For almost twenty five years, Celia Malheiros has resided in the San Francisco Bay Area, and most summers she returns to her native Brazil to perform in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo with many of the extraordinary artists who have recorded with her including Hermeto Pascoal and Joao Bosco.
Celia was born in Rio de Janeiro, a place where music and dance are paramount in the culture. Celia was immersed and surrounded by music as a child and she picked up the guitar and accompanied her mother who loved to sing. She developed her own fingerings, and began to play chords, loving the feel and sound of the guitar. Then, she began to learn the cavaquinho, an instrument similar to the ukulele, and took it wherever she went, leading her into the world of improvising and composing.
“In Rio it is very common to sit outside by the ocean around a table. While you are eating and drinking someone starts to do a rhythm on a table or on a wooden matchbox, and then music fills the air! My mother loved to sing in such gatherings and since my early days I would enjoy listening and later on playing in such a spontaneous environment.” Celia Malheiros
Her father was an inventor, and her nanny, Iaia, became her spiritual mentor and second mother. Iaia taught her about candomble, the Afro-Brazilian religion, and introduced Celia to samba, carnaval and Afro-Brazilian folktales. She began a life-long love affair with the music of Louis Armstrong and Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Hermeto Pascoal. Other musical influences include: Cartola, Elis Regina, Jobim, Ravel, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan.
By eighteen, Celia was supporting herself by composing and playing at theatrical productions, nightclubs, radio and TV shows, scoring films, teaching music, performing her own music, and leading a band.
But the political tensions in the late 1970s became oppressive for many free-spirited musicians and Celia says,
“I was very revolutionary when I was younger and had three of my songs censored from a film that I had scored. I also had to leave the music university where I was studying composition because there were too many bomb threats and people like me were considered Communists.”
When Celia was 21, boyfriend and musical partner, Alex Popovics, returned to Rio for a vacation. He was studying bass at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Celia decided to go with him to Boston where they lived for the next year, performing and taking private music lessons. In 1982, they moved to San Francisco, CA.
Malheiros quickly fit into San Francisco musical scene. She began to perform and compete in San Francisco’s popular street carnaval, garnering music awards for sambas enredos (themed sambas). She later became musical director, arranger, and performer at San Francisco’s annual Carnaval Ball, the most successful indoor carnaval event on the West Coast of the United States. She founded and directed the Brazilian All Star Band, a twenty-five-piece band that featured stars like Elza Soares, Emilinha Borba, and Walter Wanderley. Her own band, Brazil Ja, enjoyed praise and popularity. Brasil Ja shared the bill with renowned Brazilian classical guitarist Carlos Barbosa Lima, as well as Brazil’s very popular group Azimuth. Malheiros also performed with the group Batucaje throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and other locations, and also with Margareth Menezes and Walter Wanderley. She appeared at the world famous Monterey Jazz Festival with Batucaje, opening for Ray Charles as well as performing with her own band at the San Francisco Jazz Festival and the San Jose Jazz Festival.
Celia currently resides in Pacifica, California, with her husband, Alex Popovics, and her daughter, Camila.