Brazilian singer/songwriter/actor Seu Jorge — best known for his roles in “City of God” and his distinctive pop samba sound — had never met David Bowie when film director Wes Anderson asked him to cover some of Bowie’s biggest hits in his 2004 movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Playing the role of troubadour deckhand Pelé Dos Santos, Jorge sang Bowie’s music his way, in Portuguese, in a manner so soulful that Bowie himself said: “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
On Oct. 7, Jorge will play the final show of his The Life Aquatic – A Tribute to David Bowie tour at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
Billboard spoke with Jorge while he was on the road in Philadelphia.
Billboard: Does it surprise you that people are still so eager to hear your versions of David Bowie songs?
Seu Jorge: Yes, but Bowie spread a lot of beautiful melodies throughout the world. And all audiences have a beautiful mix of people: My fans, Bowie fans. I think people come to the show to celebrate him. I made this just for him. To celebrate his career and his songs with all this audience from around the world.
Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the news David Bowie had died?
Jan. 10. I remember it very well this day. I saw it in Instagram first. And a lot of people sent me messages of support and told me they were listening to the album with the Bowie songs. Three days later my dad passed away. It was a very tough week.
It’s amazing to me that you never met Bowie, yet you connected musically with him at such a deep level…
It was a big honor to work inside these beautiful songs. Bowie was a genius. It was a privilege to work his songs.
When you got the call from Wes Anderson to record the music, were you aware of his work?
I did know him but I wasn’t really a fan. In my neighborhood everything was very simple and my life especially. It was my mom, my dad and my three brothers, in a very small house and we didn’t have a sound system. We just had a radio, a very small AM frequency radio. And the only songs I heard as a teenager were on the radio. And the radio played Bowie songs but not all his career. I didn’t have the money to buy albums. But my musical influence was mostly American black music and Brazilian black music too. I grew up with so many kinds of sounds, but rock n’ roll wasn’t a big part of my life. Just because I didn’t have the resources, not because I didn’t like the style. I really liked it. And I had the opportunity to learn so much about Bowie, about rock n roll, his behavior, the influences on fashion.
When you first heard the Bowie music you had to cover, was there one particular song that struck you?
“Life on Mars” is definitely the song I enjoy playing a lot. It’s so romantic, it’s so melodic, and emblematic in his career. It’s the song that’s impossible not to play. The audience reacts with so much love back when I play this song and I put all my soul into this song. When Wes sent me the repertoire I listened song-by-song and I realized how complicated it was going to be to make this record. Especially because in Brazil in the 1980s, the music you heard in America, we heard five years later. Now, with the Internet, it’s easier. But in the ’80s it was really hard.
You are so much more than The Life Aquatic. What are you working on for the new year?
I’m so excited to go back to the studio. Right now I’m in the bus, I grab my computer, my guitar, my microphones…I’m starting to confect something. I have a lot of ideas. I’m really, really dying to write songs, in Brazilian style and incorporate the influences I have right now. I have so much to say in my music.
Have you been inspired in the bus?
This country is so beautiful. And I have received a lot of love in so many towns: Kansas, Portland, Vermont. I’ve made a lot of friends with the music. The experience has been amazing and everyone has treated us with such love and respect.