Badi Assad (pronounced Bah-djee Ah-sahj) was one of the truly unique talents to emerge from the world music scene during the 1990s. As the younger sister of the internationally acclaimed classical guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad (known as Duo Assad), her musical roots are deep. Born in 1966 in São João da Boa Vista in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, the first musical instrument Assad studied, though rather informally, was piano. She did not play guitar until she was 14 years old, at first accompanying her father, Jorge, who played the bandolim (a stringed instrument akin to the mandolin and the guitarra portuguesa ).
Over the next four years, Badi (she uses only her first name professionally) was taught by her older brothers and father; she also studied guitar at the University of Rio de Janeiro, practicing 12 hours a day. During her teen years she entered guitar competitions. The turning point in her budding career came in 1984 when she decided to take up Brazilian music and began studying voice as well; for the latter she has credited her mother, Angelina, as being her greatest inspiration. In that same year Badi won the Concurso Jovens Instrumentistas (Young Instrumentalists Contest) in Rio de Janeiro. In 1985 she studied guitar at the Conservatory in Rio de Janeiro.
Besides voice, Badi also learned to use mouth and body percussion techniques that she combined with her guitar playing to create a unique style that set her apart from her famous brothers. In 1987 she entered the International Villa-Lobos Festival where she was named Best Brazilian Guitarist. By then she had worked with such musicians as Pat Metheny and Milton Nascimento. In 1988 she composed Antagonismus, a solo piece of performance art in which she played guitar, sang, danced, and acted. She released her first album, Dança dos Tons, in 1989. Recorded in Brazil, it contains songs written by Badi’s brother Sérgio, Leo Brouwer, and Roland Dyens.
Following the album’s release, Badi performed at festivals such as the Heineken Concerts, where she shared the stage with Raul de Souza, Heraldo do Monte, Roberto Sion, Rafael Rabello, Dori Caymmi, and Marisa Monte. These performances convinced Chesky Records to sign her to their label. In 1994 they released Solo, an album recorded at St. Stephen’s of Hungary Church in New York City that contained music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Egberto Gismonti, and others.
Her next CD for Chesky brought her worldwide renown. Rhythms was released in 1995 and was hailed by critics. Strictly Jazz magazine called Badi “[b]eautifully eclectic.” Among the awards she won for Rhythms were Guitar Player magazine’s readers’ poll for Best Classical Album of the Year (although the magazine editors themselves acknowledged that technically it
Born in 1966 in São João da Boa Vista, São Paulo, Brazil; daughter of Jorge (an amateur mandolin player) and Angelina (a singer); sister of Sérgio and Odair (Duo Assad). Education: Studied guitar at the University of Rio de Janeiro.
Began playing guitar, age 14; entered and won the Concurso Jovens Instrumentistas, 1984; won recognition at the International Villa-Lobos Festival, 1987; composed Antagonismus, 1988; released first album, Dança dos Tons, 1989; released Solo on Chesky Records, 1994; released the highly praised Rhythms, 1995; Echoes of Brazil, 1997; and Chameleon, 1998.
Awards: Concurso Jovens Instrumentistas, 1985; International Villa-Lobos Festival, Best Brazilian Guitarist, 1987; Guitar Player readers’ poll, Best Classical Album of the Year for Rhythms, 1996; Guitar Player, Best Acoustic Fingerstyle Player Award, 1996; Acoustic magazine, Best Classical Guitarist, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Polygram/Verve, 555 West 57th St., 10th Floor, New York, NY 10019.
was not a classical album since it included jazz and Brazilian pop music). The magazine’s editors also voted Badi the Best Acoustic Fingerstyle Player Award. She was also named Best Classical Guitarist by Acoustic Guitar magazine.
Of a 1996 performance during a concert tour to promote Rhythms, Owen McNally, writing in the Hartford Courant, declared: “Eclecticism can be a fatal sign of artistic indecisiveness. But Badi is an eclectic with a charismatic musical personality and bold approach all her own…. [S]he plays with enviable clarity and polish and with great passion and vitality tempered with a touch of humor…. Tempos shifted, harmonies varied, but rich melodies always prevailed. Badi has a bell-like, sensuous voice, sounding at time like her fellow Brazilian, Astrud Gilberto. But she also made eerie, spacey sounds reminiscent of Flora Purim, the Brazilian jazz fusion diva.”
In 1997 Badi released Echoes of Brazil, her third and final CD for Chesky. Strictly instrumental with an acoustic bass and two percussionists backing her, Badi explored and paid tribute to her musical heritage. The 14 songs on the CD contain compositions by Isias Savio, Luis Bonfa, Baden Powell, and Sérgio Assad.
After signing with i.e. Music in 1998, a label that afforded her wider distribution through its association with Polygram Records, she released Chameleon, an album that displayed her virtuosity through her original compositions with lyrics in both Portuguese and English, five of which were cowritten with Jeff Scott Young, her manager. Badi noted, in comments included on the ARTISTDirect website, “We realized after writing the first few songs that this album was taking on a life of its own. We were merely serving as channels or sources for the music to be transmitted.” One of her songs, “Waves,” resulted from her own ruminations on the quality of waves in music. While teaching a master class in guitar, she used the piece to demonstrate that quality to students using her voice. As recounted by Gary Gentile in the Hartford Courant “When she stopped the music to comment, she often sang passages, using her voice to suggest the wave-like quality of the music; here loud, there soft. ‘Never play the same intensity,’ she cautioned. “Do waves in this type of music. The power is there.’”
The best-known song on Chameleon is a cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” About its inclusion, Badi admitted in her ARTISTDirect online biography, “[the song] represents the connection between me, the guitar, and the audience.” However not all critics were bowled over by her rendition of the song, nor by Chameleon. Geoff Chapman of the Toronto Star wrote that her cover of the song was “tedious.” Of the album as a whole he described it as a blend of “pop, Flamenco and neo-jazz in a cheerful kaleidoscope of moods that amounts to little more than happy songs and instrumental dexterity despite exotic backing combos and incendiary hype.”
Others, such as Don Heckman in the Los Angeles Times, celebrated her eclectic flair while bemoaning those songs cowritten with Jeff Scott Young, which Heckman claimed “emphasiz(ed) message and production at the expense of her essential style. Fortunately, most of the balance of the album allows her diversity to flourish…. And it is with these numbers… that Assad’s musical spirit is set free, and her potential as a sparkling new world music talent fully emerges.”
Dança dos Tons (released in Brazil), 1989.
Solo, Chesky, 1994.
Rhythms, Chesky, 1995.
Echoes of Brazil, Chesky, 1997.
Chameleon, i.e. Music/Polygram, 1998.
Hartford Courant, February 8, 1996, p. 6; February 11, 1996,. p. A5; February 12, 1996, p. A3.
Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1996, p. F14; April 10, 1998, p. F22.
Toronto Star, July 4, 1998, p. J12.
“Badi Assad,” ARTISTDirect, http://imusic.artistdirect.com/showcase/contemportary/badiassad.html (December 24, 2001).
“Badi Assad,” Chesky Records, http://chesky.com (December 24, 2001).
“Badi Assad: Discography,” Unofficial Assad Home Page, http://net.indra.com/~jkenyon/assad.html#badi (November 30, 2001).
“Renaissance Woman Badi Assad,” Bossa: Brazilian Jazz World Guide, http://net.indra.comrjkenyon/badi.html (December 10, 2001).
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