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"I went to see a band in a town in Sao Paolo and I just noticed that the crowd were dancing. They’d just get up and dance and they’d all sing along. They’re totally uninhibited about singing and moving their bodies. I think it must be the climate.  You know, it’s so warm there. They’re just immediate, and warm, and gorgeous, and very sexy people. So I had a great time.”

I am talking to Sheffield-based jazz singer Rosie Brown the day after her return from a three-week trip through Brazil. Rosie has been performing in Sheffield since she was a student at Sheffield University. Her first regular gig was at Casablanca on Devonshire St. Now she plays every other Thursday at The Red Lion on Charles Street and appears frequently at Cubana on Trippet Lane, Art:Room on Campo Lane, The Lescar on Sharrow Vale Road, Thyme restaurant in Crookes moor and other local venues. A set by Rosie Brown and her band is a heady mix of jazz standards, bossa-nova and jazz-funk.  

On November 28 Rosie flew to Sao Paolo with Maria Perrera Butcher, a Brazilian jazz singer who has been playing in Sheffield. I was supposed to interview Maria as well, but she was deported upon her return to the UK for working on a tourist visa. Maria is currently in Sao Carlos with her family. She has been an important and exciting musical figure in Sheffield, and we hope she will be able to return.

Rosie’s first night in Brazil was memorable. “I arrived quite knackered, went to bed for a couple of hours and when I got up there was a big party welcoming Maria back,” She tells me over coffee at Remo’s. “Maria’s stepfather and another guy were playing guitar and a guy was drumming - really good rhythms that you just don’t hear over here. There was a flute player and a horn player and singers as well, and they played for six or seven hours. I’ve never heard people play so much.  At a gig they’d play for four hours, hardly taking breaks at all.  I ran into this singer in a service station between Rio and Buzios and I said ‘How do you manage to sing for four and a half hours?’ He brought all these Native American Indian herbs out of his car and told me he makes a tea” - Rosie pauses and looks thoughtful - ”Could be a load of shit.”

“One night Maria was playing a gig in Sao Carlos and the audience were loads of old people sitting down. They didn’t stand up to move to the music, so I instantly felt like I was back home,” Rosie explains, laughing. “I thought: ‘This is like an English crowd!’ Maria suddenly gestured to me and said ‘Rosie, come to the stage.’ She invited me to do a song in Portuguese and I thought ‘Oh no, I’m not going to be able to do this.’ But afterwards people were saying ‘Braziliera?’ to me, which means ‘Are you Brazilian?’ And I said ‘No, no I’m English!’”

Rosie grew up forty miles outside Sheffield in a town called Hucknall, but her striking, dark features suggest otherwise. “What?” asked one incredulous admirer when she told him she was from England, “with that Latin face?” Another fan confessed “I thought Rosie Brown was an English stage name. I thought you were trying to be cool.” She could keep up the illusion, she told me, as long as she didn’t speak.

Her command of Portuguese “got a little better, but it’s still pretty basic. People would say something to me and then I’d respond with a line from a song, so I’d have these lyrical conversations.” With a repertoire that draws heavily on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s plaintive ballads, Rosie must be a heart-rending conversationalist.

In Brazil, you aren’t supposed to be able to take a coach without a passport. Rosie got as far as Rio (an overnight coach ride from Sao Carlos) without hers, but leaving Rio turned out to be a problem: “The guy wouldn’t let me on to the bus.  I tried to explain in bad Portuguese. There were these women being very animated and saying to me ‘where’s your passport?’ in Portuguese. And I started crying” [“That’s a very Brazilian way,” Maria’s parents later told Rosie approvingly].

“So I thought ‘Shit, no passport, how am I going to get back?’ And this old guy got off the coach and asked me in English what was the problem, and he signed a piece of paper for me and that was it. Apparently he’d signed that if I robbed anyone or chucked myself off the coach he was responsible.  And all these Brazilian women were saying to this guy, ‘Ehh! What if she throws herself out the window,and you’re going to have responsibility for her? You don’t know her! She could be any sort of . . . drug dealing hoodlum!’ And the guy said ‘she’s an English girl’ and he was really into this idea that we are trustworthy, and wouldn’t lie.”

“In Sao Paolo,” Rosie tells me, “I met this amazing composer, a guitar player named Evandro Gracelli and his friend, a bass player named Ricardo Finazzi.  The music they were writing was really contemporary Brazilian music. I wanted to send it to Radio 3. They were really cool, lovely guys. No ego, no pretensions. I did a gig with them and we did a lot of Beatles covers, because the Beatles are really big over there. Bob Marley’s big too. And then we did a lot of [Antonio Carlos] Jobim stuff.  [Gracelli] wasn’t a jazz fascist, which was nice. I liked that.”

Rosie refers to a section of Rio called Lapa as “the place where people just grab you and dance with you and you find out you’ve got two left feet.” Over and over, she tells me about the dancing and the rhythms in Brazil.

“Everybody dances, y’know, all the guys, even the 16, 17 year olds, they know the dance forms, and the rhythm is sort of, it’s just there, it’s just amazing.” One night in Lapa, Rosie and her friends left one bar, “and then we went down the street to another bar and outside there was an old geezer, who looked like he caned it a bit, y’know, on the booze, playing the guitar with a drummer.”

It sounds like an image out of a song by Jobim, only now Rosie is speaking like this in English.



Rosie Brown
Rosie Brown

Rosie Brown: Everybody dances

words: Alec Patton

pics: Jon Enoch

February 2003


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