SAO PAULO — Since the start of her career, New York-born Brazilian singer Bebel Gilberto has put out albums rooted in the South American nation’s rich musical history. And in the sound of her family, too — that of her late father, bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto.
But she had never made it a point to record an album of his songs. Until now.
Four years after his death, she decided it was time to reconnect with the biggest influence in her life and career. So she has released “João,” her first album made up entirely of songs composed or made famous by her father.
“It is a love letter to him,” Gilberto told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her New York City apartment this week amid concerts on her current tour. “Do you know when you want to pay a tribute to someone and then you go to Instagram and write a long posting? I wanted to talk to him. My way of doing it was making this album.”
“It is just that the time has come. I wanted his music to travel again,” she added.
And yet, the 57-year-old artist, who splits her time between New York and Rio de Janeiro, is not too comfortable performing some of her father’s hit songs — such as “Fly, My Heart” (“Chega de Saudade” in Portuguese), a song many bossa nova experts consider the founding composition of the genre in 1959, or “The Girl from Ipanema,” which her father and his first wife, Astrud Gilberto brought to a worldwide audience in 1958.
Gilberto said she spent much of her time working on “João” picking out her favorite songs by her father, relying on her musical and emotional reaction, and then “doing something no one cares about anymore — picking the order.”
“That is key for me to have a feeling of flow,” she said. “I know it sounds outdated, but I need it.”
“Adeus América” (“Goodbye America”) opens the album. In the song, João Gilberto describes his longing for Brazil while spending a season in the United States at the house of jazz saxophonist Stan Getz, one of his closest friends and a frequent collaborator.
The next track is “Eu Vim da Bahia” (“I Came from Bahia”), which follows her father’s exit from the U.S. and celebrates his home of northeastern Brazil.
For Gilberto, the songs go beyond a celebration of her dad — it is a celebration of her country.
“My father’s music is João’s music. He is not a mere ambassador for bossa nova. What he did was Brazilian music,” the singer said. “I know I am trying not to wear that hat and the hat is already on, but I am trying to tell other artists that ‘João’ is a tribute to Brazilian music, not to a specific genre.”
That appreciation for Brazilian sounds extends to new generations outside the country who are interacting with the music for the first time. Gilberto said she is excited for younger voices, like the pop star Billie Eilish, who released the hit song “Billie Bossa Nova” in 2021, and the Brazilian swagger of Beabadoobee’s “The Perfect Pair.”
“I am a fan of Billie’s, she did great. And I am sure many other young artists have heard her and started listening to Brazilian music,” Gilberto said. “I hope I can bring some more to the table with my album.”
But releasing a tribute to your father is one thing. Performing it in front of an audience is another. Gilberto had tears in her eyes in her first concerts following the album’s release on Aug. 25, wondering what he would have thought about “João.”
“It is hard to distance yourself when you are an artist, even more so when you have so many emotions,” she said. “He is my father and I have a vulnerable heart. But I’ve already grown some resilience to sing on.”