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LYNN NEARY, host:

Growing up in Brazil, singer Marisa Monte studied opera and fell in love with Maria Callas. But she also learned how to play the drums at Portela Samba School in Rio de Janeiro, where her father was director. As a teenager, she went to Italy to study singing, but the soft swaying sound of the samba lured her back to the rich musical roots of her homeland.

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NEARY: Monte went on to become an internationally known singer, composer and producer. This year she released two new albums, Private Intimate and Universe All Around Me. They were nominated for three Latin Grammys, and this week Universal All Around Me won best samba album.

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NEARY: Marisa Monte joins us now from member station WNYC in New York City. So good to have you with us.

Ms. MONTE: Thank you for having me. Thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here talking to you.

NEARY: Now, I know you've called these two albums your unidentical twins. What makes them so different?

Ms. MONTE: Well, they have different concepts of repertoire. One deals with the atmosphere of samba. The other one is more about my own compositions. But they are also complimentary.

NEARY: Private Intimate is the album which is the more, as the title suggests, the more personal album, I guess. The songs on this album were songs that you had written but had never recorded and then rediscovered. How did you rediscover them?

Ms. MONTE: I spent two years at home, because I had a kid, and during the first two years I decided not to travel so much. And during this period I decided to digitalize all my composition tapes that I used to record all my new songs. And while listening to them I found two or three tracks that I still wanted to record, and also I had the opportunity during this period to compose a lot with established partners like Calise Brown(ph) and Anthony Tulice(ph) and also with people that I had never worked before, like Adrianna Calcrioltu(ph) and So Gargi(ph), David Byrne, and both records are a consequence of this two years period that I spent at home.

NEARY: Let me ask you about the title song of the album, Private Intimate. You worked with Philip Glass on that song. Now, he's not an artist that you would immediately associate with Brazilian music. I wanted to play a little bit of that.

Ms. MONTE: Okay.

(Soundbite of song "Private Intimate")

NEARY: It's really interesting to me how that Philip Glass sound, almost kind of a haunting sort of echo-y sound, works so well with the Brazilian music. That surprises me.

Ms. MONTE: He's an amazing musician. So it - there's only two kinds of music, good music and bad music, and he's a good music maker. It works well with everything that he does.

NEARY: You like to work with a lot of different influences in your music, don't you?

Ms. MONTE: People in Brazil are very open, you know. I'm very - I grew up there into Brazilian culture and I got used to collaborate, to mix, to create new possibilities through mixing. It's very natural for us in Brazil, not only through the music but in all the aspects of our culture we are very open to the new true mixing.

NEARY: Now, you actually studied opera when you were younger. And although your voice does not sound operatic, I was wondering how that musical experience influences your music now.

Ms. MONTE: Yeah. It was very good for me to know my vocal opera and to know how to warm up, how to take care of my voice. But I really don't use the classical technique when I'm singing popular music, because I try to be simple, to be direct, to sing very low as you're talking, just for one person in the hearing of someone, you know, like very low, very delicate. It's a very nice way to sing.

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NEARY: Let me ask you about the other album, Universe All Around Me. This is really an homage to samba music, is it not?

Ms. MONTE: I knew that there were a huge amount of songs never recorded that were composed in the '60s and in the '50s, in the '40s. These songs are part of an oral tradition of the culture from Rio de Janeiro. So I did a lot of interviews with these old composers and also with people that would know them in the past, like sons, daughters, brothers, widows, friends. And they weren't professional musicians, professional composers. They had other professions and they used to have music as a way of celebrating life, of communion, of keeping their values, of maintaining their histories and passing them for the next generations. So it's a very peer, it's a very genuine, it's a very honest relationship with music, and I think that was very inspiring for me.

NEARY: What is one of the songs on that CD that sort of illustrates what you're just talking about?

Ms. MONTE: Perdoa meu amor, which is a song - it's the oldest song in the record, was composed in '44. It was never recorded. And it was composed by a guy that's still alive. His name is Carson Mira Vera(ph). He plays cuica, which is a traditional samba instrument, and he's 85-years-old. We can listen to them if you want. It's really beautiful.

NEARY: All right. Let's listen to that.

(Soundbite of song "Perdoa meu amor")

NEARY: How do your own compositions, which are also included on this album, along with the traditional ones, and how do they fit into this tradition?

Ms. MONTE: Yeah, getting contact with the masters, not only with their music but with their life, philosophy, with their way of facing life, I learned a lot with that. Because I think that I got inspired by the way they used to be related to music, the link of human beings and art and music.

NEARY: One of your own compositions included on the album is called Soul and Matter, in English.

(Soundbite of song "Soul and Matter")

NEARY: And I just want to read a little bit of the lyrics. I search among vague things for science. I move dozens of muscles to smile. The pores of the jasmine petals squeeze shut at the breeze that comes over them from the far side of the sea. That's a very complex lyric, it seems to me, compared to the lyrics of these other songs that you've been talking, which are the matters - they seem to be talking about much simpler things.

Ms. MONTE: Yeah, but it's something simple as well. You know, it's talking about how come everything around us, even if it looks still, it's super alive, you know, and how come everything around us is changing all the time, even if we don't notice?

(Soundbite of song "Soul and Matter")

NEARY: So there's a very contemporary sound to your arrangements, however, in that song.

Ms. MONTE: The repertoire itself sounds very traditional, but I didn't want to do a traditional samba record. I wanted to do a record that could dialogue with my other works. And I think it's a very - it sounds very classical psychedelic samba.

NEARY: You know, but I was thinking that no matter what other influences you add or arrangements you use for this music, that sound of Brazilian is music is so pure and true that that is - remains the dominant impression that you get when you listen.

Ms. MONTE: The final objective is the atmosphere, you know. It's to create an atmosphere that it's - you know when you play a record and it changes your whole day and your house gets different? That's what I'm always looking for when I'm doing music. You know, atmosphere, to do something that could involve the one that's listening. Music's really something very powerful as a way of changing, a way of communication, a way of information. It's a very powerful way.

NEARY: Well, Marisa - obrigado.

Ms. MONTE: Ah, thank you very much. Thank you very much.

NEARY: Marisa Monte. Her two new albums are Private Intimate and Universe All Around Me. You can listen to entire tracks from the albums on our Web site, npr.org.

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