My sister has a bossa nova band in which I play the bass. The band has mostly been giving concerts at hospitals and homes for old people. Not very glamorous gigs, but rewarding in the sense that we might bring some light and joy into the lives of people who don’t necessarily have that much fun.
The interesting thing about the band, however, is not where it performs — but what. It’s a bossa band, obviously, but with a special twist. My sister doesn’t sing in Portuguese or Spanish or English, as would be natural playing this kind of music. Instead she sings in Swedish. Some songs she’s been translating into Swedish, others are Swedish songs to begin with, but have been rhythmically re-casted as bossanovas.
When playing we are in fact staging a minor cultural clash, either bringing smiles to the old people’s faces or scaring them half dead. Most of the time, I don’t think we shorten their lives much at all.
My sister does not command them to jump up and dance, which in some cases would be nothing short of miracle anyway. But while singing in Swedish and presenting to these folks songs that they can trace and recognize, she invites them into a sometimes rather exotic mix of musical elements.
As most bands, we sometimes give concerts that are not great but merely okay. But at almost any given occasion we do succeed in making at least some people confront and think about what they are hearing. Recognition, resemblance, memories or even indignation is all pretty powerful stuff, bringing people out of their mind frames and away from daily routines.
Sometimes, when we’re really cookin’, we send some of these old Swedish men and women on an inner journey that — as a sweet lady once told us after the show — makes them feel Swedish as ever, but also in touch with the world and far from too old to dance. It’s a good thing.
Today, most Swedish bands playing Latin music stick to the traditional languages. I have already written about the Swedish timba band Calle Real, who sing in Spanish. Other people active on the vital Latin music scene in Sweden are Stockholm-based Brazilian Simone Moreno, who sings in Portuguese, and saxophonist Magnus Lindgren, whose group Batucada Jazz mixes Portuguese with English.
Back in the 60’s, however, singing Latin music in Swedish was regarded as kind of hip, and it is in part this tradition that my sister is keeping alive. Here are some pretty cool examples from that era:
Lill Lindfors singing “Hör min samba”, a Swedish translation of the famous song “Mas que nada”.
Laila Kinnunen singing “Stänk av dissonans”, Swedish version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado”.
Anita Lindblom sings “Beatles Bossa Nova” in 1964, melody and chords clearly imported from Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema”.