By Melissa Chiaro
Interesting how a conversation about the many ingredients of a mole recipe can lead to a heart-felt discussion about the layers of complexity of Brazilian music. Singer, songwriter and pianist, Ren Stewart has developed a new approach to Bossa Nova. While composing new songs written in Portuguese, she pays tribute to beloved Brazilian composers, but stays true to the rhythmic blends of jazz and pop sensibilities.
When asked about this mélange of worldly musical disciplines, Ren explains a longtime interest in MPB. “When I was a teenager, I heard Jobim’s album ‘The Composer of Desafinado, Plays’, and something awoke in me. I was raised by a Mexican-American mother, so Latin music will always be in my heart, but hearing this somewhat familiar music sung in Portuguese intrigued me.” Years later, through the exploration of more Brazilian music, Ren has found inspiration from the varied styles of Seu Jorge, Lenine, Caetano Veloso, Astrud Gilberto, Bebel Gilberto and Charlie Brown Jr.
As a great mole recipe earns merit through patience, timing and collaboration so has Ren’s music. Executive producers of the NBC hit series “Life” stumbled upon her work and quickly added her song “Face the Day” to their sound-track. The song typifies this synchronization of layered rhythms.
“I don’t think Americans will equate my music as being Brazilian, even though I borrow much from their musical history. I didn’t want to create music that resembled a novelty, like a T-shirt from the airport that reads ‘Brazil’. The idea is to create music in a way that respects the spirit of Brazilian music while infusing my Californian perspective.” This philosophy seems to celebrate that of the famous writer, Carlos Fuentes, when he stated, “There is no creation without tradition.”
Brazilian culture in the US
To achieve the perfect blend of high personal standards with this eclectic perspective, Ren has immersed herself with the Brazilian culture here in the US, which resulted in the composition “Como Eu Vou Voltar”. This song typifies the idea of “saudade”, describing the intensity of feelings the night before a first trip to Brazil. Needing to authenticate her emotions with sound, Ren surrounds herself with Brazilian and American artists who have studied the vast history of music in Brazil.
Brazilian drummer Rodrigo Spada Bernardo and guitarist Sina, cofounder of Barraca da Bossa, share an innate ability to know what Ren is thinking musically. Originally from Iran, Sina traveled throughout South America to equip himself with a working understanding of Portuguese, and expose himself to the music of the Bossa Nova era legends. With his repertoire and beautiful blend of guitar techniques, Sina contributes a worldly perspective to Ren’s music, resulting in an appeal to both the novice and seasoned ear.
Rodrigo joined Ren last spring and quickly helped develop the rhythm of the songs, which required his expertise as a drummer in popular Brazilian bands. Through travels between California and Sao Paulo and the use of the Internet, Ren and Rodrigo have found a way to soften the recording budget. Specifically, they have created a system of sending music files cross-country using iDisk, where Rodrigo can virtually work beside Ren to record the percussions. The use of web cams allow the duo to talk as if they were in the same studio, thus concocting a transcontinental collaboration… one that is required to be não desafinado… completely in tune with each other.
As with any dish made slowly over time with careful attention to the blending of various ingredients, Ren Stewart’s Bossa Americana is worthy of a complete five sense experience, leaving each note to taste… just like that of a great meal.