Brazilian singer Marisa Monte’s current tour is a kind of musical art gallery, with enough groundbreaking technology and multimedia visuals to thrill fans of Art Basel and the Ultra Music Festival. Images by Brazil’s leading visual artists bloom across giant layered screens and even the willowy Monte’s body, holographic projections play in the air, and custom computer programs multiply her voice and create other magical effects.
“Everyone uses lights and projections,” says Monte from Rio de Janeiro. “I wanted more than beauty. I wanted feeling. I wanted poetry. Something impressively different.”
Called Truth, An Illusion, the elaborate production generated critical raves and drew more than 200,000 people in 14 Brazilian cities last year. It plays Sunday and Monday at the Fillmore Miami Beach, one of only three U.S. stops. The show is presented by the Rhythm Foundation, which has hosted Monte at ever-larger venues on each of her U.S. tours, starting at the Colony Theater in 1994.
Monte, 45, holds a special position in her country’s rich pop-music culture, says Gene de Souza, the Rhythm Foundation’s development director. She has sold 12 million albums, and is one of a very few singers of her generation with an international audience. And yet her vision is highly original and her richly melodic, subtle and complex music is intrinsically Brazilian.
As a young woman, Monte developed her burnished, silvery voice studying opera in Italy. She has collaborated with other major artists, from the bestselling Tribalistas trio she created with Carlinhos Brown and Arnaldo Antunes to more recent projects with innovative Argentine producer and composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
“She does her own thing,” says de Souza. “People really respect her for that.”
The Truth, An Illusion tour was inspired by Monte’s love of live performance and visual art — she is a longtime collector and counts many visual artists among her friends.
“It’s a kind of a dialogue of Brazilian contemporary art with Brazilian contemporary music,” Monte says of her show. “I really love the experience of being onstage. It’s not only music. You can take chances with visual effects to communicate to people and realize the songs and the meaning of the songs.”
She brought in a curator to select the 16 artists and an art director, Batman Zavareze, to handle the multimedia. Zavareze’s team of set, graphic and motion designers, videographers and computer engineers and programmers worked for six months to realize Monte’s vision. (Their efforts were the subject of a documentary on O Globo, Brazil’s leading television network.)
“Basically the concept was to use the stage as a contemporary art gallery where each song was related to a video artwork,” Zavareze said in an email. “When [Monte] invited me, I was determined to use very high-tech possibilities in a very simple, poetic way.”
The technology needed to produce visual poetry was anything but simple. The team developed new software to handle the multitude of simultaneous videos, projections and interactive visual and sound effects. Each artwork, whether a video, painting or drawing, is animated and projected in a different way. The show includes nine high-definition projectors and a panorama of white and translucent screens and mirrors.
For one song, the team used a kinetic camera that maps Monte’s body, projecting a video animation that changes with her singing and movements.
“At first … it just looks like a regular light effect,” Zavareze says. “But after a period of time, you see her voice makes the particles move and you realize it is mapping. That kind of experience happens during the whole show, while space, screens, content and visual language change.”
Zavareze says Monte was closely involved, helping to select the artists, effects and imagery to bring her songs to life in a new way. And he praised her for giving the production team the time and resources to create something innovative.
“Everything we did was possible because Marisa respected my process,” Zavareze says. “These kinds of resources brings freedom for the mind to concentrate on the content. Nowadays most pop shows use a lot of technical pyrotechnics, but in a very common and, most of the time, banal way.”
In contrast with all this technological dazzle, the 2012 album on which the show is based, O Que Você Quer Saber de Verdade (What You Really Want to Know), has a warm, acoustic, old-school sound. Instead of recording separate tracks, Monte says, she gathered the musicians, including the elderly members of Café de los Maestros, a kind of tango Buena Vista Social Club, in the studio.
“Because I had this live band performing in the studio it makes it feel a little more old-fashioned, everyone playing and breathing together, more acoustic instruments, many really good players and not too much programming,” she says.
The sophisticated technology of her show is a way of illuminating that spirit and translating her beloved Brazilian music to the world.
“I never wanted to be international, singing in English or Spanish,” Monte says. “It’s not my best. My Portuguese is my best. I love my language, my culture, my country. I’m proud to show the creativity and the art that is being made here.”