Among the new voices in Brazilian music to emerge in recent years, Florida-based Monica da Silva is certainly unique. Born in Michigan to an American mother, she was raised with a love of everything Brazilian by spending months at a time in her mother's native Belém, a city that is part of the Amazon basin.
She recently released her latest disc Brasilissima, which blends elements of electronica, pop and samba into one cohesive package.
The album has opened a lot of doors for her, and one of the tracks - the bilingual "Aí Então" was recently featured on Putumayo's Brazilian Beat, a collection of tunes by emerging Brazilian artists.
We caught up with her via email, when we talked about her bicultural side, her musical influences and also a few personal aspects of her life.
You say in your bio that you grew up between the US and Belém... but where exactly were you born, and where did you spend your formative years? I noticed you have a slight American accent when you sing in Portuguese...
I was born in the US, in Michigan, where my father is from. My mother is from Belém, so I have dual citizenship. I pretty much did all my schooling here in the US, and then spent about 4 months a year in Brazil. My mother really wanted me to know and love Brazil.
She also wanted me to be close to her family and culture. Brazil and the US both feel like home to me. It's funny, because people always ask me where I'm from, no matter where I am. Brazilians will sometimes ask me if I'm Portuguese, or Italian. I have no idea where I got my accent!
On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your Portuguese?
As for my Portuguese, I would say that right now it's at about an 8. There was a time, just a few years ago, that my Portuguese was even better than my English. But, that was when I lived in Brazil for over a year. Then, I was living, breathing, thinking, and dreaming in Portuguese, which is what I think it takes to say you're at a 10.
I'm speaking a lot more now that I'm here in Miami, which is nice, because in Chicago I didn't practice as much as I'd like to. I still speak with lots of my family members in Portuguese, and that helps to keep up my fluency.
How did you begin you career?
I started my career when I was a teenager. My sister and brother are musicians, too, so we started playing and writing songs together. We began touring around the country, playing shows, learning the business, and having fun.
Your musical partnership with Chad Alger... how did it begin and how has it developed since?
Chad and I met just over 4 years ago, when we were both living in Chicago. He had just moved there to pursue music as a career, and I'd been living there for a while. I was playing and recording and I'd just released an album which was more pop Rock called "Miles From Nowhere". I'd been wanting to focus more on my Brazilian roots, and Chad was really into Jazz and Brazilian Music.
We started playing in a quartet, with him on drums, since drums are his first instrument. I had no idea he even played guitar. Since Chicago winters are pretty brutal, we began hanging out at my apartment, drinking wine, and cooking a lot during the blizzards. Chad started playing the guitar, and we immediately wrote a bunch of songs. They just came pouring out. Most of the songs on Brasilissima were a result of those kitchen sessions.
So are you romantically involved?
Yes, Chad and I are together. We pretty much started playing together (no pun intended) and dating right away. It was cool to meet someone I connected with both romantically and musically. In the past, for some reason, I never dated musicians, or anyone who was so passionate about music.
In other relationships, I always felt like I was choosing between being with the person or working on my music, and dividing my time and energy. It's great to be with someone who has as much drive and focus as I do, and to work together toward the same goal. On the business side of things, we are opposites in our strengths. Since I'm more of an extrovert, I handle booking shows and connecting with people. He's great at building websites, and handling the social media.
I'm also more of a melody and lyrics person, while he is all about the rhythm and technicalities. We work a lot, so sometimes it is hard to leave things at the end of the day and just hang out. It's not unusual for us to be online, or be calling venues until 10 or later at night. During our downtime, we like watching movies, cooking and going to the beach with our dogs, Penny Lane and Juju. Both named after songs, one obviously by the Beatles and the other by Wayne Shorter.
What instruments do you play?
Besides singing, which has always been my first love, I play the piano and the flute.
How is your composition method?
When I'm writing a song, I don't really have one set method. Sometimes it begins with a catchy melody that will just show up in my head. Other times, it takes hearing some chords, to really inspire a melody. I love writing both ways. When I keep thinking about a melody that's when I know it's good.
You made it into the Putumayo collection - how did that happen, and how has that impacted your career so far?
There's a DJ named Michael Crockett who has a program called "Horizontes" on KUT in Austin, TX. I met him a couple of years ago when Chad and I were in Austin for SXSW (Music Conference and Festival South by Southwest). After we put out Brasilissima, I sent it to him, hoping he'd play it on his show. He wrote me back a nice letter, saying how much he liked the CD. He also had some suggestions on who I could send it to. Putumayo was one of the things on his list, so I sent our album out to them.
Since "Brazilian Beat" came out, things are starting to take off a bit for me. I just teamed up with Havaianas USA in order to promote my music. They really believe in my potential as an artist, and want to build a relationship between my music and their brand. I think it's a perfect match!
You have been mostly performing locally in South Florida - do you plan to expand that in the near future?
I moved to Florida almost 2 years ago. I have been focusing my efforts around here, because I've been concentrating on getting Brasilissima out there, and promoting it takes lots of work. I'm now in the process of working on songs for our next album, while simultaneously trying to use social media to promote Brasilissima. I'm such a nomad, that it is a bit hard to stay put for long, but being in this area has been just what I need.
I will be heading out to Austin, TX for SXSW in a couple weeks, which will be a nice change of scenery. After our new album comes out, we plan on touring nationally and internationally.
For more information, music and tour dates, visit http://www.monicadasilva.com/
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was published in The Brasilians.