In the world music section of a Manhattan Tower Records, Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto surveys the prominent display of her debut, Tanto Tempo. She then turns to an adjacent rack. ”Ah, there’s my dad,” she smiles, pointing to CDs by guitarist, bossa nova creator, and recent Grammy winner Joao Gilberto.
How fitting that daughter and father are side by side. Since its release last April, Tanto Tempo — Bebel’s elegantly sensuous blend of bossa nova and electronica, Portuguese and English, original and classic tunes — has dominated the Billboard world chart, making it the third-biggest-selling album of Brazilian music ever. The biggest? Her father’s seminal record with saxist Stan Getz (1963’s Getz/Gilberto), which introduced us to ”The Girl From Ipanema,” sung by Joao and first wife Astrud.
Born in New York City, but raised mostly in Brazil, Bebel got an early start on stage in the mid-’70s, when the 9-year-old sang in Carnegie Hall with her mother, famed Brazilian singer Miucha (Joao’s second wife), and Getz. ”My father didn’t want to go, and sent me in his place,” she shrugs. ”I remember meeting Dizzy Gillespie, and thinking ‘Wow, I don’t know who these people are, but they seem very glamorous.”’
Music continued to be a passion, and in 1988, she released an EP of her own pop songs. But just as she was about to start on her first full-length LP in 1990, she moved from Rio, where she had a name, to New York City, where she had to make one. ”A crazy thing,” she admits. ”I worked nearly 10 years to make it happen again.” Bebel studied music, played clubs, and lent her warm, sultry vocals to David Byrne’s 1994 David Byrne, 1996’s Red Hot + Rio, and others. She even sang ”The Girl…” with Kenny G. ”What can I say? I needed the money.”
Now, with the help of techno producer Suba (who died before Tanto’s release) and DJs such as Thievery Corporation, Bebel — who will also appear on an upcoming Kinks tribute disc — has created a modern, yet timeless take on her childhood music. ”Maybe unconsciously it came out with a touch of bossa nova,” she says. ”I think my father is proud when someone else says I’m continuing his work. But it’s pretentious for me to say I’m the new bossa nova — don’t you think?”