A Touch of Brazil

Full disclosure: one of the most treasured albums in my vinyl collection is the 1962 Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd classic, Jazz Samba.

Fuller disclosure: I’ve had a mad crush on Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “tall and tan and young and lovely” girl from Ipanema ever since Astrud Gilberto, hand-in-hand with Getz and her then-husband João Gilberto, first captured her on a walk to fame in 1964.

So when the opportunity arose to interview São Paulo-based singer Fernanda Cunha, I was ready to arm-wrestle alligators for the privilege. It didn’t matter that Cunha was in Qualicum Beach, BC rather than Rio, that the conversation was by phone rather than in person, or that it lasted a mere 23 minutes. The sultry-sweet flavour of bossa nova crackled through the wire.

“Bossa nova is a kind of samba with a jazz flavour. Everybody in the world likes bossa nova,” Cunha claims.

When she plays at Jazz on the Wing this Sunday, Cunha’s program will consist mainly of bossa nova, samba and Brazilian ballads.

It will also include songs from her 2009 CD, Brasil – Canada, including Canadian-written tunes such as “Candy” by Montreal-born Alex C. Kramer and the much-recorded jazz standard “Some of These Days”, written in 1910 by Shelton Brooks.

Wait a minute. “Some of These Days (you’re gonna miss me, baby)” is American. No?

“Everybody says that, but Shelton Brooks was born in Ontario. He moved to the U.S. when he was a teenager, but he was a Canadian,” Cunha explains.

“I had to research a lot about Canadian music to find some affinities with Brazilian songs.”

Although this weekend marks Cunha’s first visit to Yukon, she has been performing in Canada every year since 2005, including appearances at the Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto jazz festivals.

“I like very much this country,” she says in her Portuguese-accented English. “It feels like my own home.”

Cunha hails from a musical family. Her grandmother was a pianist. Her aunt, Sueli Costa, is a renowned songwriter in Brazil. Her mother, Telma Costa, is equally renowned as a singer.

“I grew up watching how difficult it was to survive in music in Brazil, so I decided to get another career, and I studied psychology. I graduated and worked as a psychologist for three years, but I was not happy,” she admits.

“I really need music, so I booked a concert in ’97 – almost 15 years ago. After that, I could not stop.”

Cunha’s musical career has since taken her to Malaysia, Austria, Denmark, France, Portugal and Argentina, among other countries.

At the core of her appeal is the popularity of the joyous, sexy bossa nova itself.

“The other countries of Latin America don’t have music that is so popular and well-known and admired as bossa nova is,” she says. “In Argentina they have tango, but it’s not so popular as the bossa nova.”

Indeed, after performing at the Harvest of Music festival in Qualicum Beach a few weeks back, Cunha took her act to both seniors’ facilities and elementary schools in the area.

“The same bossa nova worked for seniors and worked for children,” she says. “I don’t think that would work with tango, for example.”

Cunha will be at the Yukon Arts Centre October 16 at 7:30 pm, accompanied by Michael Creber (piano), Doug Stephenson (bass) and Phil Bélanger (drums).

They will also appear Friday, October 14 at Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) in Dawson City. Phone 993-2005 for details.

The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (DZCC) in Dawson City hosts two story-based talks next week.

First up is novelist and short-story writer Thomas King, best known as the originator of CBC Radio’s Dead Dog Café.

King is also a photographer, and on Monday October 17 will present A Wasted Evening with Thomas King – a combination of photography and storytelling.

The event is part of the 2011-12 Visiting Aboriginal Artist Series, co-produced by DZCC and Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA).

The next evening, Dr. Helen Hoy discusses Teetl’it Gwich’in author Robert Alexie’s novel Porcupines and China Dolls as a way to look at fetal-alcohol disorders.

Hoy is a University of Guelph English professor and King’s wife – he regularly says “she’s the smarter one,” according to Yukon SOVA staff.

Hoy will discuss Alexie’s fictional portrayal of residential school damage in a Native community in an interdisciplinary talk that looks at the possibility and dangers of a fetal-alcohol reading of the novel.

Both events are free, and start at 7:00 pm. For details call DZCC at 993-6768 or Yukon SOVA at 993-6390.

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