Bebel Gilberto - Biography
Although Bebel Gilberto comes from a richly accomplished musical family and has garnered recognition as a solo artist in Brazil and Europe over the last couple of decades, it was not until the year 2000 that she enjoyed breakthrough success in the United States. Gilberto is often associated with bossa nova because of her lineage, but over the years she has reached far beyond into areas such as pop and dance, performing with and recording with artists such as David Byrne, Arto Lindsay, Towa Tei and Caetano Veloso. Her father—guitarist/singer Joao Gilberto—is a bossa nova legend, while Bebel’s mother Miúcha is a famed singer and the sister of Chico Buarque. Because of her deep-rooted musical heritage, Gilberto grew up singing and performing—and even recording—with her mother before she had reached the age of ten.
Though she was born in New York City and has dual citizenship, Gilberto—born Isabel Gilberto de Oliveira—was raised in Rio de Janeiro and spent her youth surrounded by the sounds of Brazil. She was exposed to many of the finest musicians that her native land had to offer, and she naturally embraced opportunities to participate in professional musical ensembles. One of the highlights of her youth was when she performed alongside her mother and Stan Getz at Carnegie Hall, in New York City, when she was only nine years old. Her uncle, Buarque—a legendary composer not only in Brazil but in Europe and Japan as well—began to incorporate the young Gilberto into his music, which served to open doors for her. It was Buarque who got Bebel a job singing in the children’s choir for the soundtrack of a musical he had written, called Os Saltimbancos.
While still in her teens, Gilberto got a taste of a different side of the Brazilian music scene via networking through a fraternity of artists. She became good friends with Cazuza, the singer of the Brazilian rock band Barão Vermelho, and later, Dé, also a popular singer in Brazil at the time that Cazuza introduced her to. Though Cazuza would die an untimely death at a young age, Gilberto would collaborate with both of them and pen a number of songs for each artist. By the time Gilberto was 17 years old, she made her first recording with singer Pedrinho Rodriguez.
Gilberto she released her first solo album, the self-titled, Bebel Gilberto (1986 WEA), when she was 20 years old. The album—consisting of many of the tracks she had written with her friends Cazuza and Dé—was fairly successful in Brazil, but remains almost unknown in the United States.
By the early-’90s, Gilberto decided to move to America to further her career as an artist, relocating to her birthplace of New York City. It was here that she met musicians David Byrne and Arto Lindsay, with the latter himself a native Brazilian who had been living in New York City since the 1970s. Gilberto began to perform many gigs with the two musicians in the early portion of the decade, many of them prestigious, which got her a modicum of recognition in the States.
Gilberto released the album, De Tarde...Vendo O Mar (Meldac) in 1992, an album where all of the compositions were written by composers Yumi Arai and Regina Werneck. Unfortunately, the album did not do much to solidify her place in the tough US markets, and she began to experiment with dance music—particularly by remixing of her material. In 1996, Gilberto enjoyed a bit of success when one of the songs she’d performed with the late Cazuza was featured on the benefit album, Red Hot + Rio (Antilles), alongside Astrud Gilberto, Crystal Waters, Milton Nascimento and Stereolab.
That same year, Gilberto began to work with the band Thievery Corporation and as well as famed record producer, Towa Tei. It was in collaboration with Tei and Lindsay that Gilberto would reach her first decent exposure on the dance floor, with the success of songs “Batucada” and “Technova,” both written by Gilberto.
On the heels of her burgeoning name in North America, Gilberto found her way to England where she was soon hard at work on her crossover album, Tanto Tempo (2000 Six Degrees). On it, Gilberto went back to her bossa nova roots, while maintaining a perspective of the pop and dance music she had been working on in recent years. Tanto Tempo was wildly successful for a short period of time America, and a popular follow-up remix album was soon issued as well. Gilberto was nominated for two Latin Grammy Awards for her effort, and had finally broken through in the American market.
It would be four years before Gilberto would release a follow-up, yet when Bebel Gilberto (2004 Six Degrees) came out, it was well received and became another smash hit. While again underscored by her bossa nova sound, Bebel Gilberto made deeper forays into pop swath that her previous album alluded to. Once again, a follow-up album of remixes was released to much fanfare and popularity, even becoming a bigger hit than the original. A Grammy nomination came out of it, this time in the World Music Category.
In 2007, Six Degrees put out Gilberto’s next album, Momento, which found the dance floor sensation splitting time between nearly all-acoustic bossa nova sounds and straight-ahead gyrating electronica. Though the bulk of the songwriting was Gilberto’s on Momento, the album also featured a cover version of her uncle Buarque’s song, “Caçada.”
In the late 00s, Gilberto has continued to write and record music, overcoming a broken leg and a canceled tour in 2007 to rehearsing via Skype with her band to release an iTunes-only EP of live sessions in 2008. She returned with the downtempo All is One (2009 Verve Records), which featured the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren-penned track, “Chica Chica Boom Chic.”