Céu, whose full name is Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças, is a Brazilian singer-songwriter whose first American album was released on the Six Degrees Records label in April 2007. She was born in São Paulo, Brazil on April 17, 1980, into a musical family, her father being a composer, arranger and musicologist. It was from her father that she learned to appreciate Brazil’s classical music composers, particularly Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ernesto Nazaré and Orlando Silva.
By age fifteen she had decided to become a musician and by her late teens she had studied music theory, as well as the violão (nylon-stringed Brazilian guitar). Her songs reveal her many influences, which include samba, valsa, choro, soul, rhythm and blues, hip hop, afrobeat and electrojazz music.
As Céu herself explained, “I have a passion for Black culture, from Jazz divas to Afro beat. Everything comes from Africa. With Samba, I have a very strong connection to the old school that we call ‘Samba de raiz’ (Root Samba). I am a vinyl listener, so I tried to bring some of that to the CD, mixing it with modern things like rap or even ‘Brega’, which is the newest thing in Brazil.”
In particular, she cites as influences the music of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lauryn Hill, and Erykah Badu, as well as the Brazilian Jorge Ben.
Céu was performing onstage with major artists and exploring the repertoire of the marchinhas (turn-of-the-century carnival music) by her late teens. Soon after that she relocated temporarily to New York City, where she had a chance meeting with fellow Brazilian musician Antonio Pinto, who became her flat mate while he was going through some financial difficulties. She later learned that he was actually a distant cousin, and their relationship was renewed when he teamed up with lead producer Beto Villares, composer of the musical score for the movie O Ano em que Meus Pais Saíram de Férias (2007) to help her record her album. Pinto, who produced Céu’s song “Ave Cruz” is the composer of the musical score for two Oscar Nominated films, Central Station (film) (1999) and City of God (2002).
Originally issued in 2005 on the São Paulo-based Urban Jungle, Céu was picked up by Six Degrees/Starbucks/Hear Music in the US and UK, JVC in Japan and Harmonia Mundi in France and in the Netherlands. Céu received a Latin Grammy nomination for “best new artist” of 2006 and a Grammy nomination for “Best Contemporary World Music Album.” of 2007. She is also riding high on a wave of international success in France, where the influential Les Inrockuptibles recognized her as one of the top 5 musical revelations of 2005, Holland, and Italy, as well as in Canada, where she was recently the fourth highest-selling artist for the Archambault chain of music shops while simultaneously holding the number 32 slot on the pop charts. Debut album in the U.S. with Six Degrees Records as the first international artist on Starbucks’ Hear Music Debut Series. Her album was received with critical praise from NPR’s Morning Edition, The Associated Press, Reuters, and many more, hailing her as “…a fresh new face in the Brazilian music scene.” Her album has sound scanned over 110,000 copies to date, making her the biggest selling Brazilian artist of 2007. Céu reached unprecedented chart numbers for a Brazilian female artist—1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers (New Artist) Chart, 57 on the Billboard Hot 100 and 1 on Billboard’s World Music charts. In 2008, Céu received a Grammy nomination for “Best Contemporary World Music Album” of 2007 for her debut album Céu. In 2009, her critically acclaimed second album Vagarosa reached #2 on the US Billboard’s World Music charts. The album has since been nominated for a 2010 Latin Grammy for Best Contemporary Brazilian Pop Record.
In 2010, Céu was invited by Herbie Hancock to record a version of “Tempo de Amor” for The Imagine Project album.
In 2011, she contributed a version of the track “It’s a Long Way” in collaboration with Apollo Nove and N.A.S.A. for the Red Hot Organization’s most recent charitable album “Red Hot+Rio 2.” The album is a follow-up to the 1996 “Red Hot+Rio.” Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.
For 2012′s Caravana Sereia Bloom, Céu worked with producer Gui Amabis, to radically alter her approach to recording. She drew inspiration from earlier tropicalia while incorporating everything from Peruvian chicas and cumbias to reggae to alter her sound.