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MUSIC | SOUNDS

Songs of Life

Vocalist takes a bilingual approach to the spiritual beats of Brazil.

June 05, 1997|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Katia Moraes believes in change.

She made a name for herself in the early '80s when she was still living in her native Brazil and singing with a group called Espirito da Coisa ("The Spirit of the Things").

The band offered a Brazilian version of rock, very theatrical and critical, inspired by the political situation in Brazil.

"It was an extension of what I was doing," said Moraes. "I was studying at the University of Rio de Janiero, and some of the professors weren't there because they had been exiled. So you had to fight against something like that instead of being concerned about your classes. It was frustrating."

These days, Moraes' songs still express potent thoughts, though more about love and life than politics.

Also, the rhythms now are distinctly Brazilian--from the jazz-influenced bossa nova to the more roots-oriented maracatu and baiao.

"These are northern Brazilian rhythms that are really strong, like from your soul," she said. She appears with her band, Brasil Nuts, on Saturday and June 27 at La Ve Lee in Studio City. Moraes, who has lived in the U.S. since 1990 and resides in Burbank, talked recently about some of her songs. She has a new CD, "Ten Feet and the Sun", which was released on her own SugarCane Records.

"Supresa," which Moraes calls "an anthem for life," is from the new album and was written by Moraes and her keyboardist Bill Brendle.

"It's about the feeling you have when you realize that you are mortal, like if you have to prepare for a major surgery," she said. "It's a Lie," also from the new album, has another message in the lyric: "It's a lie what you say that love can soothe everything." The song is about a woman wanting her independence, wanting to live her own life.

These songs mix English and Portuguese lyrics, and so does Brasil Nuts. In addition to Moraes, the band includes Hussain Jiffry on bass, Tony Shogren on drums, Vinnie D'Onofrio on guitar, and Chana Smith doing background vocals.. "I love my language," said Moraes, "but I think the American audience would like a little bit of English so they can understand the tunes."

Moraes also performs songs by noted Brazilian writers, from Gilberto Gil and Djavan to Caetano Veloso and Antonio Carlos Jobim. She's fond of Gil, she said, because he's "so Brazilian, aware about what's going on spiritually, socially, politically, musically."

When Moraes first heard a Djavan song, she was transfixed. "He's a poetically strong composer whose lyrics are introspective," she said. Raised in Rio, Moraes started as an instrumentalist, playing, alternately, piano, guitar and harmonica. "I gave them all up," she said ruefully. But she sang around the house and it was as a singer that she joined the theater group Asdrubal Trouxe o Trombone in 1981. Her life changed.

"I was losing my mom (who died that year) and going through a lot of sadness," she said. "This group allowed me to see that I could be happy singing, that there was a career there."

On stage, Moraes is a bundle of spirit and energy; she revels in the moment. Which might make an audience believe that her premonition was accurate. "I like to show people," she said, "that to open up to life is such a good thing, to dream is good, to express your feelings is good."

* Katia Moraes appears Sat., 9:30 and 11:30 p.m., at La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Cover charge, $10, two-drink minimum. Information: (818) 980-8158.

*

BIG BAND SAMBA: Pianist Guilherme Vergueiro is another Brazilian who has made his home in Southern California--he resides in North Hollywood. Vergueiro is a samba lover. "The samba is Brazilian jazz," he said. "It has a very strong rhythm with very strong opportunities to go into different melodies and harmonies."

Check out how Vergueiro investigates the many possibilities of samba when he leads his big band on Tuesday, at 8 and 10 p.m., at the Moonlight Tango Cafe (13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; $13 cover for 8 p.m. show, $9 cover for 10 p.m., $9.95 food or drink minimum; (818) 788-2000).

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