While waiting to check in at my new hotel, Mama Shelter, I overheard the receptionist telling the story of the lobby’s colorful artwork. “Designed to incorporate the art of a local Indian tribe, the theme here is inclusivity. Mama Shelter wants to include everyone; we welcome everyone here”.
This new boutique hotel in Rio de Janeiro is a welcome addition to the funky art neighborhood known as Santa Teresa. Sitting at the top of a windy maze of intertwining roads, Santa Teresa is home to top restaurants like Aprazível and Bar do Mineiro, as well as stylish boutiques such as Baoba, which sources their textiles from Angola and Mozambique. And just across from Mama Shelter is the Centro Cultural, an old villa which hosts art exhibitions and live music performances for the local community.
But you won’t have to go far to hear great music. Mama Shelter has a great rotation of jazz musicians and hip-hop deejays that add even more vibrancy to their hotel. There’s no better way to start a Sunday than by sitting in their open-air restaurant and enjoying a bountiful brunch with a bottle of rosé and those funky beats in the background.
Speaking of funky beats, during my visit to Rio I had the lucky fortune of sitting with DJ Vivi Seixas and hearing about her career, and the evolving path that it’s taken over the years. Born into a family of Brazilian music royalty, Vivi grew up being surrounded by music. “I listened to good music from an early age. As a teenager, I had my doubts and everyone expected me to be a singer or guitar player, like my father.”
That stifling comparison made her nervous and so like any teenager forging their own path, she went abroad at age 18. “At that time, everyone went to the U.S. to study, but I wanted something different so I went to Australia.” A pioneer in many ways, it was here that she discovered the music that moved her: electronic music. Her eyes glittered with happy memories as she recounted those days, “After a visit to a festival, I met a deejay, DJ Tati Sanchez, who took me to some parties and showed me the scene there in Australia.”
This was just the beginning of her musical career. Back home in Brazil, she recalled telling an old boyfriend about a dream that she was playing music for a crowd of people. He nudged her to pursue this craft citing her innate rhythm and good taste, so she took classes, practiced at home, and started playing for her friends. Inspired by everything from Leonard Cohen to Brazilian forro, Vivi explored the full range of electronic music, playing lounge, downtempo, and trip-hop.
But Vivi felt she wanted to make people move and dance instead of chill out. “I had to find music that I liked. Back then I didn’t have much reference of what was techno, what was house, what was trance. I had a friend who said, ‘Here’s my music, you can drag whatever you like to your files’. I explored his whole library and he said, ‘Everything you dragged to your folder is house music’.”
Like any true house deejay, Vivi had to cut her musical chops on vinyl. In 2006, she went to San Francisco to do a music production course and it was here that she really honed her craft with all mediums of house music, learning from Chicago house greats like Mike Frugaletti, Mark Farina, Chris Carrier, and Hector Moralez. “It was there that somebody told me, ‘If you want to play house music, you have to learn how to play vinyl’.”
So that’s what she did. This rite of passage paid off and now DJ Vivi travels all over Brazil. Talking about her love for house music, which she says is so versatile and has varieties that can be played at a beach party, wedding, or club, Vivi does have plans to get back into producing, in addition to finishing her university degree. “Here in Brazil, the scene is changing to provide opportunities to deejays who can also produce. I’m looking for a studio to make that happen – to make that bridge.”
Her latest bridge? Remixing the Raul Seixas songbook. “I was invited by Warner Music to make a CD with remixes of his songs. It was truly a mashup of dub-reggae, drum & bass, blues, house music. But my dad’s fans are very protective of his music.”
Experiencing criticism and backlash from the die-hard Raul fans, Vivi walked carefully across this musical divide of rock ‘n’ roll and house music. “Although many people have done musical tributes to my father, people think there’s nobody as good as him. So I had to find a way to do it organically, combining electronic music and musicians. I loved the result.”
An emotional project that’s been well-received by fans from both camps, the tribute to her father was a reminder of their eternal connection. “I felt like he was there in the studio. I found this piece of him talking on a cassette tape, and I used his words as an intro – ‘Let’s start. I don’t want things from the past. I want something new.’ It was as if he had given me a blessing through the music.”
With chills up my spine, I showed her a photo of some art that was made in tribute to her father by a fan – a self-made artist in the favelas of São Paulo. Giddy at the thought of someone using recycled pieces to make such astonishing art, Vivi talked about her community service work in the favelas here in Rio.
“I work with Jardim Gramacho, next to the Lixão, the dump here in Rio, and I teach music. I used to give money, but I felt the need to help people in a different way.” We talked about our work with non-profits and the work I do with young girls and photography back in Los Angeles, and the mothering we do with these at-risk children in our local communities. “Seeing children doing their homework on piles of trash – it makes you value what you have. And be in the moment of gratitude.” Grateful I definitely was. To have this unique opportunity to sit across from such a vibrant and talented woman, who is forging her path and helping others along the way.
Walking back to Mama Shelter, I became entranced with all of the street art – everything from murals to mosaics, all lending an artistic flair to the streets of Santa Teresa. One of the best features of Mama Shelter is that it is part of the Accor Hotels family, an extensive network of boutique and luxury hotels around the world. Lucky for me, their sister property Hotel Santa Teresa is right up the street and I was able to purchase a day pass to their pool. No need to trek all the way to the beaches now! I had a tranquil, secluded setting to enjoy.
Sitting back in my lounge, I thought about my interview with DJ Vivi Seixas and her fortitude to her craft. How great to meet someone so passionate about their work, and then to pass that knowledge on to the youth in her community through service. My work with Las Fotos Project gives me that same satisfaction. Seeing young girls express themselves through photography and writing makes me feel like a proud mama! Having just wrapped our annual fundraiser prior to my Brazil trip, I thought about one of my favorite quotes about mothers: “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do.” Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s words couldn’t be truer for the work that both Vivi and I do with children in need.
Surrounded by a green garden full of art, flowers, and of course that marine-colored pool, I drifted off into a dreamy trance, lulled to sleep by the soft sound of Marisa Monte playing in the background. What finally woke me up was hunger pangs!
Tearing myself away from the pool was my hardest task of the afternoon, but a dinner reservation at Térèze was all the motivation I needed! This top rated restaurant sits atop the neighborhood with a twinkling view of Rio’s seductive sunsets below.
But the real reason to come here is for the food. Like all Accor Hotel properties, the menus have a French influence. Which is a good thing since the French are known for excelling in all things gastronomy. Let’s start with the bread plate. Uttering a soft, “oh my God” when my waiter set it down, I didn’t know which piece to choose. A sampling of butters, cheeses, and savory marmalades accompanied my choices, making my decisions a bit more delectable. Then a salmon pave dish that was so artfully prepared, I felt a bit guilty taking my first bite. Crispy fresh vegetables, coconut-parsley sauce, and a hibiscus-infused foam danced around baroa quenelles. What is a baroa quenelle you ask? It’s the perfect fusion of Brazilian ingredients and French technique. The baroa is a bright, yellow vegetable known as the “carrot-potato” to Brazilians. And a quenelle is a beautifully shaped scoop, usually used for sorbets and ice creams, but in this case, it decorated my dinner plate just perfectly.
Back in the embrace of Mama Shelter, I sat on the colorful terrace and caught up on some emails, Instagram, and all of those technological advances that allow us modern humans to connect while traveling. But what I loved most about this visit to Santa Teresa was connecting with a new neighborhood, giving me more reasons to love Rio!
Contact me to plan your visit to Rio de Janeiro today…
Swimwear: Lenny Niemeyer
Manicure & Pedicure: Granado Pharmácias