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Monica Vasconcelos – The Sao Paulo Tapes

What do you do with a selection of perfectly formed Brazilian songs written 50 years ago in defiance of a military dictatorship? If you are singer Monica Vasconcelos, you travel to São Paulo and invite a fine guitarist of the Joao Gilberto line (Ife Tolentino) into the studio with you. You record the songs and smuggle the secret files – now The São Paulo Tapes – back to London. Then, you lure the great Robert Wyatt out of retirement to produce the album. He’s never produced an album before but you know he will fall for this music because it is right up his street: resistance music. Dangerous, forbidden songs, carrying secret subversive messages in them. A year later, what comes out of this  encounter between Robert Wyatt, Monica Vasconcelos, a bunch of musician dudes and Brazil’s finest song poets is an album of powerful music that feels incredibly current. Uncover the secrets hidden in The São Paulo Tapes. Powerful songs addressing universal themes. Love. Freedom. Justice.

“Mônica’s record is such a moving, entertaining and educative contribution, just what’s needed to dry the tears, I think. It’s a seriously great project.”  Robert Wyatt

The São Paulo Tapes is the latest album by singer/songwriter Mônica Vasconcelos’ and features interpretations of compositions written by some of Brazil’s greatest “songpoets”, including Aldir Blanc, Chico Buarque, Ivan LIns and Caetano Veloso. “I grew up with these beautiful songs,” said Vasconcelos. “Crafted by real masters of songwriting during the dictatorship (1964/1985), under the scrutiny of censors, they have a power that transcends time and borders, I guess because they address universal themes. Love, freedom, justice. They can be joyful or sad – but they never fail to move you. “

Robert Wyatt came out of “retirement” to work with Vasconcelos for a second time and produce the album. The São Paulo Tapes features guitarist Ife Tolentino, pianist Liam Noble, Andres Lafone on bass guitar, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Marius Rodrigues on drums.

Vasconcelos has been living in the UK for two decades and has recorded seven albums to date including Hih with Robert Wyatt and Gente with Brazilian master guitarist and composer Guinga. She can also be heard singing the duet ‘Just As You Are’ with Wyatt on his album Comicopera. Vasconcelos has toured the UK with Guinga and has sung in London with Brazilian bossa nova icons João Donato and Marcos Valle. Leading her bands Nóis and Nóis 4, Vasconcelos has played support gigs for Bryan Ferry, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Joyce, Gilberto Gil and Courtney Pine. She was featured as a guest singer alongside major Brazilian stars such as Lenine, Zélia Duncaan, Ney Matogrosso and Joyce on Rio composer Alberto Rosenblit’s album De Bem Com a Vida. In the UK, she has performed at major venues such as Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, the Barbican Hall, the Jazz Café and King’s Place. She has also played a headline gig at Peter Gabriel’s Womad and performed at major UK jazz festivals such as Brecon Jazz, Chelthenham Jazz and The Sage International Jazz Festival.

In the months leading up to the album’s release, Vasconcelos will be co-hosting Arts Council funded public workshops where she will explore the lyrics and the stories behind the songs with the audience. Kings College professor David Treece, who will lead the workshops, commented, “This project builds on our shared commitment to the idea that interpreting, performing and listening to music from other times and places is a collaborative, creative activity, an act of translation in its broadest sense. And no one is better qualified to lead this process of intercultural exchange and creative collaboration than Mônica Vasconcelos, described by The Guardian as “a curator of Brazilian music, rediscovering her compatriots’ sound and reinterpreting it in a coolly individual way”.”

The São Paulo Tapes project is supported by Arts Council, England
Workshops: Sunday 24 September at the Horniman Museum and Saturday 14 October at The Vortex.
Vasconcelos is also a renowned radio presenter. She won a gold award at the 2014 New York International Radio Festivals for the documentary The Secret History of Bossa Nova, which she presented on BBC Radio 4.
Mônica Vasconcelos:


Steve Lodder on piano
Andres Lafone on bass
Yaron Stavi on double bass
Marius Rodrigues on drums
Ife Tolentino on guitar
(Photo credit: Aro Ribeiro)
And check out her new documentary about her sight difficulties and how it’s influenced her new music.
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