João Selva - Navegar (Underdog Records, 2021)

João Selva is a fan of traditional Brazilian pop. His new album “Navegar” is a declaration of love for the Creole culture of the “black” part of the Atlantic.

João Selva returns to the samba-meets-soul jazz vibes of his Rio De Janeiro upbringing, invoking a time surrounded by the crème de la crème of bossa nova musicians, delivering a shot of optimism for a jaded planet.

In response to the political turmoil in Brazil, and everyone’s need for a little hope right now, Navegar cuts through the murk with an infectious, joyous repertoire that mixes funk, soul and jazz with the best of Brazil. Produced by prolific French producer Patchworks, and featuring a duet with fellow Brazilian Flavia Coelho (Meu Mano), Selva aims to get the good times rolling again.

Born in Ipanema, music was in Selva’s blood from an early age thanks to his pastor father, and his extensive record collection, who recruited iconic bossa nova musician Wanda Sá as João’s first guitar tutor, and took him backstage to shows by the likes of Marcos Valle and João Donato. They were eye-opening encounters for Selva: “Those people taught me that Brazilian music can be jazz, enriched with strong arrangements without ever losing its groove.”

As a student Selva moved to the north-east of Brazil and fell in love with traditional Brazilian music, as well as the martial art capoeira.

He became hugely proficient at the latter, spending years touring Africa, Europe and the Caribbean as part of an ensemble. Each year they would perform across France, basing themselves in Lyon, and eventually Selva decided to call the French city home. There, he began performing with Forró de Rebeca and Sociedade Recreativa (a collaboration with Brazil-based US producer Maga Bo), two groups paying tribute to the music of Brazil’s north-east, while also seeing how far they can push its limits.

Eventually he met Bruno Hovart, aka Patchworks, a prolific French producer who makes souljazzfunkdisco and started recording together. For Selva, it was like a return to his childhood: “After so many years devoted to traditional music, it was refreshing to meet Bruno in 2016 and dig those laid-back Rio vibes”.

João Selva - Navegar

Navegar’s opening title track sets the map. Inspired by Paul Gilroy’s iconic book Black Atlantic, its infectious funky samba groove bounces back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, tracing the journeys that resulted in the African slaves straddling continents, and paying homage to each destination.

“In Bahia, I’m going to samba… I’m going to lose myself in the Caribbean… eat cachupa in Cape Verde… see the moon in Luanda”, he sings. Selva teams up with the irrepressible Flavia Coelho on Meu Mano for a track that could be right out of the Marcos Valle songbook, not to mention the fact that it’s got the kind of key change that would make the old beach boy himself envious. It’s a song about being open, about travelling and trying new things. “What’s up my brother? What’s up my sister?” he sings in the chorus, inviting all to join him on his journey.

The song Camará serves as a raison d’etre, with its emotions stemming from a recent trip to Brazil: “All my friends were sad, pessimistic about the situation since the coup d’etat [when Dilma was impeached]. So I wanted to send a message of hope. This message is abundantly clear in the words: “No captain can stop us, just like there’s no stone that can’t be eroded by water”, two lines that clearly point their finger at current president Bolsanaro, before urging his people to persevere: “Smile like you usually do… hold your head up camará / olélé oléle / let’s go dancing camará”. His use of the word camará is crucial, this is the affectionate name used in capoeira to refer to your fellow dancers, it means “buddy” or “partner”, and once more sees João offering an abraço (embrace) to all those who need it.

Navegar is a salvo of genuine warmth and hope, made with seriously funky musical chops, that places this Lyon-based son of a pastor-man prominently in the spotlight of contemporary Brazilian popular music.

NMR (foto: press João Selva)