Raised in the sprawling metropolis of Sao Paulo, Brazil, bossa nova singer and dancer Renata Gil moved with her husband to the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi in 2001. As a child in Brazil, Gil was raised listening to an eclectic variety of music. But as she grew into adolescence, Gil was drawn to Sao Paulo’s scores of samba clubs where she enjoyed the dancing rhythms. “Every week in Brazil, I would go out dancing to zouk (a Caribbean style of music) and samba,” Gil says, “but when I moved to Jackson there was no one dancing to Brazilian or Latino music.”
Samba music has its roots as one of the most popular forms of music in Brazil. At the beginning of the 20th century, the immigrant African population in Rio de Janeiro was credited with developing the unique samba style of music. White Brazilians only came to know samba at the advent of radio and record players when samba music was first being recorded in 1917. In subsequent years, samba began developing into several different subgenres. One of these is the Bossa Nova tradition, which was made popular primarily by white middle-class Brazilians. This style differs from samba in that it is more harmonically complex and less percussive. The music of Brazilian Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobin, and Vinicius de Moraes helped bring bossa nova to international recognition, including widespread popularity in the United States.
It was not until Gil moved to Mississippi that she actively pursued work as a professional musician. Gil met Eduardo Garcia through a meeting of the Mississippi Hispanic Association, and he spoke with her about forming a local bossa nova group. In 2003, their efforts culminated in the form of a four-piece band. Gil, the only Brazilian in the group, took the helm as lead singer, backed by Garcia on guitar, and accompanied by a bassist and saxophonist. “The bossa nova we played was a mix of Brazilian samba and jazz,” says Gil. “Really, it’s a style of music that’s wonderful to listen to at any time.”
The group played primarily at house parties in the Jackson area, where Gil says Jacksonians seemed to appreciate hearing a new type of music. “Many people would come up to me after our set and say, ‘This is nice. This is different. Thank you for playing something different,’” says Gil. In the beginning, Gil only performed one song, “The Girl from Ipanema,” from her repertoire in English, but there was increasingly a push for her group to perform a more Americanized version of bossa nova music. Gil and her band members were less interested in pursuing an Americanized style, which eventually led to the breakup of their group in 2004. It is Gil’s hope that she can find enthusiasm enough for Latin music in the Jackson community to sustain a reemergence of her band and her vocals in the future.