Brazilian music star Marisa Monte is opening new doors in America

Minnesotans tend to be proud survivors, yet we can be a little apologetic when it comes to our winter weather, knowing it’s not for everyone. Interviewed via Zoom, Brazilian singer-songwriter Marisa Monte made a remarkable observation when the laptop camera showed a south Minneapolis backyard covered in white: “The snow, it is so beautiful!”

It’s a statement not usually uttered by those who live in tropical climates, much less Rio de Janeiro, arguably one of the most picturesque cities on the planet, but Monte is a musician with a singular vision.

She will be able to see the snow when she performs Saturday at the State Theatre with a new five-piece band of acclaimed Brazilian players. While she’s played the Twin Cities twice before, it’s her first trip back after releasing her first solo album since 2011.

The album’s title, “Portas” — Portuguese for “doors” — is meant to evoke a passage, changes, transformations.

While her music blends traditional and modern acoustic and electric genres, her performances are otherworldly. The stage setup utilizes imaginative projected images and colorful lighting design that accentuates her Portuguese lyrics.

Monte stands center stage, an elegant diva pushing art and performance into the future.

Reports were gushing from a recent tour of Brazil, where she performed for the first time in more than two years. In two-hour-plus concerts that featured more than 30 songs, there were hits, new songs and even requests — an online poll prompted Monte to unearth “Ainda Lembro” from her second album, which she hadn’t played live in 20 years.

Minneapolis is the fourth stop on her 10-city U.S. tour — the longest of her 35-year career, with dates added because of demand. Considering the uncertainties of booking a local gig, much less a string of international ones, it’s a bold step.

“I like to be challenged in meeting people who have never watched me live before, going to cities where there are not just Brazilians in the audience,” she said. “It’s challenging, and it really moves me.

“I want to go to the United States and find people who have never been to Brazil, that don’t speak Portuguese but are interested in Brazilian music and culture. It’s nice to travel beyond the four or five cities where all the other Brazilian artists go.”

Hoping for connection

Monte’s 12th album as a solo artist is unflaggingly upbeat. She sings about celebratory themes of music, poetry, art, nature and connection — all the things she was looking for at that moment.

“I wanted to share hope with people,” she says of the album. “After dark, the sunlight comes. I didn’t want to share sadness and loneliness, all this fear that we were all experiencing together. I wanted to connect and say that it would be through with it soon.”

Of course, making a record during a pandemic was complicated. Monte wrote or co-wrote all but one song, but there was still the matter of recording it with other musicians. She organized rehearsals that were outdoors and socially distanced. All the basic tracking was done live at the end of 2020 with COVID testing, taking of temperatures and masking.

Like many of us, she also worked remotely. This meant Zoom collaborations with art-rock icon Arto Lindsay in New York, Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler in Spain and a string section in Portugal, all captured on documentary-like videos of the musicians playing to their computer camera.

“It was like super possible,” Monte said of her online work. “We had to adapt our plans to the reality we had at that moment. It worked out very well. Everybody wanted to work. They wanted to take that time to do something positive, to propose something interesting in our lives.”

Monte is a serial collaborator. “Portas” includes a track with fellow Brazilian singer-songwriters Seu Jorge and his daughter Flor de Maria, who is emerging as an artist in her own right.

“When I do my record, it is an opportunity to invite people that I dream of working with,” she said. “I don’t have to wait for them to ask.

“Arto Lindsay, he’s an amazing producer, and we are close friends. We worked on four albums together in the ’90s. He brought a lot of amazing people to my work. Like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, John Zorn.”

Modern pop tastes demand that artists often revamp their sound from album to album, but “Portas” is not far removed from her last album. It is colorful, lush and eclectic.

Hoping for connection

Born in 1967, Monte showed interest in music from a young age, and as a child took piano and drum lessons. She loved Maria Callas and Billie Holiday, as well as Carmen Miranda and Brazilian music. Her father is a respected leader at one of Brazil’s famed samba schools.

She left music school in Brazil and moved to Italy in 1985 to study opera in more depth, but soon turned to singing Brazilian music. Within a few years, she was back in Brazil, quickly standing out in its fertile music scene.

As a producer as well as singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Monte is now established as one of the most important Brazilian music artists of her generation, selling more than 10 million records worldwide, with broad international acclaim.

In the years since her last solo album, she reunited with the Brazilian supergroup Tribalistas, recording a second album with them and touring in 2017. She also produced albums and toured with samba’s old guard, while collaborating with both new talents and friends she’s known for years.

“It’s nice to be transcultural, transgenerational, and to show through the music how nice it is to get together. How beautiful it is to be open to the other. To add different feelings to express human feelings.”

Marisa Monte
When: 8 p.m. Sat.
Where: State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $45-$108, hennepintheatretrust.org

Tad Hendrickson is a Minneapolis freelance writer and critic.