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Where the 'Rio' Inspired Can Go for More Brazilian Music

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The early brainwashing of my son seems to have finally paid off. Each night, as I laid him down in his crib, I used to play Putumayo's Samba Bossa Nova collection to softly swing him off to sleepy-bye land. It worked like nothing else and consequently, we played it without fail -- sometimes two or three times a day -- for months. I was happy for the sleep aid, and even more so for the fantasy that I'd share my love of Brazilian music with him. Hey, it seemed to work for Brazilians.

Of course, once he heard rock and roll, not to mention rap, he was off the reservation. Fast forward several years: I had a hunch that the animated movie Rio would be an intergenerational meeting place for us. As it turned out, he loved loved loved the movie, and now listens to several of the tunes on the soundtrack repeatedly.

Turns out that Rio -- by Carlos Saldanha the Brazilian-born director of the Ice Age movies -- has sparked interest in Brazilian music and Rio's carnival. The soundtrack is by Sergio Mendes, who rose to fame as a teen with the early bossa nova movement, then had some international hits with his pop group Brazil '66 and has made a third career teaming up with rising Brazilian stars.

Where are the Rio-curious to go? Certainly, Mendes' wonderful 1992 Brasiliero -- which also features percussionist Carlinhos Brown -- has a similar mix of Carnival drum corps, bossa ballads and American touches. The albums of the wildly creative Carlinhos Brown are another place to go. Brown, who created the drum-dominated pop group Timbalada went on to record several albums that were rhythmically sophisticated pop hybrids of North and South American styles

Last month, the Brazilian superstar Daniela Mercury released the CD/DVD set Canibalia in North America and does her first tour here in six years. Mercury, from Salvador in northeastern Brazil, started her career pursuing dance, but was barely out of her teens when she became a recording star with a string of high-energy hits to help animate carnival season, such as the indefatigable "Rapunzel," which was written by Brown.

Mercury's latest is another burst of uptempo party tunes, though this time she is trying to fashion it as a movement, the title is based on Manifesto Antropofago (Cannibal Manifesto) by Oswaldo Andrade, a declaration of modernism written in 1928. The always sunny Mercury has never gone in for deep-dish politics, but has always gone out of her way to celebrate Brazil's black African character and call for racial harmony in a country where widespread racial miscegenation has still not erased some subtle strains of racism. Here she also looks to embrace the cultural cannibalism of Brazil, how it has always found a way to take in external influences and make them its own, as well as its past and present.

The album teams her big, brassy voice with those of a children's chorus, an indigenous tribe, rising hipster Seu Jorge and icon Carmen Miranda (who was actually born in Portugal). Give the woman credit for trying -- I'm sure there are record execs who would be happier if she just wore less clothes, shook her bunda and sang nothing but sexed-up songs.

Live, Mercury is an unstoppable force and she comes to seven U.S. cities this month. The DVD that is part of the package is the recording of an elaborate show that Mercury staged on the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on New Year's Eve. In it, she goes step for step with her dancers, unveils a 1,000-watt smile and even duets with Carmen Miranda behind her on the big screen. The 2-million-strong crowd is obviously taking the opportunity for an appetizer-sized slice of the five-day carnival season to come, and though I didn't spot any blue macaws, I'm sure they were out there somewhere, shaking their tail feathers.

"Hot Wings" from the movie Rio, featuring Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway and Wil.i.am
"Nigel's Song" from Rio featuring The Conchords 'Jemaine Clement