We are gathered in Vicar Street tonight to watch a fictional character perform the music of David Bowie entirely in Portuguese. Pele dos Santos is a character from the 2004 film The Life Aquatic, and despite the film’s box office failure (but cult success), Seu Jorge’s dreamy samba renditions of David Bowie’s music gained the singer international acclaim. Though with six albums of original music under his belt, Jorge couldn’t find time to bring the Bowie Bossanova set to the live stage. It wasn’t until the icon’s death and the death of his own Father some two days later that prompted him to go on tour in honour of both men.
The whole thing is just about as bizarre as any one of Anderson’s films. The stage is a grand expanse of black scattered with various nautical paraphenalia. In the centre stands Jorge, dressed in the traditional Wes Anderson pallet of turqoise and the now iconic red beanie, brandishing a classical guitar that has been bandaged up with gaffer tape. Jorge grew up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro where he spent three years of his life homeless. But through thick and thin his instrument never left his side. And it shows.
He opens with ‘Ziggy Stardust’ transmitted through closed eyes, as if unaware of the presence of the crowd. The man is at home around a guitar, gliding along the fretboard with absolute ease. It’s the kind of musical delivery borne of years of unwavering dedication to the craft. Bowie himself has said of Jorge’s music: “Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese, I would never have heard this new level of beauty which he has imbued within them”. And it’s true. It’s a beautiful thing to see Bowie’s hits stripped of all bells and whistles played out on just nylon strings and resonating with Jorge’s chocolatey vocals.
The short set is punctuated with anecdotes of the singer’s life in endearingly broken english. Including the story of the character’s origin which arose when Seu received a call from the then unbeknownst to him, director asking him to play the part. “I don’t know if you know but I’m a black guy living in the slum. Black guys living in the slum don’t listen to rock music”. Was Jorge’s response when asked of his knowledge of Bowie. But he quickly familiarised himself with the star and his winsome translations of Changes, Rebel Rebel, Suffragette City and a selection of other Bowie classics soon became the spine of the film.
After a captivating performance Jorge leaves the stage and scattered cries of “Carolina” ascend from a crowd largely made up of zealous Brazilian fans hoping for an injection of one of Jorge’s better known Samba hits. But to no avail. Tonight Jorge is committed to this somber Bowie tribute played out in the character of Pele dos Santos.