Seu Jorge (“Mr. Jorge”) was already a rising star in his native Brazil when Wes Anderson cast him in 2004’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The man born Jorge Mário da Silva had released one album with the group Farofa Carioca, another on his own, and appeared in the Academy Award-nominated film City of God before getting the call for Anderson’s fourth full-length feature.
The multi-faceted performer took the call despite the fact he didn’t speak English or know of Anderson’s work, unaware that the film would become a signature of his career.
On Nov. 30, de Silva brings his The Life Aquatic: A Tribute to David Bowie tour to the Balboa Theatre. It’s the culmination of a journey that started in a very unlikely way.
Cast alongside Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston and others, da Silva was asked by Anderson to record Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs for the film’s soundtrack.
Having never heard Bowie while growing up in Brazilian slums known as favelas, da Silva was reluctant.
“Most people in favela are black people,” he said. “And for Brazil in general, black people do not grow up with rock and roll. We have a very specific kind of music - Samba. David Bowie is very popular in Brazil. But only for middle- and high-class. Not so much for the poor.”
Assured by Anderson that the pairing would work, da Silva ended up recording a total of 14 songs. Five of them were used in the film, and the entire collection was released in 2005 as “The Life Aquatic Studio Session Featuring Seu Jorge.”
SEU JORGE PRESENTS “THE LIFE AQUATIC”
When: 9 p.m. Nov. 30
Where: Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., downtown
More information: 619-570-1100 or sandiegotheatres.org
In the decade-plus since, the songs of da Silva’s Pele dos Santos character have become as synonymous with Anderson’s film as Team Zissou’s red caps and or Bill Murray’s misanthropic take on Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
But it wasn’t until two tragedies struck in quick succession that the idea for the tour was born.
“David Bowie passed away (Jan. 12) this year,” said da Silva. “My daddy passed away the next day. At that moment, that week, I lost my two fathers. I lost my own and one that was like a father to me. Bowie changed my life. He changed my world completely.”
Aside from the undeniable somber component to these shows, da Silva is also performing as Pele dos Santos each night.
“On this tour,” he said, “I am Pele dos Santos. Imagine that the character walked out of the movie and stepped onto the stage in the theater. You get the atmosphere of the movie.”
He’ll also get some help in that department. The stage will be adorned with all things Team Zissou, a recreation of the Belafonte boat, and a section of the show that will include actual projections from the movie on sail-like screens.
Although he is tasked with performing as a specific character while also honoring both David Bowie’s most classic songs and the movie that spawned his renditions of them, da Silva is enjoying the supposed fixed point of view.
“Pele is not an artist,” he said. “He’s just a regular guy who loves to play guitar and sing songs. He only does it because he believes that the poetry, the melody, and the music will make everything better. And I think that says something beautiful. Normally, I try to make a perfect single or a perfect record. Pele doesn’t need all that. He just needs to be free.”
Perhaps this tour will affect the way he goes about things for the next Seu Jorge album, but it’s impossible to deny that the musician and actor has been changed from the experience.
“These shows and this tour have been very emotional,” said de Silva. “But that’s been my vision from the start. I just hope I can make people feel how important Davie Bowie and his music is to the world.”
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more Top Concerts during the week of Nov. 28, read here.