Wanda Sa: One Of The Last Links To Bossa Nova There's very little nostalgia in the Brazilian singer's work. She's just a flat-out amazing performer who's been amazing for a long, long time, whether people were paying attention or not.
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Wanda Sa: One Of The Last Links To Bossa Nova

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Wanda Sa: One Of The Last Links To Bossa Nova

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Wanda Sa: One Of The Last Links To Bossa Nova

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The Brazilian singer and guitarist Wanda Sa is performing several nights this week in New York City. They are her first U.S. performances since 1999. Critic Tom Moon says the shows are a chance to experience one of Brazil's best-kept musical secrets.

TOM MOON: If somebody asked me to pick one living singer who deserves much wider recognition, without hesitation I would say Wanda Sa.

(Soundbite of song, "Mar Azul")

Ms. WANDA SA (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: That's from Wanda Sa's debut album, "Vagamente." She recorded it in 1964, when she was 19 years old. It was the year saxophonist Stan Getz did his memorable version of "The Girl From Ipanema," helping to make bossa nova an international sensation.

In Brazil, this triggered sudden demand for new talent. Wanda Sa had this distinctively breathy, easygoing style and a knack for picking great songs. Plus, she came up among a group of young songwriters and musicians who were frequent guests at the home of the form's compositional genius, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

On her debut, she introduced a song that's one of his most admired ballads.

(Soundbite of song "Inutil Paisagem")

Ms. SA: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: Somehow, in all the attention surrounding bossa nova, that first Wanda Sa record, with its photo of the artist lazily toting her guitar along the beach, got overlooked. It's become one of those lost classics, known mostly to DJs and connoisseurs.

The singer and guitarist didn't exactly help her cause. After making a few more records in Brazil and the U.S., she dropped out of sight.

(Soundbite of song "Inutil Paisagem")

Ms. SA: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: In 1969, Wanda Sa married the gifted songwriter Edu Lobo and devoted herself to her family. She says now that she wasn't prepared for the demands of the music business and was perfectly happy to walk away. Crucially, though, she didn't stop singing.

In the 1990s, she made a slow, cautious return to performing, after reconnecting with the great songwriter Roberto Menescal, who'd been her very first guitar teacher when she was 13. Here's the two of them on a disc released in 2006, doing a lazy, much more chilled-out version of the title track from her debut.

(Soundbite of song "Vagamente")

Ms. SA: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: In a way, Wanda Sa reminds me of a Brazilian Bettye Lavette, a singer who, despite working in relative obscurity, somehow kept alive the basic underpinnings of an important genre.

Hearing her later work, it's clear that Wanda Sa has continued to develop as both a singer and a musician. Check out her acoustic guitar on this Jobim classic. She's all business, snapping out an exacting rhythm that serves as the tune's foundation.

(Soundbite of song "Chega de Saudade")

Ms. SA: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: And then, on top, Wanda Sa sings like she's floating.

Ms. SA: (Singing in foreign language)

MOON: There's something else, too. In bossa nova, very few of the top female singers had long careers. At 66, Wanda Sa probably deserves notice as one of the last links to an amazing era.

But listen to the spirit behind her notes, that dazzling poise. There's very little nostalgia in her game. She's just a flat-out amazing singer who's been amazing for a long, long time, whether people were paying attention or not.

(Soundbite of song "Chega de Saudade")

Ms. SA: (Singing in foreign language)

NORRIS: Our critic is Tom Moon. Vanda Sa is performing this week at Birdland in New York City.

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