The Kennedy Center

Badi Assad


With the worldwide PolyGram release of Chameleon, Badi Assad (pronounced Bah-Jee Ah-Sahje) emerged as an important new voice. Badi transcends styles of her native Brazilian music with an exotic mixture of ethnic sounds from around the world. As a result, the extraordinary singer, guitarist and percussionist is successfully forging an exhilarating genre of music that quite literally defies categorization.

As a singer, Badi is vibrant and electric, responding to her inner passion with deft creativity. As a guitarist she has inspired audiences and critics worldwide with a unique combination of technical mastery and innovation that has caused many to reexamine their notions about the instrument. Each review of her concerts and albums holds the air of discovery, of a new voice for the guitar, of admiration for Assad’s innovation and unusual application. Through it all, Badi’s adventurous spirit and buoyant personality have become an integral part of her music.

Born in S. João da Boa Vista outside of São Paulo, Brazil, Badi Assad exuded talent at an early age. Her early years were spent in Rio de Janeiro, where her family moved to support and develop the building talent of her brothers, Sérgio and Odair, the famous classical guitarists, Duo Assad. As a child of 3, Badi was gifted a 2-octave Yamaha electric organ. She used to steal scores from her siblings, lock herself away in her parents’ room, and put on a show just like the piano players she saw on television.

Inspired and encouraged by her brother, Sérgio, Badi began singing at age 4. Tom Jobim’s “É de Manhã” was the first number in Badi’s childhood repertoire. By age 7, Badi began taking piano lessons. She soon outgrew her 2-octave Yamaha, but the family could not afford a more advanced instrument. Her mastery of the piano, unfortunately, was short lived.

When she was 15, Badi’s brother Sérgio proposed the idea of entering a competition, Concurso Jovenes Instrumentistas, in Rio de Janeiro. Over the course of weeks and years, Sérgio, with all his patience and love, taught Badi to play and become a musician. When her older brothers left home to pursue their international careers, Badi became the designated heir apparent as a foil for her father’s own mandolin playing. She picked up on the guitar quickly and her father, who had seen this talent before, soon had her studying music at the University of Rio de Janeiro. There she continued to enter competitions. In her first year in school, she joined Le Due Romantique, a guitar duet with her brother Sérgio’s future wife.

In 1987 she was named “Best Brazilian Guitarist” of the International Villa Lobos Festival. A year later, Badi produced her debut solo album, Dança los Tons, distributed exclusively in Brazil. The album’s release provided her first solo booking, though she could not manage a band to back her as on her recording. Uncertain how to compensate for the lack of support, Badi made do with only her guitar and voice. In place of the flute, she sang the melody; in place of percussion, she used her mouth and body; and instead of a synthesizer, Badi mimed the sound of blowing wind. She was inventing what would later be dubbed in the US as a “one-woman-band”.

The following year she composed Antagonismus, a solo work that incorporated her talent as a singer, guitarist, and dancer. Later that year, Badi’s close friend, Eduardo Fraga, formerly a dancer with Brazil’s Stadium Ballet, recruited Badi to audition for a new musical, Mulheres de Hollanda. She was selected from over 200 singers and dancers, and spent the next year with the production performing 5 times a week. It was there amid the ceaseless repetition, Badi claims, that she learned to reinvent herself daily.

With a newfound confidence, Badi began experimenting even further with her voice. Mouth percussion and rhythmic body percussion became part of this exploration. These new elements were intuitively combined with her already impressive guitar approach thus creating excitingly fresh sounds that complemented her vision as a musician and performer.

Just as Badi’s innovative new direction began to emerge, opportunities began to present themselves. In 1994, after spending years performing in acoustic festivals, Badi released her first CD, Solo. With its release she toured Europe and the United States and began to see she was gaining and eager audience. Solo was followed by Rhythms in ‘95, and Echoes of Brazil in ’96. While recording Echoes of Brazil, Badi signed with Verve Records and moved to Los Angeles. The next year she produced Chameleon, a record Verve promoted vigorously by taking Badi on tour through England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

After an extensive touring regiment, and struggles with focal dystonia, a rare involuntary muscle-motor incapacity, Badi moved back to Brazil to return to her creative center. She stayed for more than three years.

By 2003, Badi was well within her recovery. She began playing again with Brazilian guitarist, Carlinhos Antunes, and Bossa Nova legend Toquinho. That same year, Badi released 3 Guitars, recorded with American guitarists Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie. Despite a nearly ceaseless touring schedule in ’03 and ’04, Badi returned to the US for the release of Verde, in 2005, a product of her new association with acclaimed German record company, Deutsche Grammophon. Two months after the album released, Badi stepped back into the studio to record Wonderland. The single “Vacilão” featuring Sue Jorge topped Brazilian radio charts. Wonderland was selected among the top 100 of ’06 by the BBC. Early the next year, Badi’s career took an entirely new direction as she welcomed her latest accompanist, her daughter Sofia.
Badi Assad