A review of Suéli Gil by Chris Capitano

About Suéli Gil:

In the spring of 1963, Brazilian Guitarist João Gilberto, composer António Carlos Jobim and American Jazz Saxophonist Stan Getz gathered at A&R Recording studios on West 48th Street in New York to record what would become arguably the greatest Bossa Nova album of all time. Half way through a tense and difficult session, João’s wife Astrud, who had never sung professionally before accepted her husband’s invitation to sing on the genre defining track Garota de Ipanema. Not only did it go on to become a worldwide hit and won a Grammy for Record of the Year, it also heralded the arrival of one of Bossa Nova’s greatest and most iconic female vocalists.

And much like Astrud Gilberto, Suéli Gil is one of those rare and accidental finds; a virtuosic vocal talent with technical mastery over her voice who has never had any formal training or set foot inside a conservatoire. A musical polyglot from the town of Portimão who mixes different cultural backgrounds and influences from Brazil, Angola and Portugal, Suéli displays a vocal style that references the great luminaries of the past such as Elizete Cardoso and Elis Regina but remains uniquely her own.

On Bossa Nova classics such as Água de Beber her voice reveals great poise and versatility, and her subtle phrasing is despojada and rhythmically complex. On her own compositions such as the ephemeral Girassol her delivery is more intimate and elegiac or by contrast on the joyous O Tempo é A’ hora which was written as paean to her childhood, she channels a wit and playfulness that is reminiscent of Águas de Março.
There is a word which is unique to the Portuguese language and for which there is no direct translation in English. Saudade is often used to convey a profound sense of longing or nostalgia for things past, yet it has an elusive quality that often defies description. It can’t be explained or written down, but sometimes you just feel it and when you do it all makes sense. It’s a bit like when you hear Suéli Gil sing Paciência from Lenine for the first time.