LIANE HANSEN, host:
Brazilian singer and composer Luciana Souza never seems to have known a day without music. She's the daughter of musicians, and bossa nova provided the soundtrack of her childhood. Souza made her first record at age of 3.
She spent most of her adult life in the United States where she received a master's degree in jazz studies from the New England Conservatory. She's written songs inspired by poets Elizabeth Bishop and Pablo Neruda, and others inspired by the music of her homeland.
Luciana Souza's latest CD is called "The New Bossa Nova."
(Soundbite of song, "Waters of March")
Ms. LUCIANA SOUZA (Singer; Composer): (Singing) A stick, a stone. It's the end of the road. It's the rest of a stump. A little alone.
HANSEN: It's no surprise to find a classic by Antonio Carlos Jobim on Luciana Souza's new CD, but the album also include songs by composers you'd never associate with bossa nova - composers such as Brian Wilson.
(Soundbite of song, "God Only Knows")
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) I may not always love you but as long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it I'll make you so sure about it. God only knows what I'd be without you.
HANSEN: Luciana Souza joins us from our studios at NPR West.
Welcome to the program.
Ms. SOUZA: Thank you, Liane.
HANSEN: What did you hear in a Beach Boys song that convinced you it would work with the bossa nova interpretation?
Ms. SOUZA: I felt that the poetry - the prayer that the song is was lifted by this sort of constant b of the bossa nova in this, sort of, meditative quality of this music and just, sort of, brought the poetry out and I thought, why not? And it's on the record.
(Soundbite of song "God Only Knows")
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) God only knows what I'd be without you. God only knows what I'd be without you.
HANSEN: I should mention, you also include songs by Sting, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, so it's obvious that you've been inspired by American popular music. But I wonder have you always heard it through a Brazilian filter?
Ms. SOUZA: Oh, not at all. I mean, what I have printed in my mind, if you take, for example, the Beach Boys song, it's that arrangement, you know, with the vocals and sort of this instrumental part that starts, you know, the sort of introduction. The goal of this whole record was to present this music in a new way, hence "The New Bossa Nova," to really just present this poetry in this new way. And in sitting down alone with these songs, I just really felt that they sort of fit and - but I don't think Leonard Cohen was thinking bossa nova when he wrote "Here It Is" or - nor was Joni Mitchell thinking of it when she wrote "Down To You."
(Soundbite of song "Down To You")
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) You go down to the pick up station craving warmth and beauty. You settle for less than fascination a few drinks later you're not so choosy. When the closing lights strip off the shadows on this strange new flesh you've found. Clutching the night to you like a fig leaf, you hurry to the blackness and the blankets to lay down an impression and your loneliness.
HANSEN: This song "Down To You" begins the CD and, I mean, you seemed to have a lot to do with Joni Mitchell. You're on another project, pianist Herbie Hancock's tribute to Joni Mitchell "River: The Joni Letters."
Ms. SOUZA: Yeah. I tend to think that Joni Mitchell is inevitable for somebody my age. You know, I'm 40 years old - 41 - and grew up listening and shaped by her sounds - the sound of her voice. Listening to a songwriter like Joni Mitchell means you're entering that universe. And that's what I would like for people when they listen to my voice or listen to the songs I choose to sing to be able to enter this universe and sort of travel with you and be transformed by you and be able to see the world in a different way. And I think that's what all these songwriters provide is sort of a window to something new and yet something old and familiar and universal and a connection, I think.
HANSEN: Yeah, there is a connection. There's actually kind of a little bit of a thread. The producer of your CD, as well as the producer of the Herbie Hancock release, is your husband, Larry Klein.
Ms. SOUZA: Right.
HANSEN: He used to be married to Joni Mitchell.
Ms. SOUZA: That's right.
HANSEN: Now did that ever get a little awkward?
Ms. SOUZA: Well not for me because, obviously, so much time has gone by, you know. Although Larry was married to Joni Mitchell for 10 years it happened a decade and a half ago, you know? So there's been a lot of other things that happened in between and a lot of stories. But I think for me as an artist - the same happens with James Taylor. When I think of these voices and these artists, what I'm interested in and what stories are they telling.
HANSEN: You do James Taylor song "Never Die Young" and not only that but you sing with James Taylor on that tune. How did you convince him, first of all, that his song could be done in a bossa nova style and then to get him to sing it with you?
Ms. SOUZA: I think when he's heard about the idea he didn't take much convincing. He's also very open mind and he loves Brazilian music. He loves Brazil. He had, I think, a great epiphany when he was down in Brazil in the mid-'80s. He even wrote a beautiful song called "Only a Dream in Rio." But I think James is a very curious mind, so he was just curious and he showed up and was so generous with us. It was just beautiful. I - just the artistry, the preparedness, and he knew his music and he was very curious about how we had treated the harmony and the rhythms and how well it fit into this bossa nova sort of dressing.
(Soundbite of song "Never Die Young")
Mr. JAMES TAYLOR (Singer): (Singing) Oh, yes, other hearts were broken. I know other dreams ran dry but our golden ones sail on and on to another land beneath another sky.
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) Let other hearts be broken.
Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) Let other dreams ran dry.
Mr. TAYLOR and Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) But our golden ones sail on and on to another land beneath another sky.
HANSEN: How was that you were able to sift through, I mean, all these music and decide which songs might be appropriate, not only musically but lyrically because, you know, many of these songs it - they seem like they have sadness at their core or something lost or longing to them.
Ms. SOUZA: I think you touched on it. I think a lot of the bossa nova lyrics have this sort of spirit what we called saudade, which is in sort an untranslatable world - word. It's a sense of melancholy, of longing of - and it's a sadness but it's a hopeful kind of sadness. Just the same sadness that one would have about love, you know. I've been destroyed by love and have built by love, but, you know, when you lose love and when you're hurting, you still have hope.
(Soundbite of song "Living Without You")
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) The milk truck hauls the sun up and the paper hits the door. The subway shakes my floor and I think about you. Time to face the dawning gray of another lonely day. It's so hard living without you. It's so hard. Baby, it's so hard. It's so hard living without you.
HANSEN: There's one song on your CD that people may or may not recognize because of what you've done with it. It's a song called "Were You Blind That Day." And the writing credits go to Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan. Now that it's the melody that's familiar, Steely Dan fans might recognize it as "Third World Man" but the lyrics are different; you've written new lyrics. How did this transformation come about?
Ms. SOUZA: We asked Walter Becker of Steely Dan to give us a song and to suggest a song of Steely Dan, you know, if he knew any. And he said we have this original lyrics to "Third World Man" that had never been recorded so why don't you take them. So these are actually the original lyrics that were never recorded.
HANSEN: You're kidding?
Ms. SOUZA: Yeah, isn't that fascinating?
HANSEN: Did Walter tell you why they didn't use those lyrics…
Ms. SOUZA: They just…
HANSEN: …the one that you use?
Ms. SOUZA: He said they just chose to write new ones. They didn't quite make it. So there's some similar parts on it and sort of the spirit is the same but maybe they're just weren't happy.
(Soundbite of song "Were You Blind That Day")
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) You faith in your disguise who lives behind those eyes. I could swear there's no one there. I saw the fireworks on the day your space were free with not one man fit to leave. Were you blind that day?
HANSEN: There is only one song on here written by you and your husband Larry Klein, "You and the Girl."
Ms. SOUZA: There was one aspect of it that we couldn't find in any of the songs which is a sort of strange triangle of this woman who's betrayed by a sort of a husband or spouse and finds herself in the relationship, staying in the relationship feeling betrayed but wanting to sort of question it and poke just like tell me everything? Tell me everything about what went on? Even though you don't want to know because you're going to hurt more.
Ms. SOUZA: There's this sort of morbid curiosity about it. So we wanted to write from that point of view - that perspective that - this woman.
(Soundbite of song "You and The Girl")
Ms. SOUZA: (Singing) Did she drink of your vainglory? Did she say a small prayer? Floating, drifting through the rain and darkness down her dark street, through her window to her bath where you and she sleeps.
HANSEN: What do you want to do next? What have you done that you haven't done yet?
Ms. SOUZA: Well, there's so many things. I'm very interested in the Chamber of Music and I'm working with Gary Snyder now who's a poet, who's based in San Francisco. So I'm setting a couple of his poems to music and writing my own music, of course, and studying classical music and listening to different things. And there's a fellow in Brazil that I'm obsessed with named Milton Nascimento who's a great singer-songwriter from the '70s and '80s. So I'm working with his music also. I don't know what's going to come out of it but there's always something.
HANSEN: And will that something always have a little touch of the Brazilian in you?
Ms. SOUZA: Oh, absolutely. I always think, Liane, that, you know, you can leave a country but it never leaves you. So I'd carry it with me, and of course, the way I look and the way I sound but there's something so deep about Brazil because our identities is so strong, you know, in terms of our heritage and what's black about us as and African and new and sort of this new world but old world also of the Portuguese colonization. So I think I carry all that with me. And although I've been distant, I've lived outside of Brazil for over 20 years, it's impossible to forget.
HANSEN: Luciana Souza's CD "The New Bossa Nova" is in stores now. She can also be heard on Herbie Hancock's "River: The Joni Letters." Both recordings are on the Verve label.
Luciana, thank you so much.
Ms. SOUZA: I thank you, Liane.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: And you can hear songs from the new CD and discover more music at npr.org/music.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
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