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How are Italian DJ Nicola Conte and Brazilian singer Rosalia de Souza fusing Italian and Brazilian music?

August 30, 2003

How are Italian DJ Nicola Conte and Brazilian singer Rosalia de Souza fusing Italian and Brazilian music?

Brazil and Italy are two of the biggest powerhouses in world soccer. Twice — in 1970 and in 1994 — the national teams of these nations have faced each other in the final of the World Cup. While Brazil won both encounters, the games were dramatic matches that showed off the impressive sporting qualities of both countries.

For a decade before the time of Brazil and Italy’s first World Cup final in 1970, both countries were undergoing musical renaissances as well. In Brazil, the bossa nova sound pioneered by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto had dominated Brazilian music for over a decade — and had conquered the world as well.

By 1970, that bossa nova sound — which first reached a worldwide audience with Astrud Gilberto’s hit, “The Girl from Ipanema” — had made serious inroads into jazz and pop music all over the globe.

A new generation of stars such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil pushed Brazilian pop to new frontiers — adding rock and samba rhythms to the bossa nova formula. Thus, Brazilian music continued to be an important export.

The 1960s and 1970s also saw a revival in Italian pop music. As Italy lurched into the decade of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Italian pop music absorbed influences that ranged from Latin American music — including that infectious bossa nova — to rock and roll from the United States. As in France, the initial results of this musical alchemy were highly derivative of their source material.

Yet that sense of imitation was transformed by the composers who labored for Italy’s booming movie industry, centered on the Cinecitta complex near Rome. Composers such as Riz Ortolani, Franco de Gemini and Francesco De Masi combined all these influences in the music that they wrote for movies such as “Tiffany Memorandum”, “All Screwed Up” and “The Great Diamond Robbery”.

The Cinecitta artists’ work was a perfect blend of various musical forms that set the pace for the crime movies and love stories churned out by Italian studios.

Both the bossa nova and the music of Cinecitta soundtracks made a comeback in the 1990s. New Brazilian singers such as Astrud Gilberto (the daughter of Joao Gilberto) revived the bossa nova sound on records such as Tanto Tempo. The soundtrack music of Cinecitta films was rescued from the vaults and re-released in 1997 by a German record label as a three-volume set dubbed “Beat at Cinecitta”.

These rediscoveries and re-releases had a profound impact on the contemporary dance music known either as “downtempo” or “lounge” music. Just as the composers of Cinecitta blended various elements of pop, rock, soul and bossa nova together, downtempo artists such as Washington, D.C.’s Thievery Corporation, Vienna duo Kruder & Dorfmeister and French songwriter/producer Bertrand Burgolat conjured similar landscapes with a more modern feel.

One of the best of these downtempo artists is Italy’s Nicola Conte. Even the title of his first record, “Bossa Per Due” (or “Bossa for Two”), acknowledges the influence of classic bossa nova on his contemporary sound.

Conte’s latest record goes even further in acknowledging the Italy/Brazil connection. “Nicola Conte apresenta Rosalia de Souza: Garota Moderna” [“Nicola Conte Presents Rosalia de Souza: Modern Girl”] is a collaboration between Conte and Rosalia de Souza, a Brazilian singer who has lived in Italy for more than a decade.

As the record’s subtitle (“Garota Moderna”) suggests, the collaboration between Conte and de Souza looks back to the bossa nova past represented by “La Garota del Ipanema” — and forward to a more modern interpretation.

Among the songs on the record are new interpretations of famous bossa nova classics such as “Maria Moita” and Caetano Veloso’s “Saudosismo” that swing with the lilt and energy of the original songs.

Mixed in among the reinterpretations are new compositions by Conte and de Souza that may well become classics in their own right. “Tempo Futuro” is a sweet but fiercely rhythmic ballad that features a gorgeous vocal from de Souza. “Mais” is even more languorous, stretching de Souza’s voice taut against a tight rhythm.

All in all, Conte and de Souza’s collaboration is lasting proof that the Italy-Brazil connection extends past penalty-kick classics — and into the realm of music as well.