It’s easy to start feeling jaded by the huge names that keep coming to town on the tour circuit, but it might be worth stopping to ask yourself this time: would you like to see Stevie Wonder live? Think carefully: an international superstar known for his funky singles, soulful R&B and chart-blasting pop, he’s one of the most prominent US songwriters of the 20th century, with ‘the definitive voice of soul rapture’, according to the NME. ‘Pure joy’.
Having slowed down considerably from his nearly annual releases of decades past, since the late-1980s Wonder has only issued the albums A Time to Love (2005), Conversation Peace (1995) and the Jungle Fever soundtrack (1991). Having created a pattern of sure-footed success that started with a burst of hits in the late-1960s – like the classic ‘My Cherie Amour’ and the upbeat ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours’, which gave him the first of many Grammy nominations – he would eventually win an astounding 22, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 – Wonder no longer needs to try too hard to impress. Though still performing, he has been making only about a dozen live appearances each year.
But even at 63, the man who signed with Detroit’s influential Motown label at the tender age of 11 is still more than capable of engaging large audiences with his soaring and inventive vocal lines, his honest, emotive harmonica solos, and even some solid rock riffing, of the kind he made famous with the twitchy Hohner Clavinet C keyboard’s main hook in 1972’s ‘Superstition’.
Along with his widely recognisable smile and ever-present dark sunglasses (he has been blind from birth), expect a canter through Wonder’s vast catalogue, from 1977’s jumping ‘Sir Duke’, and his mid-’80s adult contemporary blockbusters ‘I Just Called to Say I Love You’ and ‘Part-Time Lover’, which will admittedly make for an odd soundtrack to the Banco do Brasil Circuito Festival’s edgy pretences and its day-long skateboarding competition, of which this show forms a part.
Positioned to warm up Wonder’s crowd is another Grammy winning American: the fedora aficionado and coffee-shop open-mic-night-styled acoustic guitar threat, Jason Mraz. Best known for tracks like ‘I’m Yours,’ and ‘I Won’t Give Up’, which sound tailor-made for advertisers and hopeful teen girls on holiday, Mraz’s blue-eyed soul is all about teaching life lessons through schmaltz-laden positivity, with bouts of thoroughly unnecessary scat thrown in. This is the tamest kind of pop possible: you’ll find more musical risks on the soundtrack of the next animated Disney movie.
Though the festival continues on into the late hours, with the ‘Electrônico’ stage hosting Brazil’s own Mario Fischetti and the British house music DJ Mync, get there in good time for one of the afternoon’s highlights: the São Paulo singer and rapper Criolo, at 4.30pm, who is still riding out the fame of his breakthrough second album, 2011’s Nó na Orelha, with his particular brand of samba-driven hip hop.
His spot, which wouldn’t be complete without the melancholy anthem ‘Não Existe Amor em SP’ (‘There’s No Such Thing as Love in SP’), should help focus the crowd toward a grooving raison d’être in the programme of otherwise confusingly disparate events.