Seu Jorge Frazer Harrison/Getty Photos
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Seu Jorge is an internationally acclaimed Brazilian actor and musician. As he wraps up a series of New York City performances and prepares to go off to Europe, he sat down with Jasmine Garsd, from NPR’s Alt.Latino.
There is this scene in the seminal Brazilian film City of God: It really is evening time, and pulsating strobe lights illuminate glistening bodies and shiny Afros swaying to the sounds of disco and funk. We’re at a huge block celebration in a favela, 1 of Brazil’s notorious ghettos.
In 1 corner, Mané Galinha, a handsome busdriver played by singer Seu Jorge (his character is known as Knockout Ned in the film’s English subtitles), is playfully dancing with his girlfriend to the tune of “Kung Fu Fighting.” It’s a scene that may well go unnoticed amidst so a lot of spectacular moments in the film. But it’s a fairly informative snapshot of race and culture in 1970’s Brazil.
Seu Jorge says disco and funk had a large influence on him developing up at that time. In reality, he says funk changed the way black Brazil saw itself. “There’s a lot of African soul in Brazil. When James Brown arrived, it is like a door opened for us.”
The funk was heating up in Rio de Janeiro, but so was the violence. At the dance in City Of God, the gorgeous girlfriend catches the eye of a young drug dealer. A couple of nights later, he rapes her and goes after her boyfriend, Jorge’s character.
Seu Jorge says he recognized himself in the character of Mané Galinha. Just before he became an internationally acclaimed Brazilian music star, he was a kid growing up in a quite comparable favela to the 1 portrayed in the film, proper outside Rio de Janeiro. His personal brother was killed in the ongoing violent confrontations with the police. “I lost my brother . . . My life was really difficult,” Seu Jorge reminisces. “I didn’t have a job more than there . . . Education was extremely, extremely poor. And it is nevertheless like that. The only point that is different is my decision . . . I believe I was a item of luck and difficult operate.”
Even though the character of Mané Galinha turned to a life of revenge and crime, Seu Jorge chose music and acting. It nonetheless expense him dearly — by his early 20’s, he was homeless. But he was also acting a university play residence, and playing at a bar in northern Rio. And playing in bands — his big break came when rapper Marcelo D2 invited him to play drums with the band Planet Hemp. “Marcelo D2, he saved my life,” says Seu Jorge.
Seu Jorge became a household name in Brazil in 2001 with the sophomore album Samba Esporte Fino. It also his first international album, in which he mixed the funk he’d fallen in really like with as a kid, and conventional Brazilian sounds.
But then, in 2004, came the role that pushed him into cult-classic status around the planet. “One particular day I am at my house, and an individual calls me. I grab the phone, but I never comprehend any words the guy says to me.”
He handed the phone to his wife. It was director Wes Anderson. He was putting together this film, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He wanted to know if Seu Jorge could do covers of a handful of David Bowie songs. Seu Jorge stated yes, and moved to Italy to start off working on the film. He plays Pele Dos Santos, a musician who travels with the oceanographic expedition.
He changed the lyrics in translation: “There are so many factors of the heart that I can not understand,” he laments. The covers are filled with saudade, a kind of Brazilian melancholy and homesickness. Seu Jorge says the hostility towards black men he was confronted with in Italy gave his perform its sad tone.
“I suffered a lot of racists in Italy,” he says. “When I would go out, and go to my home…I’d require to go to the pharmacy, purchase stuff for my youngsters…get a cab. Standard things. And folks do not look at me like a good individual, simply because I’m black.”
The result, nevertheless, was beautiful. Bowie himself mentioned, “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would by no means have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
Numerous years later, Seu Jorge is no longer melancholy. He says he’s looking forward instead. “I am trying to adhere to the very same actions as these beautiful icons, Brazilian icons, Caetano [Veloso], Gilberto Gil and Milton Nascimento’s careers.”
He’s properly on his way.
You can hear the entire interview with Seu Jorge this Thursday on Alt.Latino.
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