Love and Identity: The Brazilian charm of Heloísa Fernandes
by: Jason A. Zwiker
May 19, 2008
What is it? The North American debut of Brazilian pianist and composer Heloísa Fernandes, a scintillating jazz musician with a flair for the hidden gems in her native land's musical history.
Why see it? Even though this São Paulo native is making waves all over Brazil with her soulful improvisations, this is the first chance to see her perform in the U.S.
Who should go? Jazz lovers of all stripes, from the avant-garde to the ethnomusicologist interested in modern takes on Brazilian melodies of long ago, will appreciate the exuberance, sensitivity, and intelligence of her performance.
Spoleto Festival USA • $30 • 1 hour • May 26 at 5 p.m.; May 26-28 at 7 p.m.; May 27, 28 at 9 p.m. • Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100
This Spoleto season marks the North American debut of an enchanting musician already well known to jazz aficionados throughout her native Brazil.
A lifelong student of music, Heloísa Fernandes has done more than master jazz standards; she has expanded her repertoire by digging down deep into the rhythms of her native land, even tapping into ethnomusicology archives for inspiration.
"Since I was a child, the folk music of my country has inspired me," she says. "When I listen to, and especially when I perform, these kinds of melodies, I fall in love with the music all over again. There is such a feeling of freedom and faith in the traditional music of the people of Brazil."
Fernandes resides in São Paulo, the largest and most ethically diverse city in Brazil, renowned for its culture, arts, and, especially, its music. She began studying piano at age five, and has earned degrees in piano performance, conducting, and composition.
Her first recording, Fruto, from Brazil's Martaca label, received rave reviews from Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil's top national newspapers, and was a Top 10 pick for the Best Jazz Albums of 2005 by PopMatters.com.
She hopes to have her follow-up, featuring bassist Zeca Assumpção and Gianluca Littera on harmonica, out by the middle of next year. For her current compositions, she has been immersing herself in her love of the traditional music of Brazil.
"The popular melodies, folk melodies, and native melodies of Brazil are the purest influence I have," she says. "I love to hear the rhythms of candomblé, baião, and maracatú. Our native history belongs to our native melodies."
It's a sensibility sure to strike a chord with Charleston: The idea of preserving the past while continuing to explore original artistic pathways. Fernandes has participated in large-scale tributes to legendary Brazilian musicians, such as the pianist Guiomar Novaes, and she has worked in styles from forró to avant-garde.
That contrast between the old and the new lends a crisp snap of freshness to her performances. What shows through most clearly is the joy she takes in performing, weaving stylistic flourishes throughout. She is by turns playful, haunting, and subtle.
Her recent research into the history of Brazilian music has focused on the 1930s-era work of poet and musicologist Mário de Andrade, who wandered through Brazil to study the songs and folklore of the country's interior.
"Mário de Andrade and his collaborators traveled to many of the cities of Brazil, studying the different ways of life and how they were expressed in music," she says. "When I listen to people singing their native songs, I learn about passion and freedom. Love and identity inspire me. The act of exploring music doesn't have an end."