The phrase "music transcends language" may be a cliché, but it best describes Brazilian singer Kenia's latest release, Kenia Celebrates Dorival Caymmi. A tribute to the late Brazilian composer, Kenia's subtle voice glides through 15 of his best-known tracks; while only one song is in English, the sultry rhythms and bright, happy melodies resonate as simply great Brazilian jazz.
Caymmi, a major figure in Brazilian popular culture, drew attention to the sounds of Bahìa, a country rich with African culture as well as South American. In a recent interview, Kenia explained that his music sparked the transition from 1920s and 1930s samba and the bossa nova of the late 1950s and 60s. "Although he had two very distinct lines of composition," said Kenia, "the link between these two movements is characterized by his firm foundation and understanding of Rio’s Samba, sprinkled with some Bahìan spices.” His major break came when his song "O Que É Que a Baiana Tem" was featured in Carmen Miranda's 1939 film Banana da Terra; he later wrote the Brazilian jazz standards “Samba da Minha Terra,” “Doralice” and “Voce Ja Foi a Bahìa." To learn more about Caymmi's long career, visit All Brazilian Music as well as the Washington Post's and New York Times' tributes to the legend.
The song's melodies and precise tempos require a flexible voice, and Kenia certainly handles the tracks with ease. She burst onto the jazz scene in 1987, recording several critically acclaimed albums, and established her own label, Mooka, in 1997. After a long hiatus, she returned in 2008 with Simply Kenia, a strong collection of lesser-known Brazilian tunes as well as adding her own flavor to classics such as Patsy Cline's "Crazy." Here she sings in Portuguese with the exception of one track, "And Roses And Roses" ("Das Rosas"); this English version has also been covered by Andy Williams and Perry Como. Her lilting voice lends the song a melancholy air, expressing her frustration at courting a lover with words. But after sending roses, "she belonged to me." Thus she sings "I thank you for saying what I couldn't say." It's no wonder that this lovely ballad has been reinterpreted by many artists.