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Rhythm Core: During its set, Nossa Bossa performs renditions of Brazilian hits made famous by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil and others.

Lost in Translation

Like a Roberto Carlos free kick, Nossa Bossa put its own magical spin on Brazilian music

By Mandy Toomey

A SMALL, dark woman with a sultry voice stands at a microphone and sings energetic tunes in Portuguese, accompanied by a five-piece band. Tropical sounds stream from the nylon-string guitar and a percussive pair of goat toes. Couples fill the floor and move around each other in a salsa dance. Sweaty bodies collide with the music as the dancers try to squeeze the steps into the quick rhythm. But this is not salsa music; the music is Brazilian, and the dance should be samba. The band is Nossa Bossa, one of the few offering this hybrid of Brazilian music to the San Jose area.

Nossa Bossa presents not only a beautiful, often-unheard language, Brazilian Portuguese, It also offers a unique dance--the samba--along with an eclectic array of instruments. The band's lead singer, Raquel Ramos, was born in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Her sweet, melodic voice lures audiences into the heart of Brazil. "The music is highly poetic with strong lyrics," explains Ramos, "while the African side provides for complex, syncopated rhythms."

Backing up Ramos are guitarist Pat Smith, pianist Bill Walker, drummer Keith Wald, bassist Doug Phorski and percussionist Tammy Bueno. Bueno, being the only band member from San Jose, has been a big force in moving the band's presence into the South Bay in the past year. It has taken the band more than six months to get into San Jose clubs. The band played at Spiedo as part of the jazz festival this past August, and earlier in July, it packed the Hedley Club.

Brazilian music is a meld between Portuguese and African slave cultures. The origins of samba include the poetics of Portuguese and the energy of African music. Both pieces of samba's past, Portuguese and African, evolved in very different paths, leaving Brazilian music to form into a sound not found elsewhere.

Nossa Bossa performs renditions of songs by Brazil's greatest composers, including Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. In order to produce an authentic sound, Bueno plays an instrument called a cuica, a friction drum with a slender stick attached inside. A cloth is rubbed on the stick, and the friction between the two objects creates a sound comparable to that of a beatboxer on LSD. Bueno also plays the berimbau, an instrument introduced by Africans that has a long bow with a hollowed-out gourd attached.

There has been a longstanding interest in Latin American culture in the South Bay. Although Brazilian culture is one of the many Latin American cultures found here, it's just recently that the culture is starting to distinguish itself, and people are taking notice. Samba dancing doesn't have a venue (or even a night) and bands like Nossa Bossa are providing a place and rhythm.

Samba is an expressive dance that can be done alone or with a partner. It involves extensive footwork as the music moves very quickly. Samba currently has a fairly small following in San Jose, and Bueno says the band is trying to change that. During performances, Bueno will teach the crowd some steps of samba.

But Brazil offers a variety of music, ranging from samba to bossa nova, a slower, more relaxed beat, to baiao, a rocking earthy sound, often using accordion riffs. Nossa Bossa's sound ranges from Brazilian samba classics to Brazilian funk. "We have a huge repertoire, so we choose [a set] based on the mood of the day or the place," says Ramos. Because all of the musicians in the band, excluding Ramos, are American, they complement the traditional Brazilian sound with jazz--mixing Brazilian percussion and lyrics with jazz improvisations. The band has evolved from "jazz musicians interested in Brazilian music into a more integrated band, fluent in Brazilian style," Ramos explains.

"It is our groove," adds Bueno. "We're putting our spin on the music."

Nossa Bossa performs Nov. 15 at 8:30pm at Spiedo Ristorante, 151 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. No cover. (408. 971.6096)

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From the November 6-12, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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