Journey From the Slums to the Limelight

A portrait of the Brazilian singer Seu Jorge.

LONDON, Nov. 10, 2008 -- Brazilian singer-actor Seu Jorge has accomplished what most of his peers could barely imagine.

Born and raised in a violent and dangerous "favela", or slum, in Belford Roxo city in Rio de Janeiro, Seu Jorge is now among the most prominent of Brazilian musicians.

He is touring the world to promote his fourth solo album, "America Brasil."

Nothing predestined his becoming a Brazilian icon, but through singing and dramatic acting, Seu Jorge, 38, forced his way out of the impoverished slums.

While he was in his 20s, he founded the troupe Farofa Carioca, which gathered actors, dancers, trapeze artists and jugglers around the idea of celebrating modern Brazilian culture.

With members of Farofa Carioca, Seu Jorge released his debut album, "Moro no Brasil" ("I Live in Brazil"), in 1998.

The album mixed typical Brazilian sounds and rhythms like samba with reggae and funk.

Since his debut, Seu Jorge has gained tremendous international exposure, thanks to his solo albums and tours in Japan and Europe. But he has remained faithful to his first artistic intention, which is to celebrate his Brazilian identity through the arts.

His energy, baritone voice and charisma have captured the hearts and ears of the international public.

A recent concert at London's Roundhouse theater, for instance, was packed with Brazilian expatriates, Britons and Europeans, all eager to hear the son of the favela.

"It is amazing to see that many people coming to hear, sing and dance to my music," Seu Jorge told "This is something huge for us."

Asked what he wished to pass onto the public, Seu Jorge answered simply, "Happiness."

"To live, that's the secret of happiness," said Seu Jorge, who was born Jorge Mario da Silva. Seu means "master."

"Life is short. It is very important to accept life as nature writes it for us as individuals."

On stage last month, after performing a few traditional carnival songs, or sambas, Seu Jorge was supported by six Brazilian percussionists.

The audience soon loosened up, with people waving their arms and dancing feverishly at the high-pitched squeaking of the cuica, which is a traditional Brazilian drum instrument essential to any carnival celebrations.

His biggest fans chanted the tunes along with Seu Jorge, while others simply closed their eyes and swung their hips.

"Seu Jorge is like Manu Chao in a way," Olivier Jozan, who attended the show, said, comparing him to the French-born, world-music performer. "When you listen to him, you totally disconnect from your daily sorrows."

Seu Jorge, who was dubbed "the coolest man on Earth" by U.S. filmmaker Wes Anderson, is more than a one-trick pony.

He has been featured in a handful of movies, including Anderson's "Life Aquatic." He appeared in "Life Aquatic" and recorded the soundtrack, a collection of David Bowie songs translated into Portuguese.

"Had Seu Jorge not recorded my songs in Portuguese I would never have heard this new level of beauty, which he has imbued them with," Bowie reportedly said.

In "City of God," which depicts the crude, violent and unfair life of the Brazilian slums, Seu Jorge portrays a man living in the favela.

Seu Jorge's character, originally a poor and honest bus driver, turns into a gang leader after his girlfriend is killed and abused by other men in the slum.

Since his days in the favela, Seu Jorge has made a formidable journey, one that has forged his charismatic personality: a mix of kindness, gratefulness for his incredibly successful fate and an acute sense of life's volatility.

Asked by what was the secret of his success, Seu Jorge said: "Stay simple. Always stay simple. Life is a perpetual movement. Before I lived in the slums, now my life is very different, only God knows what my future will be."