Sergio Mendes: “Love at first sound. We’ve been married 35 years.”

By on April 1, 2009

From the grooves of Tito Puente’s percussion to the sway of Shakira’s hips, latin music has entranced the world for generations. Among its pioneering musicians is Sérgio Mendes. The native of Rio de Janeiro who rose to fame alongside Brasil ‘66 with “Mas Que Nada,” has come to be a big name in bossa nova and latin jazz, in addition to being a devoted husband and papá. In his recent quest to heat up Japan, Tokyo FM’s Kamasami Kong chills with Sérgio for a chat about life and family.

Welcome to Tokyo! As a traveling father, how do you handle all the baggage?

I gotta tell you I’m very lucky ‘cause that’s my wife’s department. She’s been packing my bags now for the past 30 years. Sometimes, I [ask her], “Where did you put my [things?]” She’ll say, “Well, just look on your left side, underneath that.” She’s like the best packer in the world. She arrives tomorrow, with my other son, Tiago. She’s also a singer in the band.

Your wife’s name is…?

Gracinha Leporace.

And how did you meet, where did you meet, and how did she become a member of your band?

That’s too many questions. [Laughs.] I met her when she was 17 years old. I was in São Paulo, Brazil, and she was singing with a band. I loved her voice, her sound, and her look. And I fell in love! I said, “Do you want to come to the United States? I have a band.” Of course, she knew who I was. And that’s how it started.

So it was love at first sound.

Yes, exactly.

How many years have you been married?

We’ve been married 35 [years].

It sounds like you’re happily married.

Yes, very much so.

What’s the secret to your successful marriage?

Keeping the humor alive, and friendship. I think those two things are very important, friendship and humor. You gotta laugh.

I guess it’s music that keeps you together?

Yeah! And we have a wonderful family. I told [my wife] the other day that sometimes… I love Japan but to come by myself is a little lonely. I feel blessed to have family, which is the most important thing in life after your health. 

How do you celebrate an anniversary?

It depends where we are. Sometimes I even forget the day; she remembers every year. It depends. We just have a good time. We have a 16- and 22-year-old, Tiago and Gustavo, and sometimes they travel with us whenever their schedule permits. It’s wonderful having the family and being in a place that I love, which is Japan!

Are your sons involved in music?

They’re not really in music. Gustavo is now going to college. [Tiago] plays guitar. They both love music.

Wasn’t it one of your sons’ idea to collaborate with the Black Eyed Peas’ Will.I.Am?

Well, the Will.I.Am story was like; I got a phone call from his record company and they told me that he wanted to come to my house and meet me. It was about four years ago, I think. He came over, he told me how much he loved Brazilian music and my music when he grew up in LA. He asked me to play on his album, Elephunk, which I played one cut. Then I called him and we did the album, Timeless. But at the time, I didn’t know who he was, and I asked my son. He said, “Dad, he’s Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas.” He really didn’t introduce me [to him] but he knew who he was, and I didn’t. 

Now, I’m starting to think about doing the next album, which is gonna be a different thing. We’ve done enough work together but I still like the collaboration situation. To work with young people, different people, and exchange ideas. I like that very much.

I noticed that. It seems to me that that’s one of the secrets of your success. You constantly evolve. You started with Brazil ‘66, ‘77, and ‘88. Where are we now?

Well, it’s like making a movie. You’re always looking for a different story. You gotta find a theme, a motif where you can do something different. Otherwise, you keep repeating what you’ve done all your life. For me, I like the adventure.

We had a question from Facebook. Are you using Facebook, by the way?

Sometimes. My kids use it more than I do.

Do you have your own page on Facebook? Can we look you up?

No, I don’t think so. 

A Facebook question came in, and it says: Your music career has spanned decades. Is there any era of music that you like best or that you still like best?

Every era was very interesting. The beginnings were wonderful, as a young kid in Brazil, struggling, playing clubs, the traveling. I enjoy right now very much [also]. There’s not any specific area or time that I say, “I miss that.” Of course, you always miss the beginning. But that was the beginning, and now is now. I live day to day, and enjoy it.

Interview arranged by Lloyd Nakano, general manager of Seiyu Ginza Hotel

About Kamasami Kong courtesy of Tokyo FM