Her parents and she were eventually forced to flee from the military dictatorship that took power in Brazil in 1964, reigning, with terror, until 1974, and not completely ousted until the amnesty of 1980. The regime didn’t like dissent, and when the dissent took form in popular music, reprisals were made. One of the most admired cultural figures in Brazil, Chico Buarque, fled to Italy in 1970. Leading Tropicalismo artists Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil were exiled, and gloomed around London for two years, 1970-72. In Chile a similar reaction on the part of a military dictatorship in power there took place, with barbarous savagery. In 1973 prominent teacher, playwright and composer Victor Jara was tortured, beaten with clubs and the bones of his hands deliberately broken because he had written and performed on the guitar songs of protest. Then he was machine gunned to death. The situation was not as extreme in Brazil, but the threat was there. In these cultures performers could be poets, poets could be leaders, and singers could be politicians. It is a dimension to be aware of.
Bia’s family escaped first to Chile, then left Chile for Peru and finally went to Portugal. Bia spent the age between three and 12 as an exile, and returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1980 to finish her schooling and start university. Her upbringing must have been unsettling, because she then left Brazil again to travel around Europe, finally settling in Paris, where she began her music career. French producer Pierre Barouh offered her a contract which resulted in Bia’s first album, La mémoire du vent, largely a tribute to Chico Buarque. In 1998 Bia appeared briefly in a film by Claude Lelouche, Hasards ou coïncidence, and performed a song of Chico’s on the soundtrack. Concert tours followed, in Japan, Italy and Quebec. Bia was particularly popular in Quebec, and gave more than 100 performances there. Other studio albums followed, Sources, recorded in Rio in 2000 on which she emerged as a songwriter, and Carmin in 2003 on which all but two tracks were her own compositions. Coeur Vagabond of 2006 reprises the tour de force of her first release by showcasing Brazilian composers (Djavan, Buarque, Veloso) whose songs are sung in French, and French ones (Gainsbourg, Brassens, Keren Ann), performed in Portuguese. These albums resulted in promotional tours, and Bia travelled further than ever, from western to eastern Europe and then Turkey. Bia’s fifth CD, Nocturno, was released in 2008. It is an album of her own compositions, sung in Portuguese, with some tracks in Spanish and English.
Like a lot of performers, Bia is talented in several fields. She is a skilled guitarist, dances on stage at professional level, has a warm and expressive singing voice just different enough to give her songs greater depth without drawing attention to itself, and can compose and sing in several styles (and languages), Afro-Brazil, bossa nova, chanson, pop, MPB, samba. What I enjoy about Bia’s CDs is that they’re put together with good taste. No virtuoso showing off, no trip-hop overlay, no downbeat chill (thank god: go home, Ibiza). Just melody, rhythm, a tight band, and a door into traditions and cultures accessed in an unexpected way. Imagine, a song by Brassens in Spanish with a bossa arrangement! Talk about cross-fertilisation. That’s what Bia’s music is all about. Circumstances dictated that she grew up influenced by many cultures (remember how much it meant to you when you were growing up?). Now Bia gives her listeners the opportunity to broaden their world while enjoying that most precious of things, good music. For some reason my mind jumps to Woody Guthrie’s slogan “this machine kills fascists”. However unlikely it appears, maybe Bia is a politician after all.