talents in the creation and designing of  theatre sets and props.  They frequently help their beloved Dad in the art projects, in the programming or at the Art Studio.
I love the syncopated rhythm and the dissonant harmonies of it. It speaks to my heart with its gentleness and the nylon string guitar sound is just hypnotic for me

Is there a particular song of yours that is your favourite? Why?

Of course as a good mother, I love all my songs, everyone in its special way. The most recent song of the Bossa Nova Baby album isBelas Artes (Fine Arts), a beautiful “choro” co-composed with Doug De Vries, dedicated to my love Geoffrey and his artworks. There’s also a song dedicated to my kids, Estrela acalando (Start lullaby). Flecha (Arrow) is dedicated to Rio de Janeiro city. Missao (mission) is dedicated to Australia and its samba de gafiera dance community. The tango-inspired songDia a Dia (Day to day) is dedicated to my city Sao Paulo.  The only song in English on the album isNight in Takapuna, dedicated to New Zealand. Geoffrey and I made a stop motion – lyrics video – in English and Portuguese of the songMare Cheia(Full Tide), starring my daugher Lilas , who writes the lyrics on the sand on Cottesloe Beach, our favourite beach in Perth.

What is your favorite Bossa Nova song of all time and why?

This is an impossible question as there are hundreds of bossa nova songs I really love. For example, in my concerts I usually sing two Bossa classics from Antonio Carlos Jobim, Waters of March andThe Girl from Ipanema – the most famous Bossa nova song in the world, but in an unique arrangement inspired by an instrumental version of Raphael Rabello, one of Brazil’s best guitarists ever. Jobim and Raphael have already passed away, so when I sing it, it is a double tribute to both of them. I also love other bossas such asInfluencia do Jazz by Carlos Lyra,Minha Saudade and Surpresa, both by Joao Donato and co-composers Joao Gilberto and Caetano Veloso respectively. In the 90’s even Cazuza, a Brazilian Rock Star recorded an authorial bossa novaFaz parte do meu show which became a national hit. I hope my songs and my Bossa Nova Baby album can be a contemporary contribution to this  genre of music which keeps evolving and enchanting the world.

What’s next for you?

I am heading to Europe to perform in London and Amsterdam in October and then preparing my national tour and Brazilian tour for 2016 and 2017.
Juliana’s album, Bossa Nova Baby, is available now via www.julianaareias.com.
Images courtesy of Juliana Areias.  Clips are my own. 

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