Discussing Brazilian Music with Mia Doi Todd

By 07 June, 2011

We’re always looking for an excuse to talk about Brazilian music on Sounds and Colours, so with the impeding release of Red Hot + Rio 2, a compilation of covers of Brazilian songs from the 60s and 70s, we thought we’d ask a few international musicians for their thoughts on music from Brazil. In this first article we talk to Mia Doi Todd, a musician from Los Angeles, California.

As an introduction to Mia Doi Todd’s music, here is the video to her song “Open Your Heart”, directed by visionary film-maker Michel Gondry:

First off, when did you become interested in Brazilian music, and what were the artists that first made an impression?
I had a copy of the Tropicalia compilation (Brazil Classics Vol. 1: Beleza Tropical) that David Byrne put out in the 90s. I loved it and listened to it over and over again. Caetano Veloso was my first Brazilian music hero.

What was it about the music that appealed to you? As well as the songs and the music are there other aspects, such as the production, instruments, attitude, etc., that you found particularly interesting?
Brazilian music has brought together so many elements (African rhythms, European instruments and chordal structures, American jazz and rock) and forged something completely unique. The Tropicalia movement was such an enormous burst of creativity. There is a freedom and creativity in Brazilian music that inspires me. The chords and melodies are often far more complicated and nuanced than in music from the US, and the singers really sing, using their voices softly, fully and experimentally with a wide vocal range and lots of feeling. There is often beautiful poetry in the lyrics and many references to nature.

Do you think any of these have had an influence on how you personally create music?
My new record Cosmic Ocean Ship was greatly influenced by Brazilian music, rhythmically and in the way I use my voice. The first track “Paraty” (see video below) is about a beach town in Brazil. In that song, I try to convey the beautiful feeling of being on the beach and and walking in the jungle there.

On Red Hot + Rio 2 you cover a song from Clube da Esquina (“Um Girassol Da Cor Do Seu Cabelo”). Why did you decide to cover this particular song?
I was in France for my birthday last year and was far from my family and friends back in Los Angeles. I learned the song and recorded a demo version that day to send to my loved ones as a kind of birthday party in absentia. To me, the song is about longing and separation and mortality. The lyrics ask “Solar wind, starfish, earth, sun, sunflower, do you want to still want to live with me?”

Would you be able to name one particular album that you would recommend to someone as an introduction to Brazilian music?
Milton Nascimento [e Lô Borges] Clube Da Esquina is a great introduction to Brazilian music. Beautiful singing, beautiful songs, lyrics, arrangements…

This is “Canto de Iemanja”, an afro-samba cover which appears on Mia’s album Cosmic Ocean Ship and Red Hot + Rio 2:

And have you ever been to Brazil?
I’ve been to Brazil two times for about two months altogether. I played a few shows in Sao Paulo and Rio and met many great musicians. I was able to travel around the country a bit and appreciate nature and so much music and dancing. I look forward to returning.

Mia’s latest album Cosmic Ocean Ship was released on May 17th 2011 by City Zen Records. The album is available to buy from Amazon, iTunes and the Mia Doi Todd website.

Red Hot + Rio 2 featuring Mia’s covers of “Canto da Iemanja” and “Um Girassol Da Cor Do Seu Cabelo” (with Jose Gonzalez) will be released on June 28th.

Many thanks to Mia for the interview! You should really check out her music. She is very, very good, and we’re not just saying that!

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