Focused on Personal Musical Roots
Built International Following through Tours
Although some journalists have called her the Madonna of Brazil, Marisa Monte (pronounced “Mown-chee”) has a diverse and eclectic style that goes beyond being purely pop. Her repertoire extends from traditional choro (a uniquely Brazilian form of music from the early twentieth century), to samba, jazz, rock, reggae, funk, and tropicalia, a type of Brazilian popular music from the mid-1960s. On the other hand, Monte doesn’t deny that she is popular and that she embraces Brazil’s popular music. Also like Madonna, Monte is in complete control of her career, her music, and her future. She actively explores diverse Brazilian styles as well as those from around the world. As she told Bob Young of the Boston Herald, “To talk about Brazilian music is to talk about mixing, about diversity, about variety.” Monte’s repertoire is representative of that mixing, diversity, and variety.
Born on July 1, 1967, in Rio de Janeiro, to a musician and a homemaker, Monte grew up in Urca, Rio de Janeiro with her sisters Leticia and Livia. Her father, Carlos Monte, was a director of the traditional samba group Portela, in the early 1970s, and Monte grew up with music in her home. As her father got older, there was less music in the house, but Monte had already learned an appreciation for the previous generation’s style of music. Her mother taught Marisa sewing, and Monte used this skill during her teens to create a line of jewelry and accessories she sold to boutiques throughout her neighborhood. She continued to work in this business until she began to dedicate herself full-time to music.
Began Serious Musical Study
Growing up Monte studied singing, piano, and drums. She admired opera singer Maria Callas and jazz singer Billie Holiday. She studied locally at the National School of Music in Rio de Janeiro, hoping to build her voice and make it stronger in a more classical mode. At the same time she performed popular music with her friends at clubs throughout Rio. When Monte was 16 representatives from PolyGram offered her a recording contract. She turned the offer down because she had already made plans to go to Italy.
At age 18, Monte traveled to Italy to study bel canto seriously. The year and a half she spent there distanced her from her country’s culture and allowed her to gain a new respect for the scope of Brazilian music. She told Enor Paiano and John Lanner of Billboard, “I was studying bel canto … but people kept telling me to sing Brazilian music in the nightclubs, and I thought, These people grew up listening to the opera. I’ll never sing like them; I have to search for my own roots.” The voice training she was doing in Italy was useful, but she realized a few things about opera that she didn’t think would work for her. She related to Young, “I love opera, but I don’t think I would be satisfied with it as an artistic expression. It’s kind of out of the contemporary
For the Record…
Born on July 1, 1967, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; daughter of Carlos Monte (a musician). Education: Attended National Music School, Rio de Janeiro, c. 1980s; studied bel canto in Italy, 1985.
Performed with friends as a teenager; started a business making and selling jewelry and accessories; released debut album, MM: Marisa Monte Live, 1988; signed with Metro Blue Records, 1994; formed own record label, Phonomotor, 2000; released Todo Azul, 2000.
Awards: Premio Multishow de Musica Brasileira Awards, Best Album for Memories, Chronicles, and Declarations of Love, and Best Female Singer, both 2001.
Addresses: Management —Leonardo Netto, Travess Santa Leocadia 40, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Publisher —Monte Songs, Praia do Flamengo 200/15°, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Record company —Phonomotor, Monte Ciraçao e Produçao Itda., Travessa Santa Leocadia 40, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; EMI Music, Rua Mena Barreto 151, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
production. It doesn’t really talk about our days. It turns to the past.”
Focused on Personal Musical Roots
Monte returned to Brazil with a new outlook. She began performing live again as she had before she left. She also began researching music of all genres including traditional Brazilian music, but also other music including the songs of German composer Kurt Weil and Motown artist Marvin Gaye. With the help of Nelson Motta, a journalist and friend of her mother, Monte began to book more and larger shows. Her first really large performance was one that included a group of her favorite songs. A year later she was asked to perform for a television special.
The performance Monte gave for television was recorded by EMI/Odeon and released in 1988 as MM: Marisa Monte Live. This was Monte’s first album, and was only released in Brazil, where it went platinum. For her second album she worked with New York producer Arto Lindsey. Brazilian born, Lindsay cultivated a wide range of friends in the city’s jazz and avant garde community. He brought in several of his friends to contribute to Monte’s second album, Mais, which was released in 1991 and went platinum in Brazil while also selling well in the United States.
In 1994 Monte signed a record contract with Metro Blue, a division of Blue Note Records. For her first release with them, Rose and Charcoal, she signed on Lindsay as producer. He again provided New York talent to perform with Monte, performance artist/composer Laurie Anderson among others. In addition to this New York contingent, Monte performed with guitarist Gilberto Gil of the tropicalia movement and singer Paulinho de Viola, a samba purist. American composer Philip Glass also added to the album by contributing to the brass and string arrangements for the song “Ao Meu Redor.” In 1996 Monte release A Great Noise, which showcased cover art by underground comic artist Carlos Zefiro.
Built International Following through Tours
In between albums, Monte mounted extensive tours that traveled the world. She believes her stage shows are the most important part of her music, and her performances sometimes contain elaborate light and projection shows. Despite these elaborate stagings she is capable of building a rapport with even large crowds. Not a dancer, Monte depends on the control she has of her voice and her idiosyncratic hand movements to maintain her audience’s attention. As Los Angeles Daily News contributor Rob Lowman commented after attending a performance by the Brazilian vocalist, “Monte demonstrated an effortless vocal style, seeming to be able to go from a whisper to a shout and then back into something airy without taking a breath.”
In 2000 Monte signed a contract that gave her unprecedented control over her product. The new agreement with EMI allowed the singer’s own label, Phonomotor, to continue pressing and distributing her first four albums. The agreement also gave her complete artistic control, forbidding EMI from interfering with any of Phonomotor’s content. At the time of her new contract, Monte also released another album, Memories, Chronicles, and Declarations of Love, which is less experimental than Monte’s early work.
Seeking to extend her range beyond singer, guitarist, and composer, Monte produced a record for Phonomotor with the Velha Guarda da Portela (the Old Guard of Portela). She worked with the elderly performers of classic samba to record works, thus making a contribution to the archives of traditional Brazilian music. Of her ventures into production, she told Bruce Oilman of Brazzil, “I envision it as a very restrictive independent label that allows me to produce whatever I want… Phonomotor is something very chained to my work. When you see Phonomotor, you’ll see Marisa Monte.” The same goes for all of Monte’s work. She is dedicated to her craft and to expressing herself as well as preserving that which is distinctively Brazilian.
MM: Marisa Monte Live, EMI/Odeon, 1988.
Mais, EMI/Odeon, 1991.
Rose and Charcoal, Metro Blue, 1994.
A Great Noise, Metro Blue, 1996.
Memories, Chronicles, and Declarations of Love, EMI, 2000.
Billboard, September 24, 1994, p. 10.
Boston Herald, September 30, 2000, p. 19.
Brazzil, October 2000.
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), September 26, 2000, p. L2.
Independent (London, England), July 17, 1998, p. 19.
Latin Beat, April 1997, p. 40.
Allbrazilianmusic.com, http://www.allbrazilianmusic.com (April 1, 2002).
Marisa Monte, http://www.uol.com.br/marisamonte (April 1, 2002).
—Eve M. B. Hermann
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