Internationally feted as one of the standout stars of Música Popular Brasileira, Marisa Monte has always maintained a close bond with her native city, Rio de Janeiro. On a walk through the city, the singer shows us some of her very favorite spots. The first stop on our walk is the fishing harbor of Urca, where the 46-year-old grew up
She waits for us on the quay wall of the small fishing harbor of Urca. There are very few cars here and it is curiously, almost unsettlingly quiet. Tiny, jewel-colored boats bob languidly in the water. It is an odd meeting place in the 6.5-million city which is usually dominated by deafening noise, and whose streets are always congested. In the distance on the left, the city’s iconic 30-meter high statue of Christ spreads its arms on the Corcovado, and immediately to the right the face of Sugarloaf Mountain rises steeply. It is a magical place, where Rio almost seems to be a sleepy little village.
“That is where I grew up,” explains Marisa Monte, pointing to the second floor of a modern apartment block. “The fishermen in the harbor were my audience as I was taking my first singing lessons in the living room. From them I received my first applause. Sometimes they even accompanied me on the cavaquinho, the typical samba guitar.”
This is also, as Marisa tells us, where Rio’s history started. Portuguese sailors discovered the bay on January 1, 1502, and thought it was a large river delta. “That is where Rio de Janeiro got its name from, the river of January. Just think, back then the Sugarloaf stood in the water!” The present neighborhood of Urca was built in the 1920s by filling in the shallow bay, and wealthy people moved to the new area. Elegant villas, the yacht club and mansions built in the Bauhaus style all around the harbor bear testimony to the district’s origins. “I had a very sheltered childhood,” says Monte, “at the weekend we would usually go sailing or I cycled from one small shop to another – often I would be given a little treat for free.”
For Marisa Monte, Urca with its harbor and beach promenade is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro
Most tourists come to Urca only to take the Bondinho cable car up to the top of the Sugarloaf – and then leave again without stopping to explore. And that is a great pity, believes the singer. “Along with Santa Teresa, this is architecturally one of the most beautiful areas of Rio.” She recommends enjoying the sunset from the Bar Urca, where Cariocas – the inhabitants of Rio – meet for an aperitif along the quay wall with its wonderful view of the statue of Christ and Fortaleza de São João, a 16th century fort. Close by is the peaceful Praia Vermelha beach, Marisa‘s own secret tip.
Although Rio’s famous beaches are doubtless well worth visiting, there’s more fun to be had at their respective northern ends – in Leme, the start of the Copacabana, and in Arpoador next to Ipanema: “You are not disturbed by the noise of traffic and you can watch the surfers ride the waves.”
Our next stop is the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, MAM for short. The impressive concrete building, which opened in 1959, was designed by Affonso Eduardo Reidy and is considered a milestone in Modernist architecture. MAM houses one of the largest collections of contemporary Brazilian art.
“This is where you can see our greatest artists, such as Adriana Varejão and Luiz Zerbini,“ says Marisa, for whom art is “a great source of inspiration; I like to mix different styles in my music, and for me the show and the stage design are an overall work of art. I love to collaborate with artists on the design. What I appreciate is their ability to think conceptually, to give ideas a concrete shape – that is where they are usually ahead of us musicians.” Over the past 27 years, Marisa Monte has accumulated her own personal art collection. “Whenever I have time I visit the art college at Parque Lage to look over the students’ shoulders and watch them sketch and paint,” she says.
In the botanic gardens, which are only a few steps away, Marisa Monte likes to find a quiet spot to read or watch the toucans and the monkeys gamboling in the treetops. Monkeys, in the middle of the city? “Yes,” laughs Marisa, “they can get pretty annoying sometimes. Once they stole so many tiles from our roof that the rain started pouring in. As a punishment we didn’t give them any food for the next few days.” Speaking of which, we realize it’s lunchtime – time for something to eat. Marisa became a vegetarian when she was 16, but she does eat fish. She decides to take us to Aprazível, a restaurant with a jungle-style décor, which serves specialties from all across Brazil, including many vegetarian classics such as steamed palm hearts.
A walk through Rio with Marisa Monte: How we made this film
The roads are busy and it takes us nearly two hours to travel to ten kilometers between the botanic gardens and Santa Teresa. While the car fights its way through the dense traffic, Marisa – who is a passionate fan of her native city – sighs loudly. “The only thing that can really put you off Rio is the traffic.” She likes eating at home best. “On tour I am always eating in restaurants. At home I enjoy cooking myself. Fresh, quick dishes – fast food in the best sense of the word.“
Rio’s arty quarter
The long way up to the restaurant is certainly worth it: Santa Teresa is a little like the Montmartre of Rio de Janeiro. Old colonial style houses, steep, winding roads up which the yellow trams creak precariously.
After a serious accident the tram was closed for almost three years. A relict of this time is the abandoned tramcar in which Getúlio Damado sells his recycling art. “It is a true original of the neighborhood,” says the musician, who briefly jumps out of the car to greet an old friend with a beijo on the cheek, “and the best address for souvenirs.”
After our late lunch she is eager to get home and pick up her two children from school. Spending time with the family is sacrosanct for Marisa. So what does she do if she has an evening off, without the children? Then she loves to go to the Clube dos Democráticos, an old ballroom where all age groups, between nine and ninety, dance samba – just one facet of a city that is so sexy and life-affirming that Rio is the only place where Monte wants to grow old.