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Immersed in Movies: Sergio Mendes Talks Music In “Rio 2”

Immersed in Movies: Sergio Mendes Talks Music In "Rio 2"

In Rio 2, musical legend Sergio Mendes helps expand the Brazilian flavor as the adventure continues in the Amazon. For director Carlos Saldanha, musically it’s richer and more multi-layered, and, as the story progresses, the jungle offers its own vibe, and, by the end, it’s a mixture of the two. Mendes tells what the musical journey has been like for him.

What was the experience like the second time around, expanding beyond the Rio-flavored music?

When Carlos showed me the storyboard three years ago, my first thought was it would be a wonderful possibility to explore all the diversity of Brazilian music, not only Carnival or Rio de Janeiro but also the other rhythms we have from different parts of Brazil and I think that made this movie [different].

Let’s talk about this range of music.

Well, the movie starts on New Year’s Eve in Rio. It’s a very celebratory and international and a great time to go to Brazil to experience that. So the idea came to have Janelle Monae, who has a very unique voice and a young sound but has that international [appeal] as well, so she wrote that song, ‘What is Love,’ which is perfect for the movie. 


And we added some Brazilian percussion to make it local. And then it keeps going. The birds travel and there’s a song there called ‘O Vida,’ which I wrote with Carlinhos Brown and John Powell. And they get to the Amazon and while they’re there’s a band from Brazil called Uakti, three guys that build their own instruments, very unique, very unusual. So they brought their instruments to LA and John was able to incorporate that sound through the soundtrack.And Carlinhos Brown also brought the sounds of Bahia. And we have the soccer thing at the end and it was fascinating to be part of that ride for me. And Carlos inspired all of us because the music follows the story. And also the music is mostly for children so it has to be simple and catchy with no complicated harmonically or melodically, but we want the parents to enjoy as well. But the visual part is so beautiful.

Plus you’ve also got Rita Morena and Andy Garcia contributing as well. What was that like?

Absolutely. They’ve been around but Andy Garcia is a great percussionist. When we had the premiere in LA and Miami, I had my band and we performed and Andy came and played with us.

What do you think of working in animation with Carlos?

We established a relationship and we’re friends and I won’t say it’s easy but it’s always a challenge, and there was already that familiarity with Carlos that was very good. And to be able to understand certain things quicker was also very good.

The music is more layered, as Carlos says.

Because of the journey, yes. When you stay in Rio de Janeiro because of Carnival, there are only so many variations, so the musical theme gets around that. The journey opens up the new rhythms and sounds and all of that.

Talk about your role as executive music producer.

John Powell has composed for 38 movies and so for me it was wonderful to work with him because I learned a lot just from the way he works and the ability of putting things together. And with Carlos I called it a dream team. All my life I’ve been able to play with different musicians and tour with great singers and so forth, but now you’re working for a story, and John Powell has tremendous taste for music and we work at his studio here in LA.

And you continue working with younger performers. That must be invigorating.

I love working with young people. My whole band is in their 20s. I’m doing an album right now and I wrote a song for Janelle to sing. And I’m working with John Legend and Will.i.am. I love that — the energy of working with young people.

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