Badi Assad (pronounced bah-jee Ah-Sahj) is one of Brazil’s most talented performers. A heartfelt vocalist who sings in English and Portuguese and is known for her Bobby McFerrin-like improvisations, Assad is also one of the country’s truly accomplished guitar players.
Badi Assad was born in 1966 in the small town of Sao Joao da Boa Vista (Sao Paulo state) as Mariangela Assad Simao, but grew up in Rio de Janeiro until she was twelve. Her father Jorge, of Lebanese descent, had decided in 1969 to move with his family to Rio in order to be able to give Badi’s musically talented older brothers Sergio and Odair a classical guitar training with Monina Tavora, an Argentine pupil of the great Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia.
By the mid-1980s, as the Duo Assad, the two brothers achieved worldwide recognition and popularity. Now Badi wanted to follow in their footsteps and, having first played the piano, took up the guitar at the age of 14. Only a year later she had already mastered the instrument to the stage of participating in – and winning – national and international competitions.
Musical studies at the university in Rio were the logical next step. In 1989 she recorded her first album, Danca dos Tons (“Dance of the Tones”), which at the time was released only in Brazil but last October was reissued internationally with four bonus tracks under the new title A Danca das Ondas (“The Dance of the Waves”).
After that Badi Assad began experimenting increasingly with vocal sounds, producing percussive tones with her mouth and integrating this element into her music. To her already outstanding guitar playing she thus added new and exotic sounds and expressive possibilities. Soon she had opportunities to demonstrate her exceptional skills in collaboration with other artists.
Before long Badi was appearing with musical greats such as Pat Metheny, Hermeto Pascoal, Milton Nascimento and Dori Caymmi. It wasn’t until after 1993, however, the year she signed a contract with the noted audiophile label Chesky Records, that she really entered the international spotlight. In 1994 the company released her US debut album Solo, which was followed in 1995 by Rhythms and in 1997 by Echoes of Brazil.
With each new album her international reputation continued to grow. The American trade journal Guitar Player ranked Badi Assad in 1994, along with Charlie Hunter, Ben Harper and Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, as one of the ten young talents who would revolutionize guitar playing in the 90s.
Rhythms was singled out as one of the most important recordings of 1995, in the sphere of classical music as well as jazz. In 1995, Assad was voted Best Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitarist by editors of Guitar Player, while readers of the magazine named her album Rhythms the Best Classical Album of the Year.
Although her earlier albums focused on unique interpretations of songs by songwriters such as Egberto Gismonti, Milton Nascimento, Ralph Towner and George Harrison, Assad displayed her songwriting talents on her 1998 album, Chameleon, co-writing nine of the album’s 12 tracks. The co-writer was her then husband Jeff Young. The album sold well worldwide but was exceptionally successful in Germany and Spain, where the song “Waves” was in the top ten for weeks, even higher in the charts than a current hit of Madonna’s.
Three years of radical change followed the release of Chameleon: first, Badi suffered from a motor disability that made it nearly impossible for her to play the guitar, then she separated from her husband Jeff, and finally in 2001 she returned to Brazil, which she had left four years earlier to pursue her career in the USA.
Settled once again in Brazil and working from there, she completed the recordings for a collaborative album with Young, which was finally released at the end of 2002 under the title Nowhere.
In 2004 she recorded Three Guitars for Chesky Records, she recorded Three Guitars with the outstanding American guitarists Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie, an acoustic guitar album which received rave reviews.
Her 2005 album, And now Badi Assad looks set to receive them again for her new solo album Verde. The repertoire consists of an unusual mixture of highly individual new interpretations of Brazilian classics and international pop hits as well as original compositions, two written in cooperation with her longtime musical partner Jeff Young.
Thus Badi’s own songs stand alongside Luiz Gonzaga’s ever-popular “Asa branca” and “Bom dia, tristeza” by Adoniran Barbosa and Vimcius de Moraes as well as Bjork’s “Bachelorette” and U2’s “One”. Among the accompanists, standouts include Badi’s bassist and co-producer Rodolfo Stroeter (who runs the ambitious independent label Pau Brasil in Sao Paulo and also leads a jazz band of the same name), percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, flautist Teco Cardoso (known from Joyce’s band) and the accordion virtuoso Toninho Ferragutti.
And then there’s a very special guest: the great Toquinho – best known outside Brazil for his collaboration with bossa poet Vimcius de Moraes – who can be heard in “Implorando” in a guitar duet with Badi.
As a guitarist of great technical mastery and an unquenchable thirst for innovation, Badi Assad has over the past ten years attracted a steadily growing group of fans, critics and instrumental colleagues throughout the world.
With her dynamic and electrifying voice, slightly reminiscent of Adriana Calcanhoto, she’s now certain to win over many new admirers. “I think I have something to communicate to other people, not just the ones who love my guitar playing”, she says.
“I’d like to present my musical universe to all people -regardless of whether they otherwise listen to pop, jazz, classical, rock or Brazilian music.”
Danca do Tons [Dance of Sounds] (Crescente Produções, 1989)
Solo (Chesky, 1994)
Rhythms (Chesky, 1996)
Juarez Moreira & Badi Assad (Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 1995)
Echos of Brazil (Chesky, 1997)
Chameleon (Polygram, 1998)
Three Guitars, with Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie (Chesky, 2003)
Danca das Ondas (Gha, 2003)
Verde (Edge/Deutsche Grammophon, 2004)
Wonderland (Edge/Deutsche Grammophon, 2006)
Amor e Outras Manias Crônicas (YB, 2012)
Between Love and Luck (Quatro Ventos, 2013)
Cantos de Casa (Quatro Ventos, 2014)
Hatched (Quatro Ventos, 2015)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.