Cibelle: Brazil to Brick Lane

With Sao Paulo's late-night bars as her training ground, the multi-talented singer Cibelle is ready for anything, says Tim Cumming
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The Independent Culture

"I was singing in tiny bars every night. I had to sing everything, all sorts of music, and that makes you stretch more." The Brazilian singer Cibelle is talking in a bar just north of Brick Lane, in east London, where she has lived between trips back to her native Sao Paulo for the past three years. A star of the Brazilian new wave, she joins the likes of Celso Fonseca and Bebel Gilberto, both of whom are, like Cibelle, signed to the small Belgian-Brazilian label Ziriguiboom.

"I was singing in tiny bars every night. I had to sing everything, all sorts of music, and that makes you stretch more." The Brazilian singer Cibelle is talking in a bar just north of Brick Lane, in east London, where she has lived between trips back to her native Sao Paulo for the past three years. A star of the Brazilian new wave, she joins the likes of Celso Fonseca and Bebel Gilberto, both of whom are, like Cibelle, signed to the small Belgian-Brazilian label Ziriguiboom.

The label released the 26-year-old singer's debut last summer to wide acclaim: critics were dazzled by her trained but untethered vocal style and her seductive, quirky combination of bossa, electronica, jazz and trip hop. Since the album's release, Cibelle has put together a diverse new band and, after sporadic gigging in Europe, will conclude a short UK tour with two nights at the Jazz Café in Camden.

Her musical background is eclectic. She studied classical piano, music theory and vocal technique - including Indian singing. When she was 17, she started finding out about Brazilian music for the first time through her first boyfriend. But a parallel career as a model and acting-jobs in theatre and TV brought an end to her formal studies. She pursued music as a nocturnal venture instead. "At that time I was an actress who liked to go out and sing, from one bar to another, from 10 at night till three in the morning."

By 1998, she was on the verge of a demo deal when she met the Serbian émigré producer Mitar Subitic, aka Suba, backstage at a Sao Paulo jam. Suba's production on Bebel Gilberto's Tanto Tempo, one of the biggest-selling world-music albums since Buena Vista Social Club, and his own Sao Paulo Confessions redefined the landscape of new Brazilian music. Cibelle went to Suba's studio to contribute her coolly intimate vocals to his multi-layered collage of sounds. Confessions rapidly became an underground classic, and went on to sell a million copies worldwide. Tragedy struck soon after its release, when a fire broke out in Suba's apartment and he died trying to retrieve some tapes.

Almost four years would pass before Cibelle released her own album, working with the Brazilian producer Apollo 9 in Sao Paulo, and members of Morcheeba in London. Her self-titled debut built on the work she had begun with Suba on Confessions, and, with its deft melding of styles, cut a new kind of vernacular on the Brazilian scene. The languid, zero-gravity landscapes evoked in her music, with vocals in Portuguese and English, marked her out as a rising star on the international scene, gaining her a nomination in this year's World Music Awards.

But Cibelle is uncomfortable with the "world" label stickered firmly over her name. "I'd like to get out of that box," she says. "In Germany, I'm filed under "pop". In America, it's "electronica". This is one of the only countries in the world with this category."

Her current musical tastes reflect her relocation to London. "The last album was made in Brazil, and you can smell Brazil in it. I'm not there any more, so I'll put whatever comes into it. And right now, the next album looks like it's going to be electronica."

The likes of Four Tet are a current obsession - a collaboration has been mooted - along with rockabilly, gospel, psychedelia and an array of surf guitar and Hawaiian music on vinyl. She's also an enthusiastic digital explorer, armed with a camera and editing software, and plans to add projections to the amorphous, improvisatory music-making she presides over on stage.

"Some songs are tight, but the spirit of improvisation is always there," she says of the sampling the band use live. Her description of a recent recording session offers a glimpse into the process of finishing a song: "We started jamming and I felt a story coming on and told it. I just sang the feelings going through the character's head. Whether it goes on the next album, I don't know. I might change my mind."

Despite a growing international profile, the spirit of moving from bar to bar, following the spirit of Sao Paulo's late-night jams, seems to be the guiding force in her career, rather than the pursuit of stardom. "I think it's important to move on with music," she says. "I want to dig a little deeper and see how it works for me."

Cibelle plays the Jazz Café, London N1, tonight and tomorrow

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