It's one thing for a brand new artist to break on the Billboard charts with their first album; it's quite another to do so with a (mostly) non-English language album that was strong enough for even oIt's one thing for a brand new artist to break on the Billboard charts with their first album; it's quite another to do so with a (mostly) non-English language album that was strong enough for even one of the strongest corporate entities in the 'States -- Starbucks -- to support it.
Brazilian songwriter CéU has succeeded thus far because, while she may sing in Portugese, her music speaks to people in many different ways. Bringing in elements of jazz, soul, samba, Musica Popular Brasileira, electronica, reggae, hip-hop and trip-hop, her relaxed tunes are packed with lovely melodies and her colorful voice.
"The American market is pretty much [restricted] to the English language, which makes this really nice. I wasn't expecting that," CéU tells Billboard.com on April 18, on her 27th birthday.
CéU's self-titled album (Starbucks Entertainment/Six Degrees) bowed at No. 7 on the Top Independent Albums tally and at the summit of Top Heatseekers. She also derailed Celtic Woman from No. 1 on Top World Albums this week, which so few artists have done over the last two years (see Fred Bronson's Chart Beat this week, last item).
Born Maria do CéU Whitaker Pocas in musically lush Sao Paolo, CéU grew up in a musical family, her father and brother professional composers and piano players and her mother a singer. By her mid-teens, she knew she wanted to become a musician. She quickly submerged herself into material from groups Jurassic 5, De La Soul and Erykah Badu to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Working as a waitress and finishing school, CéU began writing her own music four years ago and began recording what would become the record with musician Antonio Pinto and veteran producer Beto Villares. Pinto in turn hooked her up with a spot on the soundtrack to the popular Brazilian television series based on the film "City of God."
"I couldn't have done this without them," CéU says. "I'm not an instrumentalist and I was never classically trained. I couldn't make those beats happen on my own."CéU has been on the road ever since she started writing, touring extensively in Europe -- with particular success in France. This month marks the first time she's headlined a tour in the U.S.
"Brazilians are very festive when they go to my shows, lots of dancing. In the U.S., people like to really listen, and I like that too. France was a lot the same way, they're listening for the tale you are trying to tell them," CéU explains. Her tales mostly consist of what she calls her "diary," the lyrics a series of events and moments that she's remembered from over the years. "I like to think that people understand what is going on, even if they don't know what it is that I'm singing."
Starbucks at least understood CéU's appeal and signed her as the fourth artist to its Hear Music roster. The album sold well from out of the coffee chain's shops, as well as in retail outlets. "I don't really know much about Starbucks. I think we might have just gotten one in Brazil. I had no idea that it was this huge thing," she says. "I don't know the American culture very well, but now I'm really learning."