Suba's Sao Paulo Confessions was something of a breakthrough in international down-tempo. Though the 150 million residents of Brazil had certainly experienced overseas electronics before, the late Yugoslavian deejay seemed to be the first to mix more traditional MPB (Musica Popular Brazil) with the many incarnations of house, dub and breakbeat. Suba succeeded due to a classical music sense and a clear appreciation of old-world songwriters like Baden Powell and Tom Jobim, in addition to Massive Attack and Masters at Work. He also brought attention to several local chanteuses who personified his chill-out sessions with their velvety tones. One of these women was Cibelle.
And, oh, this Cibelle. One glance at her cover head shot says so much more than I ever could. She is a muse, a pixie, a supernatural vixen waiting to pull the wide-eyed and unsuspecting into her delicate web. She's a lounge singer, a liar, a trip-hopper. She's a model/actress. Her name rhymes with Gisele. God, how I want to hate her unbelievably smooth skin and flawless vocal delivery.
But this young starlet does not a musical vacuum make. Working with the brilliant producer Apollo 9, she's minted an impressive debut that works its charms slowly, sometimes prone to aimless wandering but always returning to its main attraction, Cibelle's own wonderful instrument. "Deixa" sets the mood with a sultry pace and synthesized woodwinds, propelled by beats that could have passed unnoticed through Tricky's Maxinquaye. Apollo's layered noise and fake string swells support a dramatic chorus followed by more shuffling samba rhythms. The bossa nova classic "So Sei Viver No Samba" finds itself recast as a slinky tale of South American seduction far closer to the chic cafe than the hotel lobby.
"Hate" is a stupendous dancehall-style beat covered by acoustic strumming, ambient washes, and wah wah lines courtesy of Morcheeba's Chris Harrison and Pete Norris. And it's stronger than any of their own material, overcoming limited "I love you because I hate you" lyrical themes to justify its nearly six-minute run time. "Waiting" is a more meditative piece, boasting a loosely improvised bassline and stream-of-consciousness- observations around cigarette ash and cups of tea. This number makes for an interesting contrast next to the bright-eyed samba "Luisas" or the funk-inflected horn jam "No Prego." Cibelle's American English is impeccable, but the experiment of "Waiting" wears a bit thin without varying accompaniments.
Cibelle swings too close to an erotic mood machine on "I'll Be," despite a sopping-wet bassline worthy of God-rest-his-soul King Barry White. Still, weak moments on the set are few. Apollo 9 is a master of the ambient drone and mellotron riffing that flesh out "Train," and it could easily be Cibelle's English-language breakthrough single, a perfectly arranged pop nugget about nothing in particular. Yet it doesn't bear the raw passion present in her steamy rendition of Jobim's "Inutil Paisagem"(Useless Landscape), a duet with gravelly samba veteran Johnny Alf. The wandering vibraphone and traffic sounds of "Pequenos Olhos" close this collection on a subtle note before a quick bonus track of lo-fi Billie Holiday catcalls.
Cibelle's is a surprisingly adventurous debut that points toward her excellent taste in choosing collaborators, an essential skill for any aspiring diva. It also contains little of the electronic filler that marred Bebel Gilberto's first record or the stubborn traditionalism retained by Celso Fonseca. For the moment, she seems to be Brazil's hottest contemporary songstress, and even bewildered Americans will find that her bilingual stew slides down the throat like so many citrus smoothies.
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