For foreign fans of Brazilian music, it may come as a surprise that bossa nova is not such a popular genre in the country. After gaining international prominence in the 1960s, bossa nova and samba have preserved their status as a “postcard of Brazilian music”. But these days, bossa nova’s status is challenged by the genre’s disconnection with newer generations and the many facets of Brazil beyond the elite of Rio de Janeiro. Thus, it’s a big surprise for hip Brazilians that one of the hits of 2023 is a bossa nova song – sung by a young artist best known for her danceable pop hits.
Luísa Sonza has made a name for herself by releasing bold songs influenced by funk, hip-hop, and some romantic pop ballads. Therefore, a song like “Chico” is more than just a way to show a new side of her possibilities as a singer and songwriter. “It’s also about bringing the new generation closer to huge influences in the history of Brazilian music,” Sonza tells PopMatters.
“Chico” raised debates about whether or not it was “real bossa nova”. Its lyrics allude to “Folhetim”, by Chico Buarque. Its melody has moments that verge on sertanejo (a music genre from Brazil’s countryside).
The initial resistance to “Chico” seemed to be linked less to the message than to the messenger. Would Sonza be unworthy, or perhaps incapable, of doing bossa nova? Even singer Caetano Veloso was urged to speak out on what the genre means nowadays. “The guitar [in “Chico”] is playing bossa nova,” Veloso confirmed in a now-viral video. “Chico” reached #1 on Spotify Brazil and entered the Top 30 on Spotify globally.
Bossa nova is just one of several influences on Escândalo Íntimo (2023), Sonza’s third studio album. Sonza did not need the validation of Veloso or anyone else to choose the sonic direction that this album would follow. However, putting out such a project involved asking permission to directly evoke several Brazilian music titans – such as Rita Lee, a Brazilian rock icon who passed away in May 2023. In “Lança Menina”, Sonza not only interpolates Lee’s “Lança perfume” but also makes use of a recording of the singer’s voice. In more ways than one, Lee’s presence confirms the intention behind Sonza’s work. She believes Lee is “extremely important to celebrate our culture, our artists, our roots, and share them with the world.”
In “Luísa Manequim”, Sonza reproduces the title and recording of Abílio Manoel‘s song. She does that to rethink her identity as the “muse” described in the original lyrics. Sonza accepts and, at the same time, rejects this label when she sings, “I’m beautiful even when I’m ugly” and “I’m half a muse”. She also references Cazuza’s “Todo amor que houver nessa vida” when describing herself as having “the taste of bitten fruit”. This description is consistent with Sonza’s comfortable position about her acknowledged sex appeal. However, including a reference to the Brazilian rock icon of the 1980s confirms that Luísa is much more than a sex symbol. The resources and references used for Escândalo Íntimo may be clichés, but they challenge the public’s perception of Sonza’s artistic depth.
Indeed, samples, interpolations, and references are the instrumentalization tools for Sonza’s journey through the Brazilian songbook. Alcione, Vanessa Rangel, Hareton Salvanini, and Vanessa da Mata are also among the explicit influences of Escândalo Íntimo. “I have immense admiration for Brazilian music, and it was intentional to incorporate these references,” says Sonza.
These combinations and inspirations may seem random, but Escândalo Íntimo seeks to be a journey into Sonza’s psyche. Pantomnesia is a driving force for many composers. Sonza draws from the universal artistic repertoire that precedes her and is contemporary to her in sometimes more or less conscious ways, generating a musical spectrum that is not always cohesive. But for Sonza, showing these dark sides of her experience that appear to not be in harmony with her ability as a composer was a choice. Sonza’s creative process is greatly influenced by her experiences, including personal traumas.
“Escândalo Íntimo is a film, a visual album, that narrates the story of love intertwined with my personal journey,” says Sonza. “The tracks are soundtracks to the movies in my mind. The references are indeed strategic, aiming to delve into the most vulnerable and darkest places I could explore, which is my subconscious.”
Indeed, Escândalo Íntimo is a deeply personal album; as Sonza notes, “With the guidance of visual artist and psychoanalyst Nathalie Nery, I began a process of psychoanalysis and dream interpretation. I concluded that the lyrics I was writing were not about other people but about myself, as happens in the realm of dreams. From then on, we started looking for references linked to this surrealist journey”.
In her album-inspiring dreams, Sonza is not only faced with memories marked by Brazilian music. Escândalo Íntimo also dialogues with art made beyond Brazil’s border. For example, the Beatles’ psychedelic phase influenced “Principalmente me Sinto Arrasada” and the title and music video for “Campo de Morango”.
In “Penhasco2”, Demi Lovato, singing in Portuguese, takes on the role of a partner. “‘Penhasco’ [released by Sonza in 2021] is a powerful song in my work,” Says Sonza. “Introducing part 2 generated anticipation, and collaborating with such a huge international singer like Demi was the highlight,” she says. “I think having non-Brazilian artists singing in Portuguese is a form of recognition of the strength of Brazilian music and artists. Without a doubt, she not only accepted the challenge of singing in Portuguese, but her genuine dedication made everything even more special”.
Escândalo Íntimo is an unusual musical mosaic in which stylistic boundaries dissipate. For many fans, it is Sonza’s boldest and well-coordinated artistic bet. But some are still not convinced that she is as competent as an artist as she is at achieving sales, streams, digital downloads, etc. (as she sings about in “Carnificina”). The album’s mixed reception doesn’t bother Sonza. “We will always have to deal with people who don’t like our work; it’s impossible to please everyone. But I’m immensely happy with the album’s reception,” she says. “Seeing the audience respond to Escândalo Íntimo‘s themes is an enriching experience.”