What do you give a man who’s celebrating his 50th anniversary of making music this year? How about an Oscar?
That would suit Sergio Mendes just fine. The legendary Brazilian composer/performer is nominated for his first Oscar with “Real in Rio,” from the animated feature “Rio.” Mendes co-wrote the music with Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett (best known for co-writing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”) wrote the lyrics.
“Real in Rio” is up against “Man Or Muppet” from “The Muppets” for original song. The two were the only tunes that passed the rigorous scrutiny of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’s music branch.
Mendes was “immediately fascinated” by the story of the two macaws (voiced by Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg) who go through quite the adventure after being captured by bird smugglers. Mendes wanted the song, which appears in the beginning and the end of the movie, to make people think about “Rio waking up in the morning. It’s a melody that starts very simply. You think about Rio, the greenery, the oceans, the mountains,” he says. “I wanted it to go through the movie and in the end of the movie, that music should really explode.”
The lilting rhythms and beats are a bright as the dancing birds themselves. Recorded in Los Angeles, the song features 20 drummers, who were recorded live in a drum circle.
Unbelievably, “Real in Rio” is the first tune Mendes has ever written for a film and he loved the collaborative effort. “Writing for a movie is such team work,” the 71-year old says. He credits John Powell, who scored the movie, as the “glue that held everything together.”
Mendes, who lives in Los Angeles, found out about his nomination from the movie’s director, Carlos Saldanha, who also directed the three “Ice Age” films). Saldanha called him at 6 a.m. “He said to me, ‘Get your tux ready because you’re nominated’,” Mendes recalls. “This is the biggest honor one can have.”
While there are plenty of people excised about only two songs receiving nominations for original song, Mendes says he wasn’t aware of the stringent new criteria put in place a few years ago until after he got nominated.
And even though his temperament seems as easy going as his music, he will allow that “it would have been nice” to play the song on the Feb. 26 telecast. Neither of the two nominated tunes will be performed. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen,” he says. “It would have been a great opportunity. It’s a song we’ve been performing in our shows. We get a tremendous reaction.”
But even the exclusion can’t get him flustered. “Who am I to judge? Everyone has their own priority. I’m sure the people on the television part have their own concerns. Why make a big thing out of it? Let’s enjoy our lives.”
It’s a big month for Mendes: on Feb. 10, he performed “The Fool On The Hill” in front of the song’s co-author, Paul McCartney, at The Recording Academy’s annual MusiCares dinner. Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 took the song to No. 6 on the Billboard pop charts in 1968.
“I’d never played in front of him before,” Mendes says. “It was wonderful, a magical evening…I recorded that song in 1968 and we’re in 2012 and I’ve played that song everywhere in the world. It’s one song that I never took out of the repertoire.” That and, of course, Mendes’ signature song “Mas Que Nada” (written by Jorge Ben), which also appears in “Rio” in a new version.
For Mendes, introducing the music of his native Brazil to people around the world, whether it’s in film or in concert, never gets old…even after 50 years. This year, he’ll play in Asia and Europe, as well as in Brazil. “That’s where I was born, those are my roots. It’s something that I love,” he says. “It’s wonderful to hear people in different countries singing your songs.
Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @HitFixMelinda