“It’s very beautiful, you know,” Marisa Monte said after the first American shows of her current tour. “It’s the happiness we were waiting for.”
On the heels of Portas, her first album in ten years, Brazil’s queen of song Marisa Monte has launched a year-long international tour, bringing her, her bandmates, and her fans back to the world of in-person live music. “I’m glad we finally are able to perform again,” she said. “To have this kind of celebration of life through art and music. I think that that helps people to heal a little bit from the hard times that we were through.”
Monte said she had songs written and ready to begin recording in 2020 when the pandemic brought it to a halt. During the months of isolation with her family, Monte added a few songs that spoke to the pandemic and its effects. “It’s a very affirmative record,” she said. “I didn’t want it to connect with the dark days we were in, I wanted to try to be lighter and to present some kind of hope at that moment.”
The title song, “Portas” (or “Doors”), pointed to ways to cope. “It’s a very symbolic element that has many different meanings, like changes, passages, choices, transformations, options. And these doors, they could be to the outside, which everybody was needing at that point, but also inner doors — doors that you can reach internally to have some kind of existential relief. And most of them are through art, poetry, literature, movies, music; these kind of gates we have to reach our creativity, imagination and different levels of existence.”
Speaking of her own pandemic life, Marisa called it “challenging … it was hard for everybody. We had a very limited physical space to go. No social life, no collective life. I made a beautiful bond with my family; as a family, we grew up a lot. We learned a lot. We became much more collaborative. We needed to get together, to move forward at that moment, but it wasn’t an easy year for anybody. We tried to have some music around or to contact friends through the phone, through the computer. And even do new songs through the phone.”
Portas represents the newest chapter in Monte’s iconoclastic success, playing for stadium-sized audiences and garnering critical acclaim for her meticulously crafted albums. Every one of her albums has reached number one or two on the Brazilian charts, and Rolling Stone Brasil ranked her as the country’s second-greatest singer.
Since her debut album in 1989, she used Brazilian elements and has collaborated with US notables such as David Byrne, Philip Glass, and Laurie Anderson. Last year, she became the first Brazilian woman to receive the prestigious Tenco Award for lifetime achievement in songwriting. She has also been the rare artist to take full control of her career: she owns the rights to her songs and records on her own label with distribution by Sony.
When she started recording her new album, Monte reached out to the extended family of musicians that she has worked with for decades, such as Carlinhos Brown, Arnauldo Antunes, and Arto Lindsay. They worked via the internet and began to piece together songs and production.
After about ten months of being isolated, Monte and her crew cautiously worked together, wearing masks and taking dozens of tests to protect each other from the spread of the infection, which ran rampant through Brazil. “We had to be very, very careful,” she said. “And it was hard, but at least we could keep working, keep creating, keep producing and that made it less heavy.”
Another song that seems a prescription for the isolated was “A Lingua dos Animais (The Language of the Animals)”, a fantasy about walking in nature and being able to communicate with the animals. “This song is about intuition,” she said, “getting in contact with yourself, profoundly and following your own intuition, alone, and that can make you able to do amazing things that you cannot imagine–one of them is understanding the animal’s language.”
The animated video accompanying the song was based on the bright, tropical-colored paintings of Brazilian artist Marcela Cantuária, who Monte met several years ago and pulled into the project. Cantuária’s artwork carried through from the album cover to the styling of the many videos that Monte organized to accompany the songs. “Music is a very masculine environment,” Monte said, “and I wanted to have a female partner for the art cover … She’s amazing.”
Another new partnership for Monte’s extended musical family was a duo with Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler. Monte said the two met while on a remote vacation with their respective families several years ago and began to write what would become “Vento Sardo (Sardinian Wind)” with an accompanying video of their time on the Mediterranean island on a small boat and at the shore.
“We were there in the middle of nothing,” Monte recalled. “We had the guitar, we had the wind, we had the boat and we did the song. It’s about the wind, but different winds. But it’s also allegoric … How the wind represents constant changing and movement of the air and how it can be similar to life. That’s the celebration. That’s a song made in honor to the winds, but also to every constant movement of our lives.”
“That’s one of the recordings that we did live, in person, together, but through the computer,” she said. “He was in Madrid, I was in Rio, the bass player was in Barcelona, then we got the strings and horns arrangement by an amazing Brazilian arranger that lives in Lisbon. I was there interacting, watching everything the whole time, but from another continent. It was just beautiful. So we wouldn’t probably have tried to do that. It was because of the difficulties we were having and it was very nice that we did it because it opened a huge amount of possibilities.”
With the lovely balm of Portas, Monte continues what began when she was a small girl in Rio, and family members would approach her and implore: “Marisa, sing for us.” Ever since she has continued to bring beauty to the world.
“It’s my mission,” she said. “It’s what I can do through the tools I have. I’m very glad that I have the chance to communicate to people through music, through art, and I honor a lot the chance that life gave me to be engaged in such a beautiful mission.”