Janelle Monae's participation in "Rio 2" owes to a meeting two years ago between the singer and director Carlos Saldanha at a Rock in Rio performance.
"She had a few Brazilians in her band and I think that helped when I asked her if she wanted to sing in the sequel," Saldanha told Billboard after a presentation Feb. 13 of clips from the film on the Fox lot. "The music was much more integral to this movie and we started much earlier on the music."
The music for "Rio 2" includes Monae's "What Is Love" that opens the film and includes new songs from Bruno Mars, his Smeezingtons bandmate Philip Lawrence, and Kristen Chenoweth, who gets to unleash her Broadway pipes on a ballad and during Jemaine Clement's samba-flavored rendition of the Gloria Gaynor disco hit "I Will Survive."
Saldanha became interested in casting Mars -- it's his first voiceover role -- after seeing him on "Saturday Night Live." After working with Mars, he rewrote his character to make him less macho and, after a recording session, had a segment reanimated to fit his singing. "He pushed it in a way that said 'this is the character' and we felt we could push it," Saldanha said of the revisions.
Atlantic Records will release the soundtrack around the time the film opens in theaters, April 11. Producers-composers Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown reprise their roles from the first film as does composer John Powell.
Saldanha said the film would most likely have 12 songs, all of them rooted in traditional folk music of northeastern Brazil as the film is mostly set in the Amazon. A 12-member Sao Paulo band that uses only vocals and body percussion, Barbatuques, contributes to the score and songs.
"It's a different kind of music from the first one, which was mostly samba," Saldanha said. "It's multicultural and represents Brazil and the USA. We looked at folk dancing and folk songs of the region. Sergio and Carlos have great ears and they make sure everything is done (rhythmically) the way it's done in Brazil."