The sky’s the limit

Songstress Ceumar likes to perform as many styles of Brazilian music as possible.

brazil jazz_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
brazil jazz_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ceumar Coilho’s parents obviously knew what they were doing when they gave their baby daughter such an all-inclusive name. In Portuguese, ceu means “sky” and mar means “sea.” The 42-year-old Brazilian-born vocalist-guitarist has been playing and singing a suitably expansive range of styles from her home country for more than 20 years.
Now based in Amsterdam, Ceumar will make her first visit to Israel at the Jazz Meets Brazil final installment of this year’s Hot Jazz series, playing gigs in Jerusalem, Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Haifa between July 5 and July 9, alongside the Israeli Chorole ensemble, which specializes in the choro Brazilian musical genre.
“I like to play as many styles of Brazilian music as possible,” says Ceumar. “I come from the south, but I also take rhythms and other things from the north and as many parts of the country as I can. Brazil has a very rich musical tradition, and now that I live outside Brazil, I feel I should show the many different colors that come from there.”
Ceumar has been living in Holland for almost two years since meeting the man who is now her husband at a gig she played in Amsterdam four years ago. She says she is gradually acclimatizing. “The winters are very cold for me, but the weather is getting better now, getting warmer,” she says, “a bit more like Brazil.”
Naturally, it is not only the weather that takes some getting used to, but Ceumar says she manages to convey her musical message to an ever-widening fan base. “Of course, the lyrics of my songs are very important, and most people in Holland and other places outside Brazil don’t understand them. But more and more, I see people at my shows who start to close their eyes after, say, the third song and just go with the music. I think they get what I sing about even if they don’t understand the actual words.”
Some in-between number banter also helps. “I sometimes explain what the songs are about, but I am still discovering good ways to help the audience understand and feel what my music is about.”
That is definitely a work in progress, and Ceumar’s music has been evolving commensurately over the years, with her fifth CD due out soon.
She says she feeds off a wide range of sources, although early parental influences laid out her initial formative guidelines.
“My father, who is 80 now, played guitar and sang. He got me a guitar and showed me how to play my first chords when I was 14. My mother kept the radio on at home all day when she was cooking and doing other housework. So I heard lots and lots of music.”
Although she credits renowned Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento with inspiring her to become a professional musician, there were plenty of foreign artists in the self-educational mix, too. “I didn’t like loud music; I was more drawn to folk music and quieter music – people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Simon & Garfunkel. I think my favorite musician not from Brazil is Neil Young. He’s got a new CD, and I really want to check that out.”
Some of that softly, softly approach is apparent in Ceumar’s oeuvre. While there are elements of the trademark happysunny music of Brazil, like samba and bossa nova, there is also a generous amount of gently strummed and sung material in her repertoire. There is also a jazzy component to her work. “I have a jazz trio with whom I perform in Holland and other places,” she notes. “Jazz gives me the freedom for the music I play. It helps me to improvise, which I think is good for me.”
Ceumar says she is delighted to be joining forces with the Chorole ensemble and that there is so much interest in Brazilian music here. “I played with [Israeli oud player and violinist] Yair Dalal in Brazil in 2007, and that was a great experience. I was so happy to be invited to play with Chorole because they are young and fresh, and they bring new arrangements for traditional choro ballads. I think it will be wonderful for us to play together and to show the new Brazilian music to the audiences in Israel.”
Gerard Behar Center, Jerusalem, July 5 at 9 p.m.; Herzliya Zappa July 6 – at 10 p.m.; Tel Aviv Museum, July 7 and 8 at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. respectively; Haifa, Abba Hushi House, July 9 at 9 p.m.