Beleza, but not Brazil: Funkalicious duo finds its rhythm

When they brought their delicious and danceable Brazilian-inspired samba, blues, and funk to Charlottesville in the mid 2000s, husband and wife duo Madeline and Humberto Sales of Beleza Brazil were surprised to find central Virginia so receptive to their re-interpretations of classic Brazilian guitarists and songwriters. At the time, the pair found joy in re-inventing the classics, but struggled with striking out on their own, writing their own rhythms, and fusing together their diverse musical backgrounds. He, the classically-trained Brazilian guitarist, and she, the Spanish/Portuguese/English-speaking vocalist, needed to get on the same wavelength.

Fast-forward five years from the release of that debut album, Time to Dream, and the couple has finally struck the right chord. Settling into a rhythm in their everyday Charlottesville life, Madeline and Humberto found inspiration from the projects they filled their life with– from his job as a guitar teacher to her drive to write original arrangements, the strains of Cookin with Flavour were born.

"It's very very different, technically and musically," explains Humberto. "We tried to blend more of her American music background of funk and soul with my Brazilian background."

"It has a much more funk-soul-blues orientation mixed with samba and reggae," chimes Madeline.

The singer found herself frustrated at their home studio, wanting to express herself through lyrics and rhythms all of her own. After over-analyzing and fretting, she took a step back, found her comfort zone in the blues, and turned to her husband for inspiration. Humberto good-naturedly recorded a 12-bar blues for Madeline to loop while composing– and the emotions began spilling out.

"I started writing– just a complaining, 'somebody's done you wrong' kind of blues song [which became 'Tired of Waiting' on the album] as a reflection of the past or inspiration from the ethers," she says. "Then I thought that wasn't really fair to complain, so I had to write something about a good man ['Sunshine on a Saturday'] and then, because I've always been into self-empowering things, I wrote 'I Gotta Be Me.'"

What Madeline poured into the lyrics, Humberto picked up in the "notes, chords, and rhythms." Finding ways to make Madeline's blues "more interesting," the guitarist added bits of Brazilian chords and dashes of complexity into the basic blues format.

"What we have now is not really a Brazilian thing anymore," notes Madeline. "What comes out of me is this bluesy, funky soul stuff and he has this funky Brazilian influence– so we've come up with the new tagline 'Funkalicious Samba Soul' and dropped 'Brazil' from the name."

This time around the album is firmly entrenched in the local scene– from their collaboration with local artists and the recording process in fall 2010 at The Sound (their last album was recorded in Brazil with Brazilian musicians) to the duo's experience performing and teaching on a UVA Central American Enrichment cruise in December of 2010– and the results feel less foreign and more deliciously exotic. Beleza plans to continue pushing the boundaries of their own composing, with plans to release free monthly downloads of songs they record at their home studio and ideas for a holiday album in the works. They've come a long way– quite literally, from Brazil to Virginia– but have found the perfect blend of American soul and Brazilian funk can come from the shared connectedness they found in Charlottesville.
Beleza releases their album Cookin With Flavor Saturday, April 16, at The Southern. Doors open at 8pm and tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door.

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