In her native Brazil, pop singer Ivete Sangalo is a superstar with a decade’s worth of bestselling albums and hit songs, an artist who can fill an 80,000-seat stadium with ecstatic fans. But when she steps onstage at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday night for her first full-scale concert in the United States, she will be almost unknown to North American, even Latin American, audiences. Sangalo faces an even bigger challenge on Sept. 4 when she plays Madison Square Garden, that historic pop venue in a jaded international city with a smaller Brazilian fan base than South Florida’s.
“If I do what I know how to do, I think I can get the attention from the media and from U.S. audiences,” the 38-year-old singer says from her home in Salvador, Bahia. “But I know that I have to be there to become well known. I’m very interested in [popularity], but I’m trying to show my true self in the U.S. If they get my idea and my energy, I’ll be really glad. And I think they will.”
A powerful figure beloved for her down-to-earth manner and irreverent sense of humor (in the DVD of her 2006 concert at the packed Maracana stadium, she mugs with mock amazement as she squeezes her breasts and taps her black vinyl-clad bottom), Sangalo finds herself in a situation similar to that of Soda Stereo, the Argentine rock group whose reunion tour startled AA Arena management when it filled the venue for two nights in 2007.
Born and raised in Juazeiro in Bahia, Sangalo started performing as a teenager at school shows and local festivals, and in 1993 became lead singer of the girl group Banda Eva. Her self-titled solo debut album was a hit in 1999, and she has been at the top of Brazil’s pop-music scene ever since, selling more than seven million albums and 1.5 million DVDs.
Her music, mostly written by other artists, is ebullient Brazilian dance pop, powered by urgent African-based Bahian rhythms with glossy, international-style production. Her concerts are spectacles with battalions of dancers and lights, but she also continues to perform in Salvador’s annual carnival. She has impressed several international stars who’ve visited Brazil, including Beyoncë, whose 2009 Brazilian tour Sangalo produced. Several years ago she met U2’s Bono at a dinner hosted by Gilberto Gil, and the rock star joined her at a Carnival performance the next day.
A shrewd businesswoman and self-promoter, Sangalo is one of Brazil’s wealthiest stars, with a production company and promotional deals with major corporations including Panasonic, Avon and TAM Airlines, which is sponsoring her U.S. tour. She has recorded numerous duets with many of Brazil’s top singers, has cut a children’s album and has a clothing line, a TV show and more than a million Twitter followers. Her New York concert features famous guests calculated to attract Latino and North American fans, including Colombian rock star Juanes and pop singer Nelly Furtado.
Still, with everything Sangalo has to manage, she keeps a playful attitude.
“Everything about my music has to be fun,” she says. “I don’t want to take myself too seriously.’