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 locales.
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 music world. Influenced by such Brazilian greats as the late Elis Regina, she also began listening to such North American artists as Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRea and George Benson. And her choice of music to interpret came not from the bossa nova of the 1960s but from the talents of the generation of composers that followed and put the Brazilian sound on the world map once again.
Arriving in the U.S. in 1980, Kenia quickly established herself as the new Brazilian singer on the scene and recorded her debut in the States with trumpeter Claudio Roditi on his album Red on Red. Several years later, she launched her solo recording career, producing four popular and critically-acclaimed albums for the MCA and Denon labels between 1987 and 1991. She also established herself as one of the most popular and successful U.S. based Brazilian musicians since the heyday of Sergio Mendes and Brazil ‘66. In 1997, Kenia launched her own label, Mooka Records, with a particularly ambitious effort; Project Ivan Lins, a tribute to the one of Brazil’s most prolific and popular contemporary songwriters, featuring Lins himself as a special guest.