Seu Jorge: Charm over Virtuosity

By now, if you've seen Cidade de Deus, or Wes Anderson's eclectically stylish The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you know about Seu Jorge. He's a tall, handsome fella from Rio de Janeiro, and he's become a superstar of their burgeoning pop culture.

As an actor, he's entirely believable in almost all that he does.  He's got charm and an easy going yet intense nature that lends itself to film.  In Cidade de Deus (City of God) he plays Mané Galinha (or "Knockout Ned") a favela strutter who's pretty much got it all together amidst the heady drug running and gunning, unfortunately so emblematic of modern Rio.  Seu Jorge plays the character with poise and grace, going far beyond the narrative to further draw the audience into a tumultuous but exhilarating world.

A lovely "caricature" by Blake Loosli (a.k.a. Infernovball) on deviantart.com 

Jorge plays the cool, reserved mate, "Pelé dos Santos", most effortlessly in The Life Aquatic despite a nearly line-free character other than his set of David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese.  Shamefully, my Bowie knowledge isn't deep enough to truly enjoy the lyrics in Portuguese, but the aura he puts off for the ship's crew, adrift at sea aboard the research vessel Belafonte, is especially intoxicating -- a star quality even in a tiny supporting role.

For all this talk of his acting talents, Seu Jorge's (born Jorge Mário da Silva in 1970) growing fame also stems from his music and his role in the re-invigoration of samba.  It seems that this part of Brazilian culture pulses through him with an immutable rhythm.  Jorge carries the baton with guitar, cavaquinho, cuíca, pandeiro, ganzá --just a handful of the brigade of samba instruments.  He is a revivalist and an experimentalist, a living folk hero who mixes influences (like muddling a giant "genre caipirinha") while emulating the masters like Cartola, Zeca Pagodinho, Chico Buarque, Mestre Marçal, João da Baiana, and so many more worth digging up.  Listen to Nelson Cavaquinho for some perspective, then try Seu Jorge's version with psyche rock trio Almaz  :

My first inclination was to rail on Seu Jorge for what seems like a lack of intonation in his singing and a consistent o.d. of drama in his delivery, but after seeking out some background, I realize that this may be his goal: samba is not a strict form, but rather one that encourages improvisation and giant doses of personality all smothered in unflappable joy.  That affable charisma, Seu Jorge has in unending quantities, like an infinite plateau of sugarcane all growing at least a story high.

Juízo Final

Composição: Élcio Soares / Nelson Cavaquinho

O sol....há de brilhar mais uma vez
A luz....há de chegar aos corações
Do mal....será queimada a semente
O amor...será eterno novamente
É o Juízo Final, a história do bem e do mal
Quero ter olhos pra ver, a maldade desaparecer

O amor...será eterno novamente
O amor...será eterno novamente

This version of the classic samba "Juízo Final" is mighty listenable, probably owing to the strangely haunting melody, but the Almaz rhythm section adds plenty, down to the last beats which nearly conjure up James Brown's notorious "Funky Drummer".

His pride as a Carioca (anyone from Rio) in Brazil and internationally is evident in his every appearance on stage.  As a samba vocalist, he's carrying on a tradition in a legendary fashion; decades from now, he'll be at the top of a short list of influential Brazilian artists and culture-makers.  In fact, he's already there.  With trends (for the most part) heading toward the constantly current yet consistently disposable, Seu Jorge makes his countrymen and connoisseurs take notice not with glitz but with a profound respect for the tenets of Brazilian culture: comunidade, orgulho, amizade, beleza, jóia!

Seu Jorge & Almaz - the official site
Interview - a nice piece by Kamille Viola for SoundandColours.com
Mais filmes - complete filmography at IMDB.com

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