SCOTT SIMON, host:
Some Americans know musician Seu Jorge from his roll as Knockout Ned in the 2002 Brazilian film City of God. Others may have first met him this way.
(Soundbite of movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)
Mr. SEU JORGE:(Actor, Musician): (Singing in Brazilian)
SIMON: That's Seu Jorge acting and singing, David Bowie's tunes in the movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Mr. Jorge follows a long samba line of Brazilian singer/songwriters who've become well known far beyond the beaches of Brazil from Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, and Gilberto Gil to Gal Costa, Maria Beth�nia and Ellis Regina. Seu Jorge's latest album is called Cru, it means raw in Portuguese. He's just begun his North American tour. Seu Jorge joins us from the Argo network in New York City and he's also joined by his interpreter, Tracy Mann(ph). Welcome to you both.
Ms. TRACY MANN (Interpreter): Thank you.
Mr. JORGE: Hi.
SIMON: I'm told you brought your guitar with you.
Mr. JORGE: Yeah.
SIMON: May we hear something? Something from Cru?
Mr. JORGE:(Actor, Musician): (Singing in Brazilian)
SIMON: Thank you so much, Mr. Jorge, that was just beautiful. The song is called Tive Razao, which translates to I was right. Could we talk about the way you grew up? For those of us who first perhaps saw you in City of God, which is a magnificent depiction of life in the favelas, and you grew up in neighborhoods like that.
Mr. JORGE: (Through translator) I was born in the neighborhood, it's about 45 kilometers from the center of Rio, called Bayforhas(ph). It's not geographically a slum, but it is a very poor neighborhood somewhat similar to what you see in City of God. But I had a lot of luck because I had a very good mother and a very good father. There was a lot of love in our house and there were always friends around. I knew I wanted to be a musician but it took me until I reached the age of 20 to actually become a professional musician. And I didn't start playing music with the decision to be a professional musician, but I thought it was a way to be more accepted and to make friends, because let's face it, when you arrive with a guitar under your arm and you start playing, you're always able to attract a crowd.
SIMON: What do you remember? And do any of those experiences ever make it into your songs?
Mr. JORGE: (Through translator) Art always has a strong social role. I try to show goodwill and happiness. If there's a heaven and a hell that exists actually in the relations between human beings, we try to be better humans and on the road to heaven we can't devalue humanity or we have serious problems.
SIMON: Brazilian music is popular all over the world, but I wonder if a producer ever tries to induce you to do a song or half a song in English? The idea is that it just increases it's marketability.
Mr. JORGE:(Through translator) Of course singing in English is a strategy. Everybody wants to be a success in America and to communicate to the English-speaking public. I see the big problems with producers in Brazil is the intention to produce very sophisticated tracks and this tends to eliminate some of the sense of purpose of heart, of emotion of the music. Our rhythms of Matakasu(ph) samba are roots music. I think that this roots language can translate into an universal language. Bob Dylan, for example, can write a very super simple song that is sophisticated in its simplicity just with the voice and the harmonica and the guitar, he writes songs that play to the heart and this is what my intention is in my work.
SIMON: I want to go back to your CD a bit. An unexpected selection you have on here, a cover tune that we think of as an Elvis Presley song called Don't.
Mr. JORGE: (Singing) If you think that this is just a game I'm playing, if you think that I don't mean every word I'm singing, don't, don't...
(Through translator) In fact it was my French producer, a really incredible gringo, who selected this song. His idea was that black artists had really ransomed their art to Elvis, but Elvis in his own way was immensely black. His singing was black, his dancing was black, and really he gave back to blacks the art that he usurped from them. The producer thought it was very interesting for a black Brazilian to interpret this song as it was always meant to be a black song.
(Singing): ...don't, please don't.
SIMON: Could we finish up with a song that you would like to perform that's from your CD?
Mr. JORGE:(Through translator) I'd like to dedicate this song to my daughter, Flora Maria(ph). It was written by Robert Chino Baroncia(ph), who's a great king of harmony and a wonderful composer from Menajarize(ph), and I dedicate this to my daughter and to all of you listening and thank you very much.
(Singing in Brazilian)
SIMON: Thank you so much. I know you're on a North American tour. Is there anything you're looking forward to seeing that you haven't seen before?
Mr. JORGE: (Through translator) I don't have much time, but I would like to see more happy people, not so many worried faces, and excuse me for speaking this way, but I would really like to see more happiness here, more self-confidence and taking pleasure in the success that the United States has rightfully worked hard to earn. So I wish more of this happiness for everyone listening here to me today and hope to be with you again.
SIMON: Mr. Jorge, thank you very much.
Mr. JORGE: Thank you.
SIMON: Speaking with us from the Argo network in New York City, Seu Jorge. His interpreter has been Tracy Mann. Mr. Jorge is in the middle of a North American tour. And to hear three more songs, you can come to our website, NPR.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
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