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Céu proved to one of the more internationally appealing singers to break out of Brazil around the time of her 2005 debut, ultimately winning a Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and garnering interest for herself in Europe and North America. Her singing is what earned her acclaim, yet her music is novel as well, a fusion of samba, reggae, and electronica, with touches of jazz and soul. She was born Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças in São Paulo; however, she bills herself as simply Céu. (In Portuguese, céu can mean either sky or heaven, depending on the context; more specifically, the word comes from the Latin word caelu and refers to the infinite space overhead, including the sky as well as the cosmos.) She grew up in a music family; her father is a composer, arranger, and musicologist. At an early age, she learned to appreciate renowned Brazilian composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ernesto Nazareth, and Orlando Silva, and as a teenager, she decided to become a singer. Rather than go to college, she studied music, including theory as well as the violão, a nylon-stringed guitar native to Brazil.
Céu eventually moved to New York City for a while once she was old enough to leave home. There she encountered many new influences, including old-school jazz singers such as Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald as well as contemporary R&B singers such as Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu. Also while in New York City, she befriended Antonio Pinto, a fellow Brazilian musician; he is perhaps best known for composing the score to City of God (2002), among other films. In time, after moving back to Brazil and fronting a couple groups, Céu recorded her debut album, a self-titled release produced largely by Beto Villares, with the aid of Pinto. CéU was released in 2005 by Urban Jungle, a label based in São Paulo, in partnership with Ambulante Discos, Villares' label. The album was later licensed by Six Degrees, a stylish label based in San Francisco that is known for its catalog of Brazilian releases, after CéU had already been met with success in parts of Europe, including France — and, by association, French-speaking Canada as well. Thanks to the buzz surrounding her debut, Céu earned a Latin Grammy nomination in 2006 for Best New Artist. Her sophomore release, Vagarosa, arrived in early 2009. For 2012's Caravana Sereia Bloom, Céu worked with producer Gui Amabis, to radically alter her approach to recording. She drew inspiration from earlier tropicalia while incorporating everything from Peruvian chicas and cumbias to reggae to alter her sound.