Leme is a quiet neighborhood at one end of the famous Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro. It is little known by tourists, or was until the Méridien hotel, now sold to another chain, was built at the corner where Leme begins. It is a residential neighborhood, where the buildings on the edge of the beach enjoy a superb view of the full extent of Copacabana and it is also quite a trendy place, where some of the nicest restaurants and cafés in Rio are located.
One of these is the Gaia Art and Café, which is not on the seaside but on the main inside street, Rua Gustavo Sampaio. I had never heard of it, let alone been there. It was already packed when I arrived, but being a friend of the performers, I was immediately given a seat at a front-row table in this very charming café. My hosts and performers that evening were an extremely unusual and talented family. Francisca Aquino, an excellent pianist, is the mother of singer Josira Salles,cellist Janaína Salles, trombonist Cecília Salles and pianist and melodica player Luiza Aquino. All five of them are excellent musicians and very good looking, which of course makes for an evening of sheer pleasure.
The repertoire was mainly Brazilian, with folk and bossa nova classics, and also included a few American staples. I only knew Francisca and Janaína as classical musicians, and had never heard the other siblings, so I was in for a delightful surprise. Nevertheless, for all the charm of the place and the delicious food and drinks, I would have preferred a quieter venue without the interference of inevitable chit-chat, noises from the bar and clinking of flatware and glasses. The performers definitely deserved more concentration and fuller attention, and I confess to being annoyed and throwing dirty looks at the offenders around me.
The first song on the program was the classic Dindi, one of Tom Jobim’s oldest. The beautifully modulated ballad sounded sweet and melancholy in Josira’s gorgeous voice, which simply blew me over. Throughout some of the greatest songs in the Brazilian popular and folk repertoire, A Felicidade, Chega de Saudade, Samba de uma Nota Só, Carinhoso, Modinha, Mulher Rendeira, Asa Branca, … Josira showed her magnificent talent, her beautifully honed voice, her extraordinary sense of pitch and rhythm, and her versatility – she can be in turn mournful, sentimental, sensual and joyful, and has a perfect command of words and scat.
Her mother Francisca’s accompaniment was absolutely in harmony with her daughter’s renditions, and her solos showed that she is as talented a jazz and pop pianist as she is a classical one. Janaína’s, Cecilia’s and Luiza’s cameo participation added charm and interest to the performance and left one wishing to hear more from them.
Josira could be singing on stages and clubs anywhere in the world, and would certainly be magnificent in a Broadway musical. I looked her up on the web, and heard recordings of Debussy and Richard Strauss which show that she is also an excellent classical soprano. I was particularly impressed by her interpretation of the poignant Zueignung, into which she seems to pour her soul. Yet, as far as I know, she chooses to teach in Switzerland, and I’m sure her students are extremely lucky. Not so much her fans, among which I now include myself, who would like to hear much, much more and much more often!