Singer Anna Salleh mixes up a variety of flavours to create her own sound

  • Music
  • Tuesday, 12 Jan 2016

Australian singer Anna Salleh is a diligent student of Brazilian music. Photo: Kara Hotz

Music would inspire music artistes, one would think. But that wasn’t completely the case for Anna Salleh, an Aussie with Malaysian roots.

She delved into the world of Brazilian music courtesy of a movie that was screened at her dad’s movie club when she was young.

The film, Black Orpheus, is the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time. “I was captivated by the film’s stunning views of the city from the hillside favelas, and by the irresistible rhythms and haunting melodies of its soundtrack. It really sowed the seeds for my love of Brazilian music today,” Anna said, recently.

Melody, rhythm and lyrics speak to her, like they do to all musicians worth their salt, and she sees no shortage of those elements in Brazilian music. “From the gentle-as-a-feather rise and fall of a Jobim bossa nova tune, to the crazy endless melody of a choro by Jacob do Bandolim, I am possessed by them all. Many of the melodies and lyrics are quite melancholic and I love the way they juxtapose against the stirring samba and bossa rhythms,” she said.

She also loves singing in Portuguese because, to her, the language seems so sensually suited to the melodies.

Learning the music from afar clearly wasn’t the way to go, so she made a trip to Rio and spent three months there, soaking in the sound and style of the genre ... and some sun, too. She attributes the stint to be the best thing she’s ever done in her life.

“Perhaps that’s why people say I have a coração brasileiro (Brazilian heart).”

Encouraged by her host in Rio, Anna looked beyond the boundaries of mere bossa nova, focusing her attention on samba and choro instead. Samba is the traditional music of Carnival, while choro dates back to the 19th century and evolved from such things as the polka, from Europe, combined with African rhythms.

Anna observed a thriving club scene in Rio, where one can spend hours enjoying the revival of these traditions.

For the novice, the usual suspects of Brazilian music include the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, her former husband Joao, Sergio Mendes and even Walter Wanderley. Anna is into a whole host of other artistes, but to her, the songwriting of Jobim almost defies words.

“He is simply a genius in the way he combined melody and harmony to create such sophisticatedly alluring bossa nova.”

She also enjoys the lyrical genius of poet and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes, the purity of singers Gal Costa, Luciana Souza and Monica Salmaso, the sassiness of the late Elis Regina, and the timbres of Rosa Passos, Ana Caram and Caetano Veloso.

The Sydney-based singer has a clutch of albums tucked under her belt, including the likes of an a cappella project in 2004 titled Presents From The Fifth House, 2012’s live album A Felicidade and the latest, this year’s Gorgeous Songs From Brazil & Beyond.

Anna describes her musical gift as one in which she interprets and channels: “I hear a song and it communicates a feeling to me, and that becomes a part of me. Then when I perform that song, I convey that original feeling that captured me when I first heard it.”

The online science journalist by day (she works with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, touching on issues like the dangers of new technology), though born in Tasmania, credits her brief three years in Malaysia as having laid the foundations for her life in music today.

In fact, it was her renowned poet father, the maverick Salleh Ben Joned, who bestowed her with her first guitar. And since then, the singer has gone from strength to strength, cutting her teeth performing in a cappella groups, jazz bands and improvisational theatre in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur and Edinburgh.

Later, she took her blend of Brazilian music and beyond to a yearning audience in and around Australia, and the numerous music festivals she has graced, including Darling Harbour Latin Fiesta, Aroma Festival, Sydney Fringe Festival, Petersham, Portuguese Food & Wine Fair, Manly Jazz Festival and Illawarra Jazz Festival.

Her two-night stint at No Black Tie tomorrow and Wednesday promises good music on the menu.

“Expect me to play to you like I’m in your lounge, as I share with you songs that are part of who I am today. I want every tune to create a different mood and tell a different story.”

Anna Salleh performs at No Black Tie in Kuala Lumpur Jan 12 and 13. Showtime is 9.30pm and admission RM40. For details, call 03-2142 3737 or visit

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