BABY DO BRASIL, City Winery NYC, Sept. 23, 2023


© Photo by James Gavin

On September 23, 2023, City Winery NYC will host the first American performance in nine years of a Brazilian countercultural icon. Baby do Brasil—formerly known as Baby Consuelo—is the purple-haired, honey-voiced, ageless flower child who provided the sole female voice in a historic 1970s band, Novos Baianos (The Young Baianos, the term for people from the state of Bahia).

With Brazil in the throes of a censorious military dictatorship, Novos Baianos—who famously lived in commune fashion in Rio—symbolized hippie freedom. They offered a gently psychedelic celebration of peace, love, dance, and nature, set to a bouquet of Brazilian rhythms, from samba to forró. The range of guitar sounds was startling. João Gilberto, one of the fathers of bossa nova, had coached them on bossa technique; member Pepeu Gomes added Jimi Hendrix-inspired licks. Baby’s blithe, feathery vocals went on to influence many prominent singers, including Marisa Monte, Vanessa da Mata, and Céu.
The group’s second release, Acabou Chorare (No More Crying), made No. 1 on Rolling Stone Brasil’s list, published in 2007, of the hundred most important Brazilian albums of all time. In that grim era of political oppression, the disc, says Baby, was a call to happiness and brotherhood—proof “that it was possible to understand that we can all live together.”
Now 71, Baby—born Bernadete Dinorah de Carvalho Cidade—remains a tidal wave of ebullience and positivity. Her show, “Baby do Brasil in Concert,” is a joy ride through her years of hits, from her Novos Baianos days through her decades as a solo star. Most were composed by Baby and Pepeu Gomes, to whom she was married for 17 years.
As always, she’ll sing “Menino do Rio” (The Boy from Rio), a masculine answer to “The Girl from Ipanema,” written for her by Caetano Veloso. Baby will weave in a nod to Rita Lee, the recently departed queen of Brazilian rock; she’ll also indulge her belting, growling, soul-singing side with covers of songs made famous by Ben E. King, Bob Marley, and Tina Turner. Six musicians, each a sought-after heavyweight on the Brazilian scene, will accompany her: Junior Camilo and Rapha Dantop (keyboards), David Rangel (bass), Nenel Lucena and Jean Pedroso (guitars), and Miguel Assis (drums).
The arrangements, she promises, will have “the force of a symphonic orchestra,” blending samba, soul, rock, blues, gospel, jazz, bolero, and classical—“everything that was in my musical formation, everything my parents gave me. The new show is delicious. I love it!”
Born to a middle-class family in Niteroi, which lies across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, Baby was a teenage rebel; her pursuit of a singing career sparked such resistance from her parents that she fled at 17 and moved to Salvador, Bahia. For a time she slept on the streets and sang in bars in exchange for food. Soon she met Luis Galvão, Paulinho Boca de Cantor, and Moraes Moreira, three young musicians who were looking to form a band. She became the girl singer; several other players came aboard, including guitarist Pepeu Gomes, whom she wed in 1970.  
Bernadete—the only member of the group who wasn’t from Bahia—adopted the stage name of Baby Consuelo. It came from a song written by Galvão and Moreira for the 1969 film Meteorango Kid: Herói Intergalático, about an alienated college student who, like Baby, had chosen hippiedom over convention. Vocally, Baby’s hero was a budding star of the Tropicália movement, Gal Costa, whose singing, at the time ranged from a dulcet lilt to a strident yowl.
In 1970, Novos Baianos made their first album, a modest success. Thereafter they moved to Rio, where they shared an apartment in the bayside neighborhood of Botafogo. That little nook “became our country,” says Baby, who at 18 was the only woman in a gaggle of young men. “We managed to live a very healthy life in the middle of all the oppression. We lived in an organized world. Everyone together, playing music from night until day, enjoying the sunshine, feeling open. We ate fruit from the trees. No one was worried about politics. We were all Christians, so we had a fundamental Christian principle of friendship, family, respect, of making dinner and eating at the table together.”
The happy, stoned hippies began preparing Acabou Chorare. Released in 1972, it made Novos Baianos a national sensation. After six more albums, Baby left the group in 1978 to release her first solo disc. Produced with the familiar sound of Novos Baianos, it sold a respectable 400,000 copies. On its followup, Pra Enlouquecer (To Go Crazy), she detoured into a harder pop-rock sound and reached the million mark; two of her subsequent albums surpassed it. Hits piled up: “Côsmica,” “Sem Pecado e Sem Juízo,” “Telúrica,” “Paz e Amor,” “Barrados na Disneylândia.”
In 1990, she made her U.S. debut in a Brazilian Carnaval night at the Hollywood Palladium. Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times called her “electrifying,” adding: “Consuelo has everything it takes to become a major international singing star … She was a virtual cauldron of energy, moving restlessly across the stage with the fire and fury of a Latin Janis Joplin.” That year she guested with Dance Brazil at New York’s Capoeira Foundation. Jennifer Dunning of the New York Times wrote that the colorful oddball singer “seemed to have wandered out of a movie by Pedro Almodóvar.”
But by now she and Gomes had six children, aged five through seventeen; she knew she had to stay close to home. There she made several life-changing decisions. After rechristening herself Baby do Brasil—a child of the people—the singer was baptized into the evangelical faith. In 2000 she became a pastor. For years she shifted her musical focus to gospel. “I’m very spiritual,” she explains. “It feeds me; it fills me with courage, happiness. I won’t accept being a person with problems, or sadness, or bad feelings about the world. I am full of hope all the time. Everything will work out.”
In 2014, she revisited her American dream by singing at New York’s South Street Seaport and the Blue Note. Today, she says, “my kids are all big. Now I’m free again!” (One of her children, Pedro Baby, is an in-demand guitarist; another, singer Zabelê, has recorded for Warner Music Brasil.) Under the guidance of manager Nilson Raman—who has helped mastermind the careers of several Brazilian stars, including Simone, Paulinho da Viola, and the first lady of the Brazilian theater, Bibi Ferreira—Baby do Brasil is exploring new possibilities, notably in the U.S. “In Raman’s mind, New York is one of the principal phases. We are beginning this wonderful adventure together. I’m very happy. Wow!”