by Cristina Ramalho

I’m dancing. I think I’m the oldest one on the dance floor, with boys and girls the age of my daughter, singing and spinning to the music of Fernanda Porto. She’s the one on the stage – a girl of over 30, whom everybody here trusts and loves. “You’re greeeaaat!” chants a chorus of teens, including mine. “Fernanda is the best of Brazil,” they shout. “Fernanda is awesome” – is written all over the Internet and signed by insistent 13, 15, and 17-year-old authors. “Fernanda is truly modern” – say some older, colorful “moderns” who discovered the singer in London. They’re all here happy, singing the songs by heart. Me too. I feel like joining the chorus of voices and telling everyone that Fernanda – the one with the wonderful voice, bouncing around the stage – has been my friend for a long time. But I’m past the age of boasting about my friends. So I keep on dancing.

Ever since Fernanda’s song Sambassim (an electronic beat that sings of an absent musician) hit the top of the charts in London, via DJ Patife, her world has been on the upbeat. Somebody at Globo heard that beautiful, clear voice, backed by hot electronic swing, and invited her to record Tom Jobim for the soap An Angel from Heaven. Fernanda arranged the theme song with drum ‘n’ bass and her version was immediately on the lips of young people everywhere. Her schedule is an airborne samba: shows almost every day, all over Brazil. Sites from Slovenia to Japan put Sambassim at the top of the charts. Her first recording has sold nearly 90,000 copies in a little over two months. It should go gold before its official launch in February, at the Canecão in Rio and at SESC Vila Mariana in São Paulo.

Tom Jobim, who said that Brazil is not for beginners, would probably approve of the young woman’s success. Fernanda is no beginner. Like Jobim, she plays piano, studied conducting and learned to compose for orchestras. One of her professors was Hans Joachim Koellreuter, the one who taught the author of The Girl from Ipanema and others how to get the most out of improvisation. In order to have classes with Koellreuter, she wrote a song on one note and without measures and slid it under his door when she was 17. Her wealthy parents didn’t really approve of a musician career, so she left home to live in a boarding house. She has other curious twists in her biography as a child prodigy. She took eight years of piano in two, and even practiced on a keyboard drawn on her school desk, so that she could get into music school. She won the São Paulo phase of the Young Concert Artist competition as the best lyric singer, with a lively interpretation of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas. Then, she thought better of it, and left erudition behind.

Fernanda was the only woman to compose music in computer language, ten years ago. “I didn’t want to be an intellectual and I didn’t fit in with classical music,” she says. Neither could she stand snobbish musical highbrows. On the other hand studio geeks who aren’t used to seeing skirts on their p fturf, weren’t prepared to accept a woman who knows how to do everything on her own. She sings, composes, plays sax, piano and electric guitar, arranges and, until just recently, paid her bills by creating soundtracks for commercials and feature-length movies. If men complained about playing supporting roles during recording sessions, you can imagine how many wanted to costar with her, romantically. One cowboy-type came into a piano concert and raised his macho voice to her, on stage, saying it was time to go home. Fernanda transformed other more or less troublesome men into lyrics of songs. And we, her friends from the same group in São Paulo, are always thrilled by her self-sufficiency.

Fernanda stays away from feminist causes. What she wants most is to meet new people, from boyfriends to musical partners. She started out well, when she was invited to share a recording track with the excellent band Living Colour. She also produced the recording of Brazilian singer Carolina, the wife of jazzman Wayne Shorter, and is preparing to invent new versions of the classics of Chico Buarque for the soundtrack of Toni Venturi’s new movie. At the same time, she gives incentive to other budding Fernandas – in Miami, she produces the music of three teens who she guarantees are fantastic singers and composers: Yuka Kawaii, 16; Gabi Gadia, 15; and Angela Morelli, 18. “They’re great,” bubbles Fernanda, regarding her pupils/ groupies – which reminds me of six or seven years ago, when she was the groupie, asking to go with me to an interview with one of her biggest idols, Joan Armatrading.

Those days, timid Fernanda was undecided about which way to go in music and had no idea that she would soon be performing on international tours. Now, in 2003, Fernanda will be taking her BPM, with its electronic beat, around Europe, Japan, and other parts. Joan must forgive me, but I think that very soon she’ll be asking to see Fernanda Porto. It’s getting harder not to brag about being her friend.


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