In Yoruba, “ilé” means “house” and “si” means “being, existing”.

The “House of Being”, Carioca singer and composer Ilessi, harbors diverse manifestations of Brazilian music: tribal, sophisticated, experimental, sentimental, old, and preferably new, since her repertoire mainly features unknown composers, and when singing work by consecrated authors, she prefers their previously unrecorded or unrevealed pieces. 

In her first CD (Brigador, 2009), the singer already surprised listeners, devoting extensive work to the little-known partnership between Pedro Amorim and Paulo César Pinheiro. Born in the fertile ground of the Portable Choro School and arranged by Luís Barcelos, Brigador attests to Ilessi´s proximity to such names as Amélia Rabello, Luciana Rabello, and Maurício Carrilho. 

Nine years transpired from her first CD to her second, when Ilessi formed a duet with guitarist Diogo Sili dedicated to the vast work of Manduka; she dived even deeper into the current music scenes in Minas Gerais, Pará, and Paraiba; she lived for a year in Sweden, where she studied Improvisation at the University of Örebro (with Nelson Faria and Berit Andersson) and performed at the Konsertsalen; and she sang in France and England.

Our Rocinante label finally released Ilessi´s second album in 2018, produced at the Fazenda das Macieiras Studio in Minas Gerais. Directed and with arrangements by Thiago Amud, Mundo Afora: Meada (freely translated as Yonder World: Skein) is the first decantation of the “authorial” mapping she had performed in the many “Brazils” where she had roamed. Songwriters from various towns (Alexandre Andrés, Edu Kneip, Milena Tiburcio, and Paloma Roriz) with diverse instrumental backgrounds (for example, a forró trio, power trio, chamber ensemble, and flirts with India, the Andes, Uakti, and participations by Nelson Angelo and Novelli) weave the dense skein that Ilessi´s voice unravels.

Whether performing in the show Berimbau: a tribute to Baden Powell – Eduardo Gudin invites Toquinho, Ilessi and Renato Braz (SESC Pompéia) or the concert series Guinga and Women´s Voices (CCBB RJ), celebrating the great artist´s 70th birthday and invited by him; “Sonora – International Cycle of Women Composers” or the This Woman Collective; the “Competitive Marathon of New Musical Talents” (Teatro SESI FIRJAN), which she won in the category “Best Performer”, singing “Ladra do Lugar de Fala” (“Thief of the Place of Speech”) by Thiago Amud) or the countless shows and recordings shared with so many creators (like the composer of “Ladra”), Ilessi reaffirmed that Brazilian music is her cause.

In 2020, two new CDs reaffirmed this kind of mission´s coherence: With their feet in the future – Ilessi and Diogo Sili perform Manduka, the result of a long collaboration between the two artists, and Dama de Espadas (Queen of Spades), also released by Rocinante. 

Most of this album´s tracks are signed by the performer herself (generally with partners like her father Gonzaga da Silva, Iara Ferreira, Simone Guimarães, and Jorge Andrade), but her bandleader attitude and timbristic treatment are leagues from what one might expect from an album with the refinements of an intimist creator. Produced by Elísio Freitas and Vovô Bebê, Dama de Espadas captures a high-voltage, prankish, valiant Ilessi.

Rocinante is starting to prepare the way for Ilessi to take her next recording step in 2023: the “second half” of Mundo Afora. Once again, escorted by Amud´s multiform arrangements, she will lend her voice to the verses and melodies scattered across yonder Brazil.

After all, as pianist and composer André Mehmari said about Ilessi for the insert to Mundo Afora: Meada, “The messenger does not choose to be. She is.”

Photography: João Atala