Born on June 8, 1970, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Addresses: Record company--Wrasse Records, Wrasse House The Dr., Tyrrells Wood, Leatherhead KT22 8QW, phone: 01372-376-266, website: http://www.wrasserecords.com. Website--Seu Jorge Official Website: http://www.seujorge.com.
Singer-songwriter Seu Jorge raised his profile in 2004 by taking a small role in a small movie. Popular in his native Brazil since the mid-1990s, his laidback style made him a perfect fit for the role of a deckhand in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The crowning touch, however, was to allow Jorge's deckhand character to do what he did best: play acoustic guitar and sing. With a handful of David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese, the movie introduced Jorge to an American, and later a worldwide, audience. "He's both the bad boy of Brazilian samba," wrote Jim Farber in the New York Daily News, "and the go-to-guy for filmmakers eager to enhance their movies with an extra layer of cool."
Jorge was born on June 8, 1970, and grew up in the rough and tumble ghettos of Rio de Janeiro. When he later played a part in Fernando Meirelles's City of God, his fellow actors wanted to know if the Rio "favelas" (the shantytowns or slums of Brazil) portrayed in the gritty film were as bad as depicted. "I said unfortunately they're much worse," he told Andrew Mueller in the London Guardian. At the age of ten, Jorge repaired tires to help his family financially. "Getting out of a favela is a big deal," he told Phil Meadley in the London Independent. "Gangsters are so powerful. Drug trafficking is rife, and no one has jobs." The desperation of the slums of Rio was brought home to Jorge in 1990 when his brother Vitorio was fatally shot following a robbery.
Jorge aspired to escape from the slums by performing music and acting. His father played percussion, and soon Jorge auditioned for clarinetist Paulo Moura at a small nightclub. Moura believed that Jorge had a talent for acting and music, and he gave the young man a clarinet. "When I did the test the people liked my voice and they gave me a solo," Jorge told Peter Margasak in Down Beat. "They put me on stage and it was there I realized that I could act as well." Jorge also started acting at Rio's state university theater company, where he appeared in 20 plays. After years of saving, he bought his first acoustic guitar and began developing his trademark style.
Jorge joined Farofa Carioca in 1993 and relied on his theatrical experience to build a unique stage show. "Their shows were a colorful mélange of actors, musicians, trapeze artists and jugglers," wrote Meadley. The band became popular in Rio, and Jorge, as the group's front man, became a well-known personality on the music scene. In 1998 Farofa Carioca released its first album, Moro No Brazil (I Live in Brazil), and it sold well in Brazil, Portugal, and Japan. Jorge then briefly joined Planet Hemp before embarking on a solo career.
Jorge released his solo debut, Samba Esporte Fino in 2001, an album renamed Carolina in the United States. Produced by Mario Caldato, who had worked with the Beastie Boys, the album found Jorge creating a distinct musical blend by marrying Brazilian samba to other genres. He also began auditioning for movie roles, and was offered a role in Madame Sata (Madame Satan). Jorge found himself unable to relate to the role, however, and was taken off the movie by the director. Several days later he received a call from Fernando Meirelles, who asked him to consider a part in City of God, a film depicting life in the slums of Rio. Jorge read the script and accepted the part.
In 2004 Jorge came to prominence when he accepted the role of a singing deckhand in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anderson knew Jorge from his work in City of God, and wanted him to sing covers of David Bowie songs, including "Rebel Rebel," "Life on Mars," "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," and "Starman" for the film. The only problem was that Jorge mostly sang in Portuguese and only knew one Bowie song, "Let's Dance." "I guess the idea wasn't effectively communicated to him that he was to sing translated lyrics of Bowie songs," Anderson jokingly told Nancy Miller in Entertainment Weekly. Anderson liked Jorge's versions nonetheless, even if he didn't understand a word of Portuguese. Jorge also custom-fit his translation from English to Portuguese for the movie. "I changed the words quite a lot," Jorge told Mueller. "I wanted each song to be about a different character."
In 2005 Jorge issued Cru (Raw), a quiet album recorded in Paris that fused acoustic guitar and squeaky percussion with low-key synthesizers. In Interview Dimitri Ehrlich called Cru "a collection of incandescent, jazzy pop sung mainly in Portuguese but illuminated by a sense of ... optimism that shines through in any language." These simple arrangements allowed Jorge's warm vocals and the songs themselves to shine forth. Although Jorge's sound derived from samba, he also embraced diverse rhythmic and structural elements that allowed him to build on tradition. He enriched the collection by covering "Don't," a song made popular by Elvis Presley, in English, and by offering a fascinating version of Serge Gainsbourg's "Chatterton." While the Presley song, on the surface, seemed at odds with the other material, Jorge had a debt to pay. "I feel Elvis was crucial to getting black music across to white Americans," Jorge told Ehrlich.
In 2005 The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions album was also released. The recording featured stripped-down versions of many songs that had originally appeared on Bowie's Honky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. "Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs acoustically in Portuguese," Bowie noted in the album's liner notes, "I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with."
Maintaining both acting and recording careers has kept Jorge busy, and he told Margasak he believes the combination offers a healthy equilibrium. "I'm balanced with music and acting," he stated. "It's a pleasure to be able to work in both. They are two different processes of working with art." Although much has changed for Jorge since his childhood in Rio's favelas, he hasn't forgotten his roots. "Where I come from," he told Meadly, "most people don't live happily ever after." On "I Am Favela," the closing song on Cru, he vividly recalled his experience. "The song is a manifesto," he told Sue Steward in the London Observer. "People in the favelas are abandoned, completely marginalized by society, but dignified and proud. They have a right to humanity as well: they can also be chic."
by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr
Seu Jorge's Career
Appeared in 20 plays with Rio's state university theater company; joined Farofa Carioca, 1992; recorded first solo project, Samba Esporte Fino, 2001; issued first solo album in United States as Carolina, 2002; appeared in City of God, 2002; appeared in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, 2004; released Cru and The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions, 2005.
- Selected discography
- Carolina Mr. Bongo, 2002.
- Cru Wrasse, 2005.
- The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions Hollywood, 2005.
- Down Beat, December 1, 2005, p. 34.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 2004, p. 42
- Guardian (London, England), July 16, 2005, p. 23.
- Independent (London, England), April 22, 2005, p. 16.
- Interview, September 2005, pp. 96, 98.
- New York Daily News, June 14, 2005.
- Observer (London, England), February 20, 2005, p. 44.