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'Cru': Seu Jorge's Street-Smart Pop and Politics

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

You may have seen Seu Jorge in the movies. He was the tough gangster in the Brazilian film "City of God." He was the shipboard singer in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." Seu Jorge is an actual singer/songwriter. He combines samba with elements of funk and hip-hop. Here's independent producer Reese Erlich.

REESE ERLICH reporting:

As a young teen-ager, Seu Jorge taught himself to play guitar. Interviewed from a studio in Sao Paulo, he says he soon discovered that it was more than just a musical instrument. His sister and manager, Mya Jorge(ph), translates.

Mr. SEU JORGE (Singer/Songwriter): (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. MYA JORGE: It was actually a very practical way of communication in the beginning, because I used to walk around here, Rio, with my guitar on me and, you know, used to see those people sit in bars, on the streets, having a beer, and people was like, `Hey, you, hi. You have a guitar on you. Why don't you play for us?'

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JORGE: (Singing in foreign language)

(Foreign language spoken)

Ms. JORGE: I was communicating with my guitar, making friends.

ERLICH: Jorge used those communication skills to put together a local band. Then six years ago, he burst onto the national scene in Brazil. His first CD, "Black Tie Samba(ph)," contains lots of original songs based on samba, but fused with funk and hip-hop.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JORGE: (Singing in foreign language)

Group: (Singing in foreign language)

ERLICH: Jorge hasn't forgotten his roots in the favela. He performs a song from the 1970s called "I Am Favela" that speaks proudly of poor neighborhoods.

(Soundbite of "I Am Favela")

Mr. JORGE: (Singing in foreign language)

(Foreign language spoken)

Ms. JORGE: We were this band with only black people, coming from favela, and it's lonely. This music starts to have a different meaning for us on stage. Favela is considered for many as the place where all of the thieves and all the bad things in this world came from. What the song says is actually the opposite. Favela is made of real people, honest people, poor people, who have dignity and who has no one to defend them.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JORGE: (Singing in foreign language)

ERLICH: In Brazil, Seu Jorge is best known for his film work. In "Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," he performs 14 of his own arrangements of David Bowie songs. Interviewed in Rio de Janeiro, Antonio Miguel, music critic for the daily newspaper O Globo, says Jorge is expanding his appeal to audiences in Europe.

Mr. ANTONIO MIGUEL (O Globo): He has a natural charisma. I think he's not the best new Brasilia composer or singer or acoustic guitar player, but he knows how to mix all these things with his actual presence.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. JORGE: (Singing in foreign language)

ERLICH: Jorge no longer draws much of his audience from the favelas, where highly processed pop music is more prevalent, but he continues to advocate for the poor in his lyrics. Seu Jorge just issued a new CD called "Cru," which means raw.

Mr. JORGE: Thank you so, so much.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JORGE: See you.

ERLICH: For NPR News, I'm Reese Erlich.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more DAY TO DAY just ahead. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Reese Erlich