Bebel Gilberto: Daddy's girl

Bebel Gilberto left Brazil to escape her family name. Two albums on, she hopes she has done so, she tells Fiona Sturges
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"I'm a very passionate person: I can fall in love in a second," the diminutive Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto reveals over mid-afternoon brunch near her apartment in New York's East Village. "When it came to working on these songs, I really had to block that out. I had to be in love with my work and nothing else," She pauses, takes a sip of coffee and ponders over this for a while. "I think that was good for me though. I spend too much time with my head in the clouds."

"I'm a very passionate person: I can fall in love in a second," the diminutive Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto reveals over mid-afternoon brunch near her apartment in New York's East Village. "When it came to working on these songs, I really had to block that out. I had to be in love with my work and nothing else," She pauses, takes a sip of coffee and ponders over this for a while. "I think that was good for me though. I spend too much time with my head in the clouds."

We are talking about Gilberto's self-titled second album, the follow-up to her hugely successful debut Tanto Tempo, which sold more than a million copies worldwide. Like its predecessor, Bebel Gilberto is a pristine blend of bossa nova, jazz and contemporary dance grooves and comes with the kind of lazy sensuality that will, if all goes according to plan, make it a sure-fire summer hit.

Gilberto may be small in stature but she's a woman of giant gestures. As she talks she bats the air with her hands and lets out great belly laughs. It's not often that you find an interviewee so ready to divulge her innermost secrets. When she's not deliberating over her sprawling social life - recently she went to a party given by Lou Reed and to another hosted by the film director Pedro Almodovar - she's breathlessly dissecting her love life. She tells me that she's dating a young doctor at the moment, though she's determined to keep her options open.

At 38, fame has arrived late for Gilberto, though she comes with an impressive pedigree. Her father Joao Gilberto, known as "O Mito" ("The Legend") in his native Brazil, is the famously reclusive singer credited with inventing the laid-back bossa nova sound along with his songwriting partner Antonio Carlos Jobim. Her mother, Miucha, is a well-known Brazilian singer while her step-mother Astrud Gilberto is the voice behind the bossa nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema", which was written by Jobim and produced by Joao Gilberto.

Making the second album, Gilberto says, was a very different experience to making the first. "I had to start really organising when I was going to write, which I've never had to do before. I was on tour for nearly three years and managing my life in different ways. There's a whole structure that I never had before, because I've always been very independent. I know that right now I cannot afford to just disappear. Knowing that brings a kind of pressure."

Gilberto has lived in New York since 1991 when she moved from Rio de Janeiro, clutching a few clothes, some family photos and her passport. "When first I came here my English didn't really exist," she recalls. "So I studied English and worked on my music. I made money doing modelling, babysitting and a bit of waitressing. I started playing shows in local bars for $100 a night. It was really hard because in New York there are about 300 talented people on each block."

Gilberto released two albums in Brazil during her early twenties, both of which were moderately successful. "I like to think I was more of a cult success. A lot of my songs, such as "Preciso Dizer Que Te Amo", were re-recorded by other artists and were hits, so I knew I was a good songwriter."

Gilberto says her ultimate goal was to put Brazilian music on the map. "I didn't want to hear anyone again say 'This is great Mexican music that you're playing.' On a more personal level, I simply wanted to record an album and put it out."

Curiosity surrounding Gilberto's exotic and wilfully eclectic sound brought the likes of David Byrne and Arto Lindsay to her shows. It was through a one-off project with the ex-Deee Lite DJ Towa Tei that she met the Croatian pianist-turned-producer Mitar Subotic, otherwise known as Suba, her collaborator on Tanto Tempo. Sadly he died in a studio fire shortly before the album was released.

If there's one thing Gilberto clearly craves, it's the acceptance of others. "The best thing now is that I'm getting some recognition," she beams. "It's very rewarding because I have people coming up to me and saying they love my music and people naming their babies Bebel. Isn't that incredible?"

Is approval from her family important? She pauses. "Yes and no. If they're happy then it makes me happy. But why should I compromise?" Later, Gilberto reveals that she hasn't spoken to her father in months. "It's a regular thing we go through," she says matter-of-factly. "We fight, we don't speak for a while, we make up. It happens in all families." Still, she concedes she left Brazil, in part, to escape her family name.

"In Brazil I've sold 40,000 albums, which is not that much considering how big the market is. I think there's the whole thing out there that I'm the daughter of Joao." Even in New York, she is still plagued by her father's fans. "Last year, I had [the drum'n'bass DJ] A Guy Called Gerald opening my shows," she tells me. "After a couple of nights my road manager says 'Bebel, people are complaining, they say they don't want to see this guy. They are your father's fans and that's not what they're expecting.' It was hilarious. Sometimes whole families come. The parents are fans of my father's and the kids are into what I'm doing. And you know, that's when I'm at my most proud, proud to be a Gilberto."

'Bebel Gilberto' is out now on Eastwest. Gilberto plays Somerset House, London WC2 on 16 July

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