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World Music Features

Rosa Passos

By Tad Hendrickson
Published November 28, 2006

Rosa Passos began performing in the late ’60s, but was overlooked for her straightforward approach to bossa nova, eschewing the rock bombast and glossy production values popular at the time. As someone who adheres to the tradition, she is undaunted by the bossa nova’s rich history.

It seems that nearly everyone who records bossa nova albums these days adds a sometimes excellent, but sometimes awful, filigree of electronic beats and textures. Not Rosa Passos. This bossa nova princess has steadfastly stuck to live accompaniment, confident in her ability as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Further stripping down the music to its barest essentials, Passos now offers a solo album simply entitled Rosa (Telarc).

On the new disc, she mixes originals co-written with lyricists, a few classics, a few by lesser-known Brazilian songwriters, and even one by Argentine Grammy winner Jorge Drexler. But Passos puts her stamp on each song, regardless of origin. Her girlish voice seldom purrs louder than a pitch-perfect whisper as she breathes a lilting lyricism into these understated wisps of melody.

Most Brazilians will wax poetic about music, perhaps more than any other country in the world—the culture is arguably so tied to it because of the importance of Carnival—but music is also bound to Brazilians on a personal level. Rosa Passos’ relationship with her art is as passionate as that of any of her countrymen.

"I was very young when I first listened to João Gilberto,” she says. “It was a special moment. Listening to his tender voice, his special way to play the guitar, and the way he phrases the songs made me instantaneously understand music on another level of consciousness. From that moment I understood that music must be treated with love, fondness and tenderness. The intensity comes not from the volume of your voice, but from the comprehension of the feelings shared by the music.”

She started young by attending music lessons as a preschooler, but she was pretty much self-taught after that. Passos first began performing in the late ’60s, but was overlooked for her straightforward approach to bossa nova, eschewing the rock bombast and glossy production values that were popular at the time. So even though she won a songwriting award in 1972 for the song “Mutilados,” she didn’t get to record her first album until 1978. Since then, she’s done more than a dozen releases.

Eventually, as Passos’ understanding of the music was matched by her stature as a performer, she gained an audience with her semi-reclusive hero. She spent her first visit to Gilberto’s Rio apartment playing and singing with him.

"It was magical,” Passos recalls. “He was very sweet to me. At first I was shy, I felt like a child, but as soon as we started playing guitar I felt relaxed. It was pure joy. After that we became friends.”

In 2004, Passos recorded Amarosa, which featured her with orchestra and small band, as a tribute to Gilberto’s 1977 classic Amoroso. While she’s recorded several albums over the years with that format, this solo performance offers a better insight into Rosa Passos than any of those.

"I think this is the kind of work every artist should make,” Passos says. “I have recorded a variety of albums, but not a solo one. I realized that was the right moment to do it. I believe I achieved my professional maturity, so that was the best moment to make my solo flight.”

And fly she does, opening the album with a one-two punch of the haunting acappella version of “Duas Contas” and following it with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Eu Nao Existo Sem Voce." After that is her beautiful original (with lyrics by Sergio Natureze) “Sutilezas,” which is a standout even on this outstanding record. On one song after another, Passos pours out her heart, not letting go of the hypnotic spell until the album ends.

"These songs belong to my life,” Passos says of Rosa. “Somehow they tell about who I am and what I feel. Some of them are connected to special moments of my existence or people that I love. They all bring me good memories.”

The pristine recording snatches the memories out of thin air while also catching each breath, the supple p