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Shaking it up with Bebel Gilberto

/ Source: Special to

Bebel Gilberto is a New York-born, Brazilian-bred, Grammy-nominated singer famous for her upbringing — she is the daughter of famous singers Joao Gilberto and Miucha. She’s a staple on the bossa nova scene and has brought samba and other native musical styles to America with many successful albums, including her latest, “Memento.” Gilberto travels all over the world with her band and was happy to talk about those experiences in a recent phone conversation.

Q: You were born in New York, but moved right back to Brazil before returning to Manhattan later as a child. So when someone from another country travels to New York City for the first time, what’s it like?

A: I came back to see my father in New York when I was about 9, and it was incredible. I think the first thing that you fall in love with in New York City is Central Park, just having this huge, beautiful green park right in the middle of all the tall buildings. I was also impressed by all the smells. There are so many and they’re so different, from all the cultures. There’s the smell of Indian food, Chinese food, musk ... too many to mention. I was not prepared for all of that, and the huge amount of different stores and restaurants.

Q: Not many people would say they’re “impressed” by New York City smells.

A: Well, I come from Brazil, and we do have bad smells over there, too. But I prefer to be romantic and talk about the good smells.

Q: Your style of music lends itself to being popular in many different parts of the world. Do you get a chance to see the sights when you tour all over the world?

A: Very rarely, unfortunately. I have to be honest. It’s very tiring, doing what I do. In many places, I feel like it’s been a big waste that I’d even been there because I didn’t get a chance to really see what I should have seen. But occasionally I do, and it’s always fun and memorable. When we were in Mexico last time, we went up on the Mayan pyramids. And that was special for me because I lived in Mexico when I was 4 years old. And to come back as an adult, and to go to those spectacular pyramids and see a show, under the moon with the lights, it was special. We went up there and we drank tequila and it was amazing.

Q: You’re constantly in hotels. Are you picky or do you just go with the room that you’re given?

A: Well, I decided that I’m not a suite fan. I think they have a bad energy about them, and in most of them the curtains don’t work, either. There’s always a problem with the shades. I just don’t like suites.

Q: Any room rituals?

A: I always travel with incense, and my new discovery is Palo Santo incense from Chile. You burn it and it’s supposed to clean the energy around you. It’s less smoky than regular incense, and it’s really nice and really spiritual. I try to always travel with it.

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A: I always forget that I don’t smoke! Many times I have to pay full fees because I lit up things in the room. And smoking rooms are the worst. If you want to die, go to a smoking room.

Q: What places around the world should people simply not miss?

A: Istanbul, because of the culture, because of the mosques and because it’s absolutely beautiful. I haven’t done everything that I want to do as a tourist there, but I spent hours in the market and it blew me away. I love the culture and love everything about Turkey. Also, Kobe, in Japan. I spent a beautiful day there, went to Nara and saw the big Buddha. I went with the whole band and we took the bullet train. I also recommend Australia. Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Q: Any place in Brazil that people should visit that no one knows about?

A: Yes. I recommend an island called Fernando de Noronha. It’s an island in the middle of the ocean. Look it up. It’s beautiful and they have the biggest concentration of baby dolphins. They have a system to take care of them and look after them, and it’s very protected. It’s a really wild island and it’s very expensive to go there and very magical. I have a picture of it that I carry with me and I’m looking at it while I talk to you.

Q: What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you while traveling?

A: Losing the luggage, right? I think it happens to me about once every three months, at least. And I’m convinced that it really has to do with your mood. You have to learn to either pack light and use a carry-on if you want to avoid this, but that’s impossible for me because I’m a performer.

Q: What do you absolutely have to have with you on a plane?

A: Ear plugs and a mask. Then I can go anywhere. And a sleeping pill. Not Ambien, though, because it drives you crazy. I’m more of a Xanax fan. I think they should distribute it on the airplane. It would be so much easier. Flying, for me, is one of the worst things in the world, and I have to do it all the time. They should give you one Xanax for free.