Chances are you haven’t heard of Sergio Mendes. It’s okay; unless you’re older and into Brazilian jazz, the name wouldn’t be familiar to you. However, he was a driving force in Brazil’s jazz and bossa nova scene in the ’60s and ’70s. Mendes, along with his band Brasil ’66, enjoyed much success back in the day, topping the Billboard chart in 1968 and even performing for two US presidents.
However, it’s 2006, not 1968, and Mendes is barely a household name among the MTV generation. Black Eyed Peas star will.i.am is making it his personal mission to change that.
It’s not an easy task, however. Many Americans just aren’t hip to other cultures when it comes to music. Even though you might have heard his hit record “Mas Que Nada” in the first Austin Powers film, Sergio Mendes could probably walk right past you in the local Wal-Mart and you wouldn’t even notice.
That’s where the Black Eyed Peas producer and star comes in. In order to ease skepticism, Will brought in a host of current American talent: Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Justin Timberlake, and Q-tip headline the extensive list of performers.
The CD starts out with the recognizable “Mas Que Nada”, featuring the Black Eyed Peas. Will’s seamless production makes the track seem more like a Black Eyed Peas song (complete with Fergie’s “La La La La” trademark) than a Mendes creation. This may be good or bad depending on which side of the BEP tree that you fall on. However, I dig the track, mainly because I’m enjoy the original source material.
From that point on, the disc continues to impress. Erykah Badu comes out of hiding to add her silky voice to an otherwise so-so track entitled “That Heat.” Stevie Wonder reunites with Mendes and amazes on “Berimbau / Consolação,” making the song sound like it was a lost track from Songs in the Key of Life. R&B songsters Jill Scott and India.Arie provide their vocals to “Loose Ends” and “Timeless” respectively.
Those songs are fine in their own right. For the money, however, “Loose Ends” epitomizes exactly what this album is trying to create. It successfully unites modern R&B vocals with that classic jazzy bossa nova back end, giving the listener a taste of the old and the new. “Samba Da Benção (Samba Of The Blessing),” one of the few tracks that is performed completely in Portuguese, fuses Brazilian rapper Marcelo D2’s rhymes and Mendes’ amazing jazz piano skills, making it one of the hottest hip-hop tracks out right now.
The album, however, isn’t without its misses. John Legend struggles to keep up with the band on “Please Baby Don’t.” The singer, who had much success with his solo album Get Lifted tries to add his gospel-influenced singing style to the track, but unfortunately falls flat. I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the will.i.am/Q-tip collaboration, “The Frog” either, mainly because the beat was too harsh and clashed with the laid back nature of the disc. I was initially turned off from getting this CD after hearing that particular song on college radio.
The verdict: will.i.am’s solid production and his inclusion of some of the best artists in hip-hop make this album worth owning. The old school bossa nova fans who remember Mendes from his Brasil 66 days may scoff at the hip-hop direction of the album. However, the intention of this project is to turn new, younger, audiences on to the Brazillian mastermind. And in the end, the Black Eyed Peas star has fulfilled his mission.