The voice of Luísa Maita rises from São Paulo

Luísa Maita’s debut album, “Lero-Lero,’’ has found an international audience, topping the iTunes Latin chart and Amazon’s Latin bestseller chart. Luísa Maita’s debut album, “Lero-Lero,’’ has found an international audience, topping the iTunes Latin chart and Amazon’s Latin bestseller chart. (Joao Wainer)
By Andrew Gilbert
Globe Correspondent / November 7, 2010

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Born into a family overflowing with musical talent, Luísa Maita found her musical identity by embracing the city of her birth, São Paulo, the largest metropolis in the Americas.

Far more than just the latest alluring young singer from Brazil, Maita distills the ceaseless urban clamor with street-smart lyrics, knowing grooves, and a keen ear for São Paulo’s heterogeneous population.

“São Paulo is very different than Rio,’’ says Maita, 28, speaking by phone from her home there.. She performs on Wednesday at Johnny D’s as part of her first North American tour. “It’s an incredibly urban city, with people from all over the world and every part of Brazil. It’s gray with cars and traffic all the time. I can talk about how I miss nature and the sea and silence, but in another way I like it here very much.’’

Maita makes a striking first impression. Confident, crystal clear, and startlingly sensuous even by the seductive standard set by preceding Brazilian stars, her voice conveys the mercurial emotions of youth as she sings about love, the search for identity, and the intoxicating pleasures of hanging out with friends.

While writing exclusively in Portuguese, she seems to have little problem communicating outside the Lusophone sphere. With the July release of her intoxicating debut album, “Lero-Lero’’ (Cumbancha Discovery), Maita has found an international audience, topping the iTunes Latin chart and Amazon’s Latin bestseller chart.

“From the beginning I wanted to make music with soul,’’ Maita says “I really want to talk with people, mainly here in Brazil, because that’s what I know. It’s a conversation.’’

For Maita, the musical conversation started at birth. Her father, Amado Maita, is a composer and musician who released a now-coveted album of original songs in the 1970s, and her mother, Myriam Taubkin, is a singer and concert producer. Her uncles, pianist Benjamin and vocalist/guitarist Daniel Taubkin, are highly respected jazz musicians with an impressive catalog of recordings.

“I was born in an incredible musical family, and from a very young age was surrounded by their friends, like Egberto Gismonti, Naná Vasconcelos, and João Gilberto,’’ Maita says. “Incredible artists, people I could talk with and listen very closely. I don’t know what a life without music is like.’’

In many ways her upbringing was a blessing, but the downside was that she saw firsthand how difficult it is for musicians to make a living in São Paulo. Being surrounded by revered and accomplished artists also presented the fundamental challenge of discovering her own identity in the midst of such powerful personalities. She made her first strong bid for creative independence in 2003 with Urbanda, a collective that sought to capture São Paulo’s relentless energy.

“We started to make music with urban lyrics,’’ Maita says. “We used Urbanda to develop skills in producing, arranging, and composing. This group was very important for me, but then it started becoming too confining to put all the sounds in it I wanted.’’

While Maita set out as a solo artist, her first concerts focused on her family’s music, which turned into another frustrating cul de sac. But once she started collaborating with bassist Rodrigo Campos and string expert Paulo Lepetit, who arranged Maita’s songs on “Lero-Lero,’’ she quickly developed her own sensibility, steeped in cool jazz, R&B, samba, and the sophisticated pop known as MPB (música popular brasileira).

“I really want to make my sound, to talk about what I think about life and São Paulo and my generation,’’ Maita says. “In the beginning it was very difficult. My family goes to my concerts and says, yeah, that’s OK, keep trying. But now everybody in my family likes my music. They have a very high standard. You have to be perfect.’’

What she’s achieved is better than perfection. Maita has captured the capacious spirit of Brazil’s economic engine at a moment of rising confidence with a sound that reconfigures the nation’s multitudinous musical currents. And last month Cumbancha released an EP of Maita’s songs remixed by an array of DJs, giving her music even greater international currency. New York City’s DJ/rupture (a.k.a. Jace Clayton) offers one of three versions of the title track.

“Samba and bossa never really pulled me, but when they sent me over her album I thought it was wonderful,’’ says Clayton, who got his start in the late 1990s Boston scene and still drops by Cambridge’s Enormous Room to spin when he’s in town visiting family. “She’s got a gorgeous, emotive voice with a sensual musical quality. But her songs are not club tunes, so I wanted to find a way to retain her gentleness and lightness of touch and goose it up with some electronic percussion and bass.’’

Andrew Gilbert can be reached at


At: Johnny D’s, Wednesday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $15. 617-766-2004,