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Sergio Mendes
Brazil’s most internationally successful artist turns up the heat with some cool hip-hop beats.

What does it take to bring the Black Eyed Peas, Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, India.Arie, Erykah Badu and John Legend together on one album? Nothing short of a legend. Sergio Mendes is the legend in question ~ the most internationally successful Brazilian artist of all time ~ and a new generation will now discover his music on Timeless, his first studio release in eight years.

The album has Black Eyed Peas rapper/producer at the helm with an army of hip-hop’s hottest stars collaborating with Mendes to reinvent fifteen classic tunes. Do the hot young performers steal the veteran’s thunder? Not a chance. It is Mendes’s sublime piano playing that brings the magic touch to all the tracks. There’s a reason he’s a legend after all!

Here’s a quick recap for those who are not familiar with Mendes’s work. Sergio Mendes was born on 11 February 1941 in Niterói, Brazil. The son of a physician, Mendes attended the local conservatory and flourished under the musical training, quickly establishing himself as a versatile professional pianist at the age of sixteen.

Soon he was playing regularly at clubs around his hometown and before long joined the circle of musicians in Rio who were creating a new revolutionary musical style that came to be known as bossa nova (a jazz-influenced style of samba).

After rising to prominence as the leader of the Bossa Nova Trio, Mendes settled in the United States in 1964. A year later he formed Brasil '65, the first incarnation of the group rechristened several months later as the more famous Brasil '66. The group combined the talents of a host of accomplished musicians ~ veteran Latin percussionists Jose Soares and Joao Palma, bassist Bob Matthews, Mendes on piano, and singers Lani Hall and Janis Hansen. Brasil ’66 was a smash hit and the group reached the top of the Billboard singles charts with a number of hits, most notably their signature song, Mas Que Nada.

From 1966 to 1968, the group toured the world, playing to millions of fans across America, Europe, Australia, and the Far East. Mendes even opened for Frank Sinatra and played at the White House for two Presidents. In 1993 Mendes was awarded a Grammy for his album Brasileiro, further cementing his importance in the music world. Says the Black Eyed Peas’, “In the '60s, there was hippie music and, you know, soul music and rock, blues, jazz. And, then here comes Sergio Mendes saying, 'Hey, have you heard Brazilian music?' And he brought it to America. He imported it. You know what I mean? I've worked with James Brown, and he's the one who brought funk to America. And now I've worked with Sergio Mendes, and he's also responsible for bringing a whole genre of music to the United States. It's like, you know, Earth, Wind And Fire wouldn't be Earth, Wind And Fire if Sergio Mendes hadn't brought samba and bossa nova to America."

Before there was Timeless, there was Elephunk, the 2005 Black Eyed Peas release on which Will invited Mendes to play piano. The two met to work on the BEP track Sexy and instantly clicked. Mendes had been Will’s idol for years before that musical collaboration. In fact, Mendes’s track Slow Hot Wind (now reworked on Timeless as That Heat) is the first song Will ever sampled while still a teenager! As he says, “This album has been fourteen years in the making.”

After successfully collaborating on the BEP track, the two decided to work together on an entire album’s worth of material. Recalls Mendes, “[Will] came to my house with a lot of old vinyls that I recorded many years ago. And I was so surprised. It was like, ‘Wow!’ He knew every song. He knows every Brazilian riff. I could just feel his passion for the music. We talked and I said, ‘You know what? You love Brazilian music. Why don’t we bring the Brazilian music and melodies to the hip-hop urban world and put them together? I think we can make something really different.’” Adds Will, “Hip-hop is urban to America and samba and bossa nova are urban to Brazil. It’s two urban cultures clashing and fusing together beautifully, because they all share a lot of the same qualities.”

You can read the rest of our feature on Sergio Mendes in the May 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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