Seu Jorge has overcome more in his 40-year life than most of us could ever dream of. Born into the desperate poverty of a Rio de Janeiro state favela - his brother was killed at the hands of the police brutality and Jorge spent the next few years drifting on and off the streets. The turnaround of his life would make the most audacious rags-to-riches story pale in comparison. Fast-forward twenty or so years and Jorge has not only starred in the Oscar-nominated City of God, but has become one of the country’s highest selling musicians – widely recognised as reinventing the national sound: samba. His new album, Seu Jorge & Almaz, is a collaboration with a new band, formed with three of Brazil’s most respected musicians: Pupillo, Lucio Maia and Antonio Pinto. We caught up with the man himself before his show at Camden’s Roundhouse to see talk about his new band, new album and of course; Brazil.
Dazed Digital: How would you describe your sound?
Seu Jorge: Sometimes the journalists have interesting formulas. One wrote my music was the blues from the favelas. I recognize my sound in this quote. My sound is Brazilian for sure but I don't want to relay all the Brazilian clichés of bimbos, caipirinhas and football. We're entering a new decade; the youth need to listen to new sounds.
DD: What was it like growing up in the favelas of Rio?
Seu Jorge: When I first tour the world with the Album Cru, there were many people coming to me and asking: "Is it the real life in the favelas that we see in City of God?" Actually, the life nowadays is harder, when it comes to violence and drug traffics. But I want to underline that the great majority of people living in the favelas are honest people, they have jobs, and they take care of their families and each other.
DD: Why do you think music is so ingrained into a Brazilian way of life?
Seu Jorge: I believe this happens because Brazilian people do not have access to a proper education. When given the opportunity to learn something it’s usually a verbal knowledge, and music fits into this. It is culture and knowledge and easy to obtain and available to all. Music in Brazil is the way people have to express themselves, their ideas, wishes and feelings. It is also a way to express political beliefs, like in the 60’s when music became a vehicle of protest during dictatorship.
DD: Internationally you’re known for your acting more than your singing: which do you see yourself as?
Seu Jorge: All the great artists, especially in Hollywood or in Europe, they are able to do a lot of things. They act, they sing, they can play instruments, they dance, they drive cars, motorcycles, they swim!!! So I like to consider myself as an artist and I want to have the widest range of abilities to offer to directors like Wes Anderson or producers such as Mario Caldato Jr.
DD: Where do you take your inspiration?
Seu Jorge: My inspiration comes from constant transpiration and the beauty of Brazilian woman.
DD: Why have you chosen to form a band as opposed to staying solo?
Seu Jorge: The funny thing is I didn't choose to form this band; it was the music that has chosen us. Pupillo and Lucio Maia were at Antonio Pinto's studio recording a song for the last Walter Salles' movie, Linha de Passe. They called me to sing this song and we really enjoyed playing together. Almaz is made of artists, you know, not just professional recording musicians.
DD: How did you get such a distinguished band together?
Seu Jorge: You know Lucio Maia and Pupillo come from one of the biggest bands ever in Brazil, Nação Zumbi. They are at the roots of the manguebeat from Recife, they created their own style. Antonio Pinto is a multi instrumentist and a great composer. He plays and records the piano, the drums, the bass, and the keyboards for his movie soundtracks.
DD: How did you choose the tracks on the record?
Seu Jorge: So we were in the studio recording this one song for Walter Sales movie and when it was done we started playing, you know. We had no plans for the next few days so each one of us came back with ideas and propositions. I think we choose songs we wished we had written ourselves. We recorded almost 20 songs in 8 days I think. And we just kept the ones we liked best!
DD: What music are you listening to at the moment?
Seu Jorge: I listen to very different styles of music. I'm a nostalgic of the music played in our baile, our block partys in Rio in the 80s. Tom Browne, Chicago, the Isley Borthers... I love to listen to the classics, Roy Ayers always. At the moment I'm listening to a compilation of an old African funk from the 70s and there is also this crazy groovy Arabic and Iranian stuff that DJ Nuts from Sao Paulo gave me. My iPod goes from Zeca Pagodinho to Outkast.
DD: What’s next for you?
Seu Jorge: With Almaz we just made North America this summer, we are now in Europe this autumn. So next would be Asia and Oceania I guess? We are also thinking on how to release it in Brazil because they are all starting to know about it and are reclaiming. I'm working on other projects in music as well. I'm sure I'm going to act next year also, maybe with Hollywood again who knows? And I'm very excited because Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2) is about to be released in October in Brazil. It's an ambitious action movie from Brazilian director Jose Padilha. The casting is great and I have a shocking part, featuring as a leader of a jailhouse riot! Watch out it might come soon in Europe as well.
Seu Jorge & Almaz are playing London's Roundhouse on the 17th of October, buy your ticket HERE
Photos by Eothen Alapatt