The multi-Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Bebel Gilberto opens up about the records that shaped her life and musical sensibility
The Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants and Isn't She Lovely by Stevie Wonder
Secret Life of Plants was an album that I listened to over and over again. I know it by heart, all the songs, all the words. I just love it. It was this beautiful double vinyl with light green drawings and I would spend hours listening to it, looking at the cover, reading the lyrics—I was just tripping on it. It opened all the senses of both my musicality and personality. This was my favourite Stevie Wonder era.
But I’m also a fan of his older work, especially the album Isn’t She Lovely. The first time I heard it, I was five years old, at someone’s house during Christmas. Christmas was never at my parent’s house, they would never get round to organising anything. The party was at a famous actress’ house who was my mother’s friend. She was very connected and so she had the latest Stevie Wonder album. I remember hearing the song “Isn’t She Lovely,” and asking my mum what it was about and she told me it was about Stevie’s daughter, which really got me. Stevie Wonder took me to a different kind of realm when I was still a kid.
Blade Runner OST
That was a crazy moment in the Eighties! I was 13 or 14, and I remember going to see Blade Runner at this film theatre at the Copacabana beach, and it was spectacular. The soundtrack was brilliant too; I was very young and I had no idea how much a soundtrack was capable of touching my heart so deeply. I was really into films; as I didn’t have much access to any music that wasn’t my parents’ music, films were a way of discovering and absorbing new things for me. I learned a lot from Vangelis’ work on this soundtrack—it opened my mind to electronica, that would become a huge part of my own work later on in my life.
I’m a big Ridley Scott fan, I find him incredible. I must’ve watched Blade Runner like 500 times. Obviously it would have a different effect on me if I watched for the first time today, but at the time, I thought it could all be possible! When the remake came out, I didn’t want to see it. A lot of people told me that I should, but when I like something, I don’t want it revisited. The original is untouchable.
Similarly to Blade Runner, this soundtrack opened me up to a whole new style of music. They were all these wonderful Gershwin songs, rearranged by Zubin Mehta. The film Manhattan is all about love, relationships, breakups, and Manhattan, of course, which at the time I didn’t know. So these days, when I’m walking by the Hudson river sometimes, I picture scenes from the film. And Zubin Mehta really opened my heart to arrangements and strings.
João Gilberto by João Gilberto
I can’t omit Brazil when talking about the albums that changed my life, of course. This was my dad’s “white album” [in reference to The Beatles’ White Album] and it’s everything to me. I’m revisiting it a lot these days because I’m actually working on a tribute album for him.
My parents worked on this record in the early Seventies, and I was in Brazil staying with my grandmother. My parents were constantly postponing their return, it took them three years to come back. So, between the ages of five and eight, I grew up without them. And then eventually, a tape came in the mail as they wanted to make sure that I would listen to it.
There are songs on it that I want to revisit but I don’t think I’ll be able to, for example, “Izaura” which they sang together on. It had a huge impact on me. They died six months apart from each other, and when they died, I kept saying: “I don’t want to hear the word ‘guitar’ ever again in my life. Done!”. They left so much for me to deal with, it was tough. I was rebelling. But now I’ve made peace with it, especially with my dad. I’m making this album for him, revisiting the songs that used to make me cry and get really upset, and now they don’t.
Bebel will be performing at The Royal Albert Hall as part of the Latin music festival La Linea. Click here for the full festival line-up and tickets
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