The Girl from Uddevalla
The singer may call her album and herself The Girl from Uddevalla, but itʼs a lot more than just a reference to her birthplace in Sweden. Hidden behind the name, present but unnamed, another place awaits. The sort of place where you long to be. The girl from… On just hearing those three words, the fourth, Ipanema, fires out like a bullet. That neighbourhood and beach in Rio de Janeiro which is so full of dreams and fantasies. The words come together like the Six Bullerby Children, the Streets of San Francisco, or the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Uddevalla and Ipanema. There really is an episode from recent history which connects that city on the west coast of Sweden with Brazil. And aside from the music, itʼs the South American countryʼs most flamboyant showpiece; the Seleção. Uddevalla was chosen as one of the twelve venues for the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden. On the 8th of June, Brazil played Austria in the only game to be held in the city. Pelé and his men won and reached the final where they beat the hosts. That team in the bright yellow jerseys which the Swedish still wear today, making them look like north European Brazilians, even if they donʼt exactly play that way.
The year 1958 is seen as the ‘birth’ of Bossa Nova. And incidentally, Pelé was later to write, sing and record some bossa influenced songs with none other than Elis Regina, among others. The young Sylvia was crazy about the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Luiz Bonfá, and the melancholy poetry of Vinícius de Moraes. Released in 1961, the Jobim/de Moraes song “The Girl from Ipanema” with Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz became a worldwide hit. Itʼs no surprise that “The Girl from Ipanema” pops up in the girl from Uddevallaʼs repertoire. And it was no imaginary character which inspired the “The Girl from Ipanema”. Her real name was Helo Pinheiro and she was born just a few days before Sylvia Vrethammar.
The singer from Uddevalla soon got to know the idyllic Ipanema. She travelled to Rio de Janeiro to represent Sweden at the Festival Internacional da Canção in 1970. Shortly thereafter, Vrethammar performed in Scandinavia with the Brazilian samba group Trio Pandeiros de Ouro, and sheʼs been known as the ‘Queen of Samba’ ever since. In 1985, she recorded the album Rio de Janeiro Blue in the same city, with the accordionist Sivuca, the guitarist Ricardo Silveira and drummer Paolo Braga, among others. The harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans also got involved, one of Brazilian musicʼs most devoted friends.
Vrethammar continued her musical love affair long after the bossa nova boom had subsided. And it was no short fling either; it continues to this very day. In 2005, she released Sommar! Samba! Sylvia!, a title which says it all!
Samba and bossa nova make up as much of her character as pop, easy listening and jazz. For The Girl from Uddevalla, she gathered musicians into the studio who understand this mix well. With fellow Swede Magnus Lindgren, Sylvia Vrethammar hasnʼt just found an excellent woodwind player who is unparalleled as a flautist around the world. He’s also an arranger who understands the art of combining the entertaining with the challenging, blending popular music with a jazz sensibility. Itʼs tasteful, stylish, kitsch-free and without any folksy musical gimmicks. On top of that, Lindgren turned out to be the ideal band member with his two avowedly great loves: jazz and Brazilian music (with both passions having been united in the band Batucada Jazz). Then there is trumpeter Rüdiger Baldauf, guitarist Bruno Müller, pianist Frank Chastenier, bassist Christian von Kaphengst, drummer Thomas Heinz and percussionist Alfonso Garrido; all highly accomplished studio and live musicians who know all there is to know in the world of jazz, while remaining totally free of any jazz snobbery. For them, every form of expression, be it jazz, pop, rock, soul, funk, world music or Brazilian, is what the title of Vrethammarʼs 2014 album so simply states: Music.
The days when a European artist recording a ‘Brazilian’ album had to travel there in order to get a certain quality and at least some amount of ‘authenticity’ are long gone. Excellent musicians, who have not only mastered this type of music but who also play it with feeling, can now be found everywhere. Theyʼre found in Germany too, a country thatʼs played an important role in Vrethammar’s career since the very beginning. Itʼs been her home away from home since 1990, and she has a second house there in the town of Lohmar, not far from Cologne.
Many of us dream of travelling to Brazil at least once in our lives. Drinking a caipirinha at home doesnʼt really do the trick, but Sylvia Vrethammar (aka The Girl from Uddevalla) carries you to your dream destination. Itʼs a country which for a long time only popped up in the media once a year, during the carnival in Rio. But thanks to the World Cup and the Olympic Games, in the last few years itʼs been placed directly onto the globe’s centre stage. This has brought us closer to the countryʼs love of life, but it has also shown us its problems; the economic crisis, corruption, poverty, crime, and environmental issues.
“The World Is Calling” is a song which points out that the whole planet seems to be slipping out of joint. Music makes the world a better place; weʼre all keen to believe this, but itʼs a fallacy. What music can do, however, is to help us open up and celebrate whatʼs so important. And thatʼs a love of life, not despite the problems, but rather in the face of those problems. Mission accomplished, Sylvia – obrigado!