Interview: Sergio Mendes
Mon, 23 Jun 2008 14:29:51
It's a terrifying scene. An established musician fighting to stay relevant in changing times enlists the help of contemporary chart toppers who slather the once respectable artist in layers of cheese meant to make them palatable for today's fast food-craving youth. Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth. It takes a true master to mix new elements into classic recipes without letting them overpower the original flavor. Luckily Sergio Mendes is just such a master, and he's cooked up a hearty second helping of pop musician-assisted tunes with his new album Encanto.
The Brazilian jazz great first employed the formula on 2006's Timeless. After working with producer will.i.am for a song on the Black Eyed Peas' mega-hit album Elephunk, will re-approached Mendez as a fan of his music, offering to produce an album for the legendary musician. The collaboration featured guest appearances from a number of contemporary musicians including John Legend, Q-Tip and Justin Timberlake, and helped to introduce Mendes to a whole new generation of fans.
Now back with Encato, he's once again called in the help of pop musicians, but this time he's added a decidedly international flavor to the mix using singers from Italy, Columbia, Brazil and the U.S. With the recently released album helping to further extend his musical legacy, we were lucky enough to speak with the Grammy-winning performer. He shared with us his continued passion for creating music, insights into his creative process and how he stays connected to what's hot on the world's streets.
You've been making music for so long now. Do you feel that same creative drive now as when you first started?
I do. It's exciting to still be working, and to be working with people from different generations, countries and cultures. Brazilian music is the music that I grew up with; this music is in my blood.
You can hear that in the songs themselves. This is your second album working with will.i.am. How did you first get together?
I met him when he came to my house and said he was a big fan. I helped him on his album Elephunk. I played the cut, and after that, I had the idea of recording and reintroducing the Brazilian classics to a whole new generation. So I invited him to co-produce with me and we did Timeless, which did very well all over the world. This time, he only co-produced three tracks with me. He was busy with other things. I went to Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, and Bahia. It was a full circle kind of thing. I saw my old friends, and I used percussionists from Rio and Bahia. I also have guests from different parts of the world. I have a great rapper from Italy called Jovanotti, and Juanes, who is like the number one Spanish singer. They all came to the party to celebrate Brazilian Music. I even have Lani Hall, who was my first singer, and Herb who was the founder of A&M Records. That's what makes the album so important to me. The fact that I've been working with all these young people like Fergie, but also with people like Herb Alpert, Lani, Natalie Cole, Jovanatti and Juanes. It's a celebration of Brazilian music.
It really does feel celebratory. Did you go into recording sessions with music written or did you do it all in the studio?
I had some ideas of songs, and then down there, the songs came to be. Just being there was very inspirational to me. I haven't made an album down there in a long time.
Do you feel an instant connection when you go home to Brazil?
It's an instant connection, absolutely. I go there every year, at least twice a year. I'm in constant contact with people, songwriters, etc.
When you went in to work on this record, did you have any specific sounds you were looking to try and incorporate?
Definitely. One of the important things in Brazilian music is the diversity. The diversity and the melodical diversity, so I wanted to explore the percussion a lot. I think you hear that in all the songs, like "Morning in Rio," or the songs I did in Bahia, "Odo-Ya" and "Funky Bahia." That part is so important because the music in Bahia and Rio are so different.
How did you decide which songs you were actually going to put on this album?
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