When we’re first introduced to Bill Murray’s boat in Wes Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, there’s soft guitar playing elsewhere in the frame. It’s hard to pin down. Several moments later, we see the source of that voice. In a red knit beanie and a thin black tuxedo sits a man with a petite acoustic guitar laying bare across his lap at the bow, a boom mic hovering by his face. The song sounds familiar, like a campfire version of David Bowie’s iconic hit “Ziggy Stardust,” but the words aren’t right.
That’s Seu Jorge, the secret weapon of that film and the overt musical star of Brazil.
Born near Rio de Janeiro in 1970, Seu Jorge grew up with more than his fair share of struggling. He was born in a slum, became homeless as a teen, and suffered to see any financial changes all the way through to legal adulthood. Naturally, he picked up guitar to keep his hopes up. As he began renewing the Brazilian pop samba in his favela neighborhood, word spread, and he slowly became known around the city. It wasn’t until a decade later when he joined Farofa Carioca as a singer, writing most of the songs for its 1998 debut LP, that he found the course to become a solo artist.
After seeing Jorge’s work as an actor and soundtrack composer in the 2002 film City of God, Anderson quickly contacted the musician. The two worked closely together to have him act as the same in The Life Aquatic. Jorge not only acted as character Pelé dos Santos in the movie, but he provided almost the whole soundtrack, a collection of Portuguese covers of David Bowie jukebox classics.
From “Changes” to “Rebel Rebel” on to “Space Oddity,” Jorge nosedives straight into the heart of Bowie’s talent on the soundtrack. The soft deliver of Portuguese lyrics paired with the tonally candid tuning of his guitar reinvents the songs with an emphasis on nurturing. Even without the bizarre friendships of the film taking place over the music, his songs possess a restorative quality that leaves you feeling healed. And yeah, Bowie loved ’em. “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese,” he said, “I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued them with.”
We don’t need to remind you why his covers are more important now than ever before. Grab a seat in the comfort of Berklee’s most highbrow theater and wait for your frozen self to be warmed by the prodigy known as Seu Jorge.
SEU JORGE. FRI 2.12 BERKLEE PERFORMANCE CENTER, 136 MASS. AVE., BOSTON. 8PM/ALL AGES/$50. BERKLEE.EDU.