REVIEW/ PHOTOS: Céu at the Forge (London launch for Tropix)

"Inventive and highly musical:" Céu.
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

Review: Céu 
The Forge, Camden Town. 6th April 2016. Review by Alison Bentley)

The Forge was buzzing with a mostly young, Brazilian crowd. Billed as an ‘intimate’ gig, the stage alone filled the space usually allotted to bands- and their audiences. This audience surged to the front to stand as close to the stage as possible- Céu (full name Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças) is a star in Brazil. The gig was to unveil Céu’s new album Tropix, and I was wondering how the cool electronic production would translate into a live gig. Remembering too her soft-voiced Latin duet with Herbie Hancock on his Imagine Project CD, it seemed anything could happen.

As the band opened with Rapsódia Brasilis, the electric bass subtones (Lucas Martins, who also plays on the album) wobbling up through the floor, there was a sense of both vulnerability and power. The voice was draped ethereally over the groove (perhaps a little swamped), Céu herself a gamine figure with a commanding, completely natural presence. The sound seemed to settle in the spacey arpeggiated keyboards (João Leão) of Perfume Do Invisível. Nearly all the songs were Céu’s own, with acrobatic melodies that hooked themselves into to the memory. Arrastar-te-Ei, a love song where she imagined transforming herself into the sea when her ‘beloved is coming back from a journey’, had an Afro-Latin feel. High synth hooks linked the digitally-enhanced vocal phrases floating over tense harmonies. The voice was effortlessly rhythmic.

Céu. Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini


There were a number of hits from Céu’s previous albums, reminding us that she’s been nominated for 4 Grammys. Contravento, from her third album Caravana Sereia Bloom, had a rockier feel, with excellent drumming and swishing cymbal work from Thomas Harres. Different sections of the song were arranged with varied grooves to lead the audience on- and they were swaying, mesmerised.

Another three more songs from Tropix: Varanda Suspensa, which she dedicated to her grandfather in Brazil, described a tropical landscape recalled from childhood, in her native São Paulo. It was co-written with Hervé Salters (aka General Elektriks), one of Tropix’ producers. He was once Femi Kuti’s keyboard-player, and you could hear Afrobeat in the mix along with the rocky samba, the voice more powerful here. Céu has coined the word Tropix to combine ‘tropical’ with ‘pixel’. Elements of traditional Brazilian music (gleaned from her musician father), jazz, Afrobeat and electronic music which could seem like isolated pixels are brought together as a whole. ‘Defragmentation as a concept,’ she said in one interview. Amor Pixelado brought everything together: a chord sequence as complex as Jobim; high breathy vocal hook lines over dark creaky keyboards, as if Bebel Gilberto had been produced by Mark Ronson; a slow bossa with a hint of hip hop in the drum sound. Etílica / Interlúdio brought some transcendent moments, with shimmering guitar from David Bovée, the voice guttering like a candle flame, as if the Cocteau Twins had incorporated Latin grooves.

Céu and her band. L-R: João Leão (keyboards), David Bovée Swan (guitar),
Lucas Martins (bass), Thomas Harres (drums).
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini


Grains de Beauté and Cangote, both hits from her Vagarosa CD got the audience cheering. The first had a bluesy swagger and moments of real beauty; the second had an Afrobeat feel and an almost flamenco chord sequence.

Camadas (from Tropix) means ‘layers’, and choppy guitar and bubbling synth blended: rock energy was layered with Latin subtlety in a slow hip hop groove. As more previous hits, Malemolência, Lenda and Cordão da Insônia emerged, I braved the crush standing at the front. What I had thought were backing vocals were in fact audience members singing along in Portuguese, with every dubstep-influenced delayed triplet in place - as enthusiastic as the Brazilian audiences on her 2015 live album.

Chico Buarque Song, originally by 80s band Fellini, had a huge drum sound, Mark Ribot-style guitar, and a playful poppy feel. In contrast, Céu’s own gorgeous Sangria could almost have been a Buarque song, with its haunting, insouciant melody and slow bossa feel. Harres’ hand percussion underlined the link with Brazilian musical history. 10 Contados from her first album had the audience joining in again, the bass double stopping, the synth quavering- everything came to a sudden end, leave us all wanting more.
Céu acknowledging the appplause at the Forge.
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

This was a wonderful gig, showing how the inventive and highly musical Céu brings together strands of traditional Brazilian music with hip hop, pop, reggae, Afrobeat and electronic music- all ‘defragmented’ by her distinctive voice, and compositions that were still running though the mind the next day.

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud

LINK: Céu's album Tropix is on Six Degrees Records

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