After the Carnaval

Written by Ernest Barteldes on . Posted in Posts.

The four days of debauchery of Carnaval might be well behind us, but there is really no specific time to enjoy samba, Brazil’s best-known musical beat. A genre in constant reinvention, it has influenced and inspired generations of songwriters and interpreters around the world: The list includes Ary Barroso, Ella Fitzgerald, Antonio Carlos Jobim, guitarist Charlie Byrd, saxophonist Joe Henderson and countless others.

Among the new names that have emerged in the scene in recent times are singer-songwriters Jair Oliveira and Mariana Aydar, who will be appearing during Brazil Fest, a two-day event that takes place at Symphony Space March 13 and 14.

“I have been writing a lot of new songs since my last record came out in 2006,” said Oliveira by phone from São Paulo. “So the concert I am preparing for the New York will feature my own material as a songwriter—which is a side of my work that I want to introduce to a new audience—and also some tunes that audiences will recognize as classics of Brazilian popular music.”

The son of legendary samba crooner Jair Rodrigues, Oliveira (whose sister Luciana Mello is also a respected singer in her own right) pretty much grew up in the public eye as co-star of Balão Mágico, a popular Brazilian children’s TV show in the 1980s. During the 1990s, he studied at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, where he earned degrees in music business, production and engineering in 1998, the year he launched his solo career.  

Oliveira said that today’s music scene in Brazil is generally unfavorable for independent artists, but that has caused them to discover new ways of making their work known. “The phonographic industry here is in shambles,” he explained. “You cannot hear anything fresh through mainstream TV or radio here these days, but on the other hand, through the Internet and alternative media you can find lots of interesting things going on: there are new songwriters, musicians and artists who are creating great material, but unfortunately they are not widely recognized because Brazilian audiences still depend what they see on TV; and unfortunately, the networks do not show the real face of Brazil—especially when it comes to the cultural side.”

This has prompted many up-and-coming musicians to discover new markets outside the country, where names like Bebel Gilberto, Aydar, and Oliveira himself are better known than they are back home. “Around the time I returned to Brazil, I signed with [indie label] Trama, which embraced a lot of young, unsigned artists and, fortunately, a lot of of us had positive responses in Europe—especially in Germany, England and France.”

Oliveira recently appeared as an actor in Walter Lima Jr.’s Slightly Out of Tune, a film about a fictional bossa nova–era band featured here during last year’s Cine Fest Brazil at Central Park SummerStage and Tribeca. “It is not something I actively pursue, but I am glad that every now and then directors remember me and invite me to participate.”

Friday, March 13 & 14, Peter Norton Symphony Space, Broadway at W. 95th St., 212-864-5400; 8, $30 one day/ $50 for both shows.