“My whole life, I’ve been kind of an outsider because of this dual citizenship,” says Jimmie Griffith, front man of Boone-based bossa nova-influenced trio, Banana Da Terra.
Just imagine: As the child of a Brazilian mother and an American father, the musician grew up in a South American country whose dialect does not include the prominent “th” at the end of Griffith’s name.
But Griffith’s dual citizenship proved beneficial in the long run, allowing him to move to the United States for college. He followed in his older sister’s footsteps, landing at Appalachian State University. There, brother and sister formed the first incarnation of Banana Da Terra.
“I didn’t sing then,” Griffith explains. When his sister graduated and moved out of town, the musician—noted for his supple, delicate, Latin-flavored guitar work—had to brush up on his vocal stylings.
The result? Sweet, soulful lyrics delivered in a hushed, unhurried fashion reminiscent of João Gilberto. Griffith knows (and it shows in the solo sets he sometimes uses to open for Banana Da Terra) the secret to pulling in an audience: Don’t jar them with volume; compel them with quiet panache.
Banana Da Terra, on the other hand, packs more of spicy wallop than elegant murmur. With Joel Lancaster on a small drum set and Tim Salt playing bass, the band boasts a rhythmic, bottom-heavy sound where the bass line often provides melodic backbone to Griffith’s vocals and classically tinged guitar work.
Considering the varying influences of the band members, Griffith notes that “some rhythms are quite old.”
“We’re dealing with influences from the 1960s,” he continues. “We’re using bossa nova as an influence, but we’re not sticking to it.”
Still, as a bouncing-off point, that influence is a reach for some listeners. The bossa nova movement originated in Brazil and lasted only a short time—from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. The style evolved from samba, is often linked to American “cool jazz,” and was introduced to the world in part through the 1959 film Black Orpheus. Half a century later, multinational Banana Da Terra continues that tradition.
The trio’s sound is also classified loosely as Musica Popular Brasileira, the post-bossa nova catchall. But, even as the term sums up the current trend in urban Brazilian music, it’s a world away from the musical tastes of many Western North Carolina concertgoers.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to play in Boone and Asheville because those are exceptions to the rule,” Griffith reveals. “Other places, people have to adjust to the fact that it’s not in their language.”
Luckily, bossa nova, with is suave grooves, modern tones and tasteful beats, is one of the most crossover-friendly genres out there. Robert Lanham’s The Hipster Handbook lists Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto among the top “must-have” albums.
However, there’s nothing about Banana Da Terra that radiates pretension or even studied cool. This is a trio of family men, based in a small town, with aspirations to relocate somewhere slightly larger when the time is right—there’s no rush. At the moment, Griffith has his sights set on Banana Da Terra’s first studio album, adding to the group’s concert calendar and slowly widening the radius of Brazilian influence, one venue at a time.
But ultimately, Banana Da Terra remains rooted (if not tethered) in tradition. “The name of the band came from a place in Brazil where my sister and I both went: Cultural Space Banana Da Terra,” Griffith recalls. “A place for college kids to enjoy and be exposed to new art and music. They played very nonmainstream music.”
As those places tend to do, the art space closed. But Griffith’s trio is a tribute to that early influence.
Interestingly, the name banana da terra, or banana-to-earth, also refers to a plant of African origins in the musáceas family, renowned for its stress-reducing properties—something hipsters, world-music aficionados and fashion-forward Brazilians already know to be true of eternally cool bossa nova.
who: Banana Da Terra
what: Post-bossa nova-influenced Latin fusion
where: Bobo Gallery
when: Saturday, Nov. 17 (10 p.m., 254-3426)