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On Paula Lima's Serenata Ao Luar

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Paula Lima is Brazilian, Black Brazilian, meaning she got that sensual sways and she got that stomp-down funk. In addition to her solo career, she is also the lead singer for a band appropriately called Funk Como Le Gusta.

Paula has been in the Brazilian soul-funk scene since her early teenage years. She remembers being sat in front of a black and white TV while her dad played Jorge ben and Gilberto gil on an old stereo.

She has sung with Jorge Ben, Funk Como Le Gusta & Mondo Grosso, She sung the title track to the Sundance Film Festival award winner "Amores Impossveis".


What I like the most about Ms. Lima is her subtlety. She could be Chaka Khan-ish, but chooses instead to honor the cool end of the spectrum more than the hot side, even though she can, and often does, bring the fire, fire burning bright.


Physically imposing, I get the impression it would be a natural inclination for Paula to shout and be sassy (indeed, in Brazil, her name is synonymous with funk). Her sly serpentine phrasing and sotto-voiced filigrees are delights precisely because, just looking at her, you expect the opposite.


But even understanding her understated singing style does not prepare one to hear an interpretation of Glenn Miller. I know anything can be funked with, but to take a Swing-era chestnut like "Moonlight Serenade" (AKA "Serenata Ao Luar") and give it a cashewy Brazilian-funk flavor is just so, so, so Negroidal.


The selection opens with a trombone flourish and then a chicken-scratching guitar riff abetted by a second guitar’s wah-wah run, all over a synch & voice bed, before slipping into a backbeat-modified samba with Paula sexily intoning the famous melody.


The lyrics are all in Portuguese except for the words ‘moonlight serenade’ sung-hummed in English. Towards the back end of the song, Paula sings so softly, you barely distinguish her silky phrases from the instrumental orchestration: Soft, subtle and right on!  


And, lest we think this an aberration, an uncharacteristic one-off oddity, Paula does an equally impressive rendition of "The Look of Love" ("O Olhar Do Amor").


I know this metaphor has been used to the point of cliché, but Paula is an SLK-350 convertible Mercedes Benz idling down the street at 20 miles per hour, its metallic-red finish waxed to a blinding sheen, top down, sun shining; you just know the car is built to go 140 mph without straining, and yet at 20 mph it purrs and attracts your attention not by speeding but by reigning in the power and slowing down.


And I can’t resist offering a third cut. Perhaps "A Paz Dançando Na Avenida," a Jorge Ben (some call him the founder of Brazilian funk) composition taken from Paula’s Diva Paulista. If you’ve got ears, you can appreciate the slinky rhythmic phrasing.


Or for that matter maybe I should drop one of her big Brazilian hits "Quero Ver Você No Baile" and you would smell the aroma of elegant funk coming at you.


Paula has an undeniable power which she expertly harnesses with an unhurried honey flow that glides sensuously through musical changes. Nat ‘King’ Cole is somewhere smiling his dazzling black smile as he hears his Brazilian musical god/grandchild Paula Lima.


Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop. 


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