You may have heard of Brazilian singer-songwriter Ivan Lins: His tunes "The Island," "Harlequin," "Love Dance," "Velas" and "Antes Que Seja Tarde" have been interpreted by such diverse artists as Sarah Vaughan, the Manhattan Transfer, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Ritenour and George Benson.
But unless you are a Brazilian music buff; have purchased one of his 15 LPs, of which only "Juntos" (PolyGram) has been released in the United States, or listen to alternative radio, you probably haven't heard him . Why?
"It's very difficult to get my records played on the radio, or to get a U.S. record deal, because I haven't been singing in English," Lins said at his manager's home in West Hollywood.
That should all change soon, as Lins, who appears tonight and Saturday at At My Place in Santa Monica, is featured on the upcoming Crusaders LP, "Life in the Modern World" (MCA). He handles the title track and "Some People Just Never Learn," two sambas written by him--with lyrics by Brock Walsh--and both sung in English. Additionally, he's in pre-production on his first all-English date, to be produced by Stewart Levine, who has supervised both the Crusaders and groups such as Simply Red and Larry Williams.
What took so long for Lins, who is 42 and has been renowned in Brazil for close to 20 years, to tackle this new turf?
"Being known in the U.S., and not just be heard only inside of Brazil, is a dream I've had for a long time," he said. "But I'm a little slow in these things, as when you approach a strange dog to see if it will bite. There are a lot of singers who sing in English better than I, so at first I was afraid to try it, thinking that if I try and fail, I'd hate that. So, because I had a successful career in Brazil, I didn't try. But now I want to."
Lins speaks English the way someone would who has only been speaking it off-and-on for four years: haltingly, turning verbs and subjects around as a speaker of a Romance language would naturally do, using gestures, like outstretched hands, to find difficult phrases, slapping his thighs happily when he does. "I have been learning it mainly here. Sometimes I stay only with Americans, with no Brazilians near, so I can't rely on them, and that helps," he said with intensity.
Describing his work as "very melodic and emotional," Lins said he has "a deep, organic relationship with the music. I think that's my sixth sense. It's born inside me. If I hit the keyboard and the sound sets off something, a turmoil inside, then I begin to write."
The man who has composed an estimated 400 songs said creativity is at the core of his life. "I need to do this to survive," he said. "It's like water, food and write songs. If you took away from me the possibility of writing songs, I would die."
When he was starting out, the native of Rio de Janeiro didn't sing in public, but hearing David Clayton-Thomas with Blood, Sweat and Tears "made me realize I had to sing," Lins said. "At first I hated my voice, because I was forcing it, trying to get that black sound that Thomas gets. Then I started to sing like myself, and now I love my voice."
Although he made a furtive attempt to learn trumpet at age 12, Lins didn't take music seriously until he was 18. "When I saw the the Tamba Trio, a Brazilian bossa nova trio, and later, pianist Luis Eca, then I said, 'That's it, I have to learn the piano.'
"I almost killed my family, playing eight hours a day by ear," he recalled, "but in two years, I got it, and I had my first trio, playing jazz and bossa nova."
Lins looks for modest response from his efforts in English. "I'm not waiting to be a great success, but to be known here and appreciated, I hope," he said. "A lot of musicians know my music, but by singing in English, I think I'm going to reach more people. Really, I just want to show the world the music that is inside me."