Singer releases Orgânico (“Organic”), a contemporary Brazilian music album in which she gives true dimension to the works of her partner, Tito Marcelo.
The record was produced and arranged by guitarist Victor Biglione.
As an artist, Barbara Mendes – born in the state of Minas Gerais and raised in Rio – is a world citizen. Few Brazilian singers have Barbara’s international resume. She refined her vocal skills at music school in New York before touring the world singing jazz, blues, pop, and the Brazilian music she learned “since samba is samba,” in festivals and clubs. It’s no coincidence that Roberto Menescal, the godfather of Bossa Nova and author of the 1961 classic O Barquinho (“The Little Boat”), invited her to be the solo vocalist of his (yet unreleased) recordings of English versions. His album is expected to be released in 2019, by a Spanish label.
But to paraphrase Russian author Lev Tolstoy, to be a universal artist, sometimes one needs only to talk about one’s own village. And Barbara’s village is Brazil – specifically, the private life she shares with Tito Marcelo, a composer from the state of Pernambuco, whose repertoire Barbara’s voice gives life to in Orgânico, the album the singer recorded between 2017 and 2018 for release in her native Brazil, and now reaching the market.
Produced by guitarist Victor Biglione, the Argentine musician who found his musical homeland in Brazil, Orgânico is Barbara Mendes’ most universal work. As another wordsmith, Mato Grosso poet Manoel de Barros observed, our backyard can sometimes be wider than the whole world. In Orgânico, Tito Marcelo’s interpreter sings contemporary Brazilian music with a universal accent, even though the sounds and senses of Brazil are entwined throughout the entire production.
It was in her own backyard that Barbara Mendes reaped the fruits of Tito Marcelo’s labor of 10 years. He is a singer-songwriter, born in Recife, Pernambuco, in 1974 – two years after Barbara’s arrival in the world – and musically raised in Brasilia. Tito has been composing since 2010. He has recorded three albums. The latest one, O futuro ligeiro da demora (“Delay’s fast future”), came out independently in 2016 and opened doors and ears to Tito Marcelo’s music, as more of a singer-songwriter than a composer per se. But it’s Orgânico that rounds off the composer’s repertoire, because this record has Barbara Mendes’ harmonious and intelligent voice to clear the way through the complex harmonic paths of songs such as the ballad Escárnio (“Scorn”), one of the 11 compositions in the songbook.
Orgânico is Barbara Mendes’ first album in Brazil in ten years, after Nada pra depois (“Nothing for later”), released in 2009. She has recorded and released several albums exclusively outside Brazil. Orgânico is also the natural sequel to O futuro ligeiro da demora, since it marks the flow of Tito Marcelo’s most recent production as a composer.
There are no re-recordings or covers in the repertoire, only new, recently written songs. Some, as a matter of fact, are so current they seem to have been written last week. This can be seen, for example, in the verses of Respiração (“Breath”), the album’s opening song, which tells of modern loneliness like an anguished cry hanging over today’s heavy atmosphere.
There are songs and then there are moments. And there are songs that match moments, as the poet from Minas Gerais Fernando Brant said. Orgânico bursts with happiness of the musical marriage of Barbara Mendes’ voice and Tito Marcelo’s compositions. It’s interesting that, while she intimately coexists with this compulsively creative composer, Barbara had never imagined singing her companion’s songs. The idea of the record arose naturally, organically, starting at a concert she was in with Victor Biglione. When she found herself singing one of Tito´s compositions, Barbara saw the light. There was a whole unexplored territory to be discovered by an assured, harmonious singer, hungry for good songs. And everything flowed so well at Roberto Alemão’s home studio in Jardim Botânico that an EP recording session turned into an album. Recording took a year – from September of 2017 to September of 2018, with pauses to develop the repertoire, and personal matters
The first song recorded was Degelo (“Thaw”). It chronicles a love story as a duet by Barabara and Tito’s, becoming progressively more passionate, including Marcos Nimrichter’s evocative accordion tango chords.
Degelo is the only song in the record in which Tito Marcelo sings, although the composer is there as a musician, playing steel guitar in Degelo, and in Recalques (“Repressions”). Recalques is a ballad that stands out in Orgânico’s repertoire with its enticing refrain, and Barbara’s spoken-word – with a softness that distinguishes it from rap’s rhythms – to emphasize the message of Tito’s lyrics.
“Orgânico is a record with strong lyrics,” Barbara points out, mentioning as one of many examples the lyrics of O Bem do Mal (“The Good of Evil”), a song that talks about, in an Africanized 12/8 beat, pain, loss, and victory, and is part of the record’s emotional inventory. To highlight the power of the lyrics, the choice was to record the album with an organic sound, based on touches of steel guitar (played by producer Victor Biglione), bass (also by Biglione) and percussion and drums (led by Roberto Alemão).
With this elegant sound available, it was up to Barbara Mendes to find her own intimate and personal register for Tito’s songs, especially since some are similarly inspired by intimate and personal events, such as Raro e Comum (“Rare and Common”), inspired by the composer’s mother. “I’ve found my own voice,” rejoices the singer. Her broad international resume, which taught her to revere muse Elis Regina in world-wide tributes, also helped Barbara Mendes find a blues tone in Feras Raras (“Rare Beasts”), Orgânico’s closing song.
Anyone who listens to Orgânico and notices the coordination between singer and composer may imagine that the musical marriage is long-standing. But the fact is that Barbara Mendes and Tito Marcelo have been together, in music and in life, for a relatively short time. In 2011, when he was still living in Brasília and recording the first of his three albums (Frágil verde, força de quebrar – “Frail green, breaking strength”), Tito Marcelo accepted a friend’s recommendation and invited Barbara to sing the duet in Perdido pra lua (“Lost to the moon”). But they didn’t meet while recording the song or the clip (available on YouTube). Their first meeting only happened in 2014, and their friendship turned into romance. Barbara Mendes and Tito Marcelo have been living together since May of 2015, and, in a manner of speaking, have officialized their union with Orgânico.
In the record, songs like the bolero-esque bossa Águas Más (“Bad Waters”) show that the union is going strong. Orgânico is a city music record, but it also explores rural Brazil, evoqued without clichés in Santa D’Água (“Water Saint”). In Por Onde Passa o Sol (“Where the Sun Passes”), a composition introduced by Flavio Guimarães’ harmonica. Tito Marcelo builds a rural scenery, without falling into the more trivial architecture of sertanejo (Brazilian rural music). Desértico (“Deserted”) completes the rural trilogy. In it, the aridness is internal, because the composer writes about the existential void. Barbara’s vocals at the end of the song showcase her freedom, ranging from jazz, blues to the most sophisticated Brazilian music.
In Orgânico, her singing is free from convention and ties to the musical market. Finding her own voice through Tito Marcelo’s songbook, Barbara Mendes sings contemporary Brazilian music as a singer of the world, a citizen aware of her self-assured choices since the 1990’s. Just ask Eumir Deodato, also a musical world citizen, what the pianist thinks of Barbara Mendes, and you’ll hear an enthusiastic answer about the singer with whom he has shared stages and studios abroad.
Orgânico is a carefully cultivated fruit, reaped in Barbara Mendes’ universal village. It is the reflection of the harmony of the personal and musical union with Tito Marcelo. But it is also the individual growth of a singer who has known how pave her own way.