My friend Dan recommended that I check out the Brazilian singer Céu, but he was a little embarrassed about it. “She’s kind of a Starbucks artist,” he said. I knew what he meant: to call someone a Starbucks artist is to say that she plays pleasant background music fit for young urban professionals. This is not necessarily to say it’s bad music, just that it’s nothing to get too excited about.
Céu’s first album in 2005 fit that description fairly well. In fact, the record company Six Degrees released it in the United States in partnership with Starbucks. But even then, Céu offered something different from the kind of bossa nova retread you get from, say, Bebel Gilberto. Since then, Céu’s music has grown ever more idiosyncratic and interesting, combining jazz and samba with hip-hop and electronic.
Born Maria do Céu Whittaker Poças, Céu briefly lived in New York, where she discovered American jazz and jazz-inflected pop singers such as Lauryn Hill. (Fittingly, her name is pronounced “Say-oooh.”) Back in her home country, she began combining her new passions with Brazil’s rich musical culture. Among other things, this means she’ll perform samba songs with a DJ scratching records and a keyboardist playing the kind of synth parts you might associate with Zero 7. Although she’s unquestionably the star of the show, her music gives a lot of space for her ace band to improvise and experiment. The new Caravana Sereia Bloom features more sparse arrangements than ever before, but it’s also the most diverse set of tunes Céu has yet released, ranging from fairly straightforward ska to Os Mutantes–style tropicalia. My local Starbucks suddenly seems more interesting.
CÉU: Belly Up, Wednesday, June 20, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20 advance; $22 day of sale.