KENIA is renowned for her ability to translate the complex rhythms of her Brazilian homeland into jazzy creations that made her a star of the smooth jazz movement two decades ago. Her 2016 release on Mooka Records, “On We Go,” is a fresh collection of songs that will entice a new generation of listeners, as it showcases Kenia at the top of her form with a seductive, polished vocal phrasing. “Once again, the vocalist has bridged jazz, international pop and Brazilian music and done so effortlessly, in one of her best works to date” (Jazz Corner). “It’s hard to believe Kenia approaches any song with any trepidation. On her new album whether it’s the fast-moving, hip-swaying “Summertime” or the languid ballad, “Melancia,” she’s confident, as if engaged in a natural conversation with friends against a fantastic musical backdrop that refuses to stay down for long” (Carol Banks Weber – AXS). She has taken us on a beautiful, soulful journey, revisiting her beginnings and looking towards the future… “On We Go.”
Kenia’s music continues to transcend geographic and musical boundaries. Throughout her storied recording career, Kenia has performed at national and international festivals from the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival to the Bonaire Heineken Jazz Festival in the ABC Islands. She has collaborated not only with jazz icons but also with up and coming artists, such as a 2011 show with Pittsburgh-based trumpeter Sean Jones. She is equally enchanting performing standards by big names (Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney), works by contemporary composers (Romero Lubambo, Luiz Simas) and original material with her own lyrics and music composed for Kenia by the likes of Antonio Adolfo.
For many jazz fans in the 1980s and 90s, Kenia’s singing was the gateway to contemporary Brazilian jazz and pop. She stood out from her compatriots because of her intimate, smooth vocals—subtle yet soulful—and her finesse with both American standards and Brazilian material. Arriving in the United States in 1980, Kenia quickly established herself as the hot new Brazilian singer on the NYC scene and recorded her U.S. debut with trumpeter Claudio Roditi on his album “Red on Red.” She launched her solo recording career, turning out four popular and critically acclaimed albums for the MCA and Denon labels between 1987 and 1991. Music legends James Taylor, Michael Brecker, and Chuck Loeb (Fourplay) invited her to record on their albums, and Donald Harrison utilized Kenia’s vocals on the soundtrack for the Brazilian documentary, “The Devil’s Toothpick.” In 1997, she launched her own label, Mooka Records, with a particularly ambitious effort: “Project Ivan Lins,” a tribute to one of Brazil’s most prolific and popular contemporary songwriters, featuring Lins himself as a special guest.
Kenia had established herself as one of the most popular and successful U.S. based Brazilian musicians since the heyday of Sergio Mendes and Brazil ‘66. Her voice single-handedly defined the essence of heavenly, pop-accented Brazilian jazz in the ’80s and ’90s. She returned in 2008 with the critically acclaimed “Simply Kenia,” winning the 2008 Brazilian International Press Award for “Best CD of the Year.” This captivating blend of venerable choro works and samba and bossa nova-accented tracks represented the best of the contemporary MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) tradition. Ever hungry for new challenges, she followed two years later with Kenia Celebrates Dorival Caymmi, serving up one of the most demanding and satisfying projects of her three-decade long career.
The artist was born Kenia Acioly into a family of Italian origins in the city of Nova Iguaçu, a distant working class suburb of Rio de Janeiro. When she was six, Kenia’s family moved to Copacabana. Later, she lived in Niterói, Rio’s sister city across Guanabara Bay, and Leblon, one of the city’s most upscale neighborhoods. Each stop along the way provided opportunities to explore the local cultural peculiarities that go into making Rio and its neighboring environs one of the world’s most exotic places.
An interest in music came early; she studied piano and learned to play the guitar by ear. Singing, however, became her path to success in the music world. Her choice of repertoire came not only from great composers of the 1960s bossa nova, but also from the talents of the generation of composers that followed them. Kenia gets her inspiration from a variety of musical influences ranging from Brazilian greats such as Ivan Lins, Djavan, Elis Regina, João Bosco, to American legends George Benson and Stevie Wonder, among others.
From local jazz clubs to her ongoing innovation in recording sizzling Brazilian beats, Kenia is not only a sultry jazz songstress but also a savvy producer with a passion for sharing Brazil’s rich cultural heritage. Special shows are available, along with kickin’ concerts featuring Kenia and her band playing some hot Brazilian jazz, bossa nova, samba and choro. Shows can be tailored to fit a presenter’s audience, venue and budget. In conjunction or as stand-alone offerings, Kenia also presents professional workshops on Afro-Brazilian rhythms for school children, Afro-Brazilian rhythms for adults, and master classes in Brazilian phrasing for jazz and vocal students and artists.
“Kenia is a talented performer, with great stage presence and a gift for engaging the audience. Her knowledge and passion for Brazilian music and art is evident in her stage performances, and she educates her audience with every song.”
Janis Burley Wilson – The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust