Live Music: Katia Moraes and Sambaguru at Vitello’s

By Don Heckman

Any performance by Kátia Moraes and Sambaguru is a gripping tour through the seemingly infinite rhythms and far reaching passions of Brazilian music. And their appearance at Vitello’s Friday night offered all that and more.

Moraes has been one of the Southland’s most dynamic singer/dancers since the ’90s. A frequent star of Carnaval celebrations, her performances sizzle with rhythmic high voltage and soaring melodies. But the work she does with the six piece ensemble Sambaguru takes in a far broader perspective.

Katia Moraes and Sambaguru

In her non-stop set Saturday, the music cruised through a brilliantly kaleidoscopic collection of Latin music. Surprisingly, the only element missing was bossa nova — Brazil’s best known genre, and the staple of most Brazilian ensembles appearing in this country. But no problem. The music, most of it written by Moraes and keyboardist/composer Bill Brendle, along with the intensely rhythmic playing of Sambaguru, provided a colorful, richly succulent musical banquet.

One could make a convincing case for Brazil as the source of some of the most richly diverse musical forms created by any single country in the world. And Moraes and Sambaguru adventured convincingly through many of them — from the sophistication of samba to the African-tinged rhythms of Bahia — and all stops in between.

Although Vitello’s upstairs room had been fitted with a dance floor, Moraes’ frequent calls for members of the audience to try out their samba steps produced no results. Fortunately, she offered a few of her own, recalling the irrepressible dancing she once did with groups such as Viver Brasil Dance Company and the Folk Ballet of Brasil. Too bad she didn’t do more.

Backing Moraes’ fiery, audience-grabbing singing and dancing: special guest Miguel Gandelman, tenor saxophone, bassist Hussain Jiffry, percussionist Kevin Ricard, drummer Tony Shogren and keyboardist Brendle. Together, they created the sort of performance that deserves a far wider hearing. It’s time for the programmers and producers at Disney Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, the Greek Theatre and beyond to check out the utterly mesmerizing music of Kátia Moraes and Sambaguru.

8 thoughts on “Live Music: Katia Moraes and Sambaguru at Vitello’s

  1. Why should it be a surprise that bossa nova was “missing” from the set list? The fact that bossa nova is a “staple of most Brazilian ensembles appearing in this country” is more a sign of the banalization of Brazilian music in the U.S. than a reflection of it being Brazil’s “best known genre.” I think audiences are slowly becoming more discerning to the diversity of Brazilian music, and frankly, often prefer to hear anything other than bossa nova. Thankfully, KM & Sambaguru have been doing anything but the “staple” and have been showing us all that contemporary Brazilian music is possible, rather than the stale rehashing of relics of bossa nova…

    Sure, Bahia is very Afro-centric… but to say “African-tinged” is like saying that my grandma’s pudding has “a pinch of sugar…” Is any Brazilian music (except bossa nova, of course) NOT “African-tinged”?

    I love this band as much as the reviewer, but you really could tone down the “ufanisms” regarding Brazilian music in your review… I agree with your mission statement in every way, especially your standards of quality, yet you offer many of the same common clichés and essencializations in discourse about Brazilian music. “…the most richly diverse musical forms created by any single country in the world” ??? Really??? Come on now… Scale it back brother…


  2. ps… in light of your very eloquent mission statement (and the fact that you moderate comment submissions), I hope that you will allow room for constructive criticism!


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