With a sound rooted in Latin-American and Spanish flamenco traditions—including lyrics sung in Portuguese, Spanish and English—Beleza performs either as a duo or a full band. This mingling of cultures serves as the vehicle for the creative musings of husband-and-wife Humberto and Madeline Sales. Described as “funkalicious samba soul,” the couple’s repertoire is very much Latin-influenced as well as extremely diverse. 

Indeed, a Beleza show features a blend of stylistic inflections ranging from samba, funk, soul, blues, bossa nova, jazz and flamenco, with a dusting of electronic sampling. While the genre influences are clear, the compositions are invariably run through the blender of Humberto’s Brazilian influence.

Virginia Latin music

“I grew up in Salvador, [the capital of Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia],” explains the 48-year-old guitarist. “Music is a very strong part of Brazilian culture in general; and as a young child, I learned guitar by playing Brazilian pop-music by ear.”

Circa the age of 11, there came a revolution. “I heard Paco de Lucia and fell in love on the spot,” says Humberto. “I knew I wanted to study Spanish flamenco music.” The bug stuck. Attending the federal music conservatory in Salvador, Humberto ultimately earned a degree in classical guitar performance.

Meanwhile, 46-year-old Madeline grew up in the Southeastern U.S., with her family settling in Charlottesville when she was in middle school. “Music was a natural part of my upbringing,” she says. “Both of my parents love to sing, and I have fond memories of them leading me and my three siblings around the house as a ‘marching band,’ dancing and singing The Beatles.”

Charlottesville duo musicians

How Beleza Came to Be

Additionally, Madeline and her siblings participated in chorus and band, both in church and in school, and she studied piano. “I took lessons from age 5 to 15, when I gave them up to pursue theater in high school,” she says. After graduation, she went on to study sociology at Duke University.

“[But] I began to miss music,” says Madeline. “Once I graduated college, it got worse and worse until, in 2001, I decided to gift myself a year of study in Brazil to learn about the area’s musical culture and heritage.”

Once there, Madeline sought to form a band to perform American and Brazilian jazz. She informed a drummer-friend about the band, and he responded with the names of the “perfect” pianist and bassist to complete the quartet. But for bossa nova, Madeline preferred the sound of a guitar. “So he suggested Humberto,” she says. “Only, when my friend told ‘Berto about the idea, he responded, ‘Oh no, that will never work—I’ve heard gringos trying to sing Brazilian music in Portuguese and it’s always horrible.’”

Shortly thereafter, the two accidentally attended a concert together. “Our mutual friend introduced us, explaining I was the American singer he’d mentioned,” chuckles Madeline. “After that, ‘Berto decided to give the ‘gringa’ a chance.”

As the drummer and the bassist missed the first rehearsal, Madeline and Humberto wound up rehearsing alone. Midway through the first song it hit them: there was magic in the air. And the chemistry wasn’t just musical. “We started dating and performing together in Brazil, and my year soon turned into three,” says Madeline. “We then spent six months playing resorts in Turkey and afterward moved to Charlottesville where, in 2005, with the release of our first album, we started performing as Beleza.” 

In the 14+ years since moving to Charlottesville, Beleza has put out three well-received albums including a collection of children’s songs.

Originally, the couple figured they’d visit Madeline’s family, play some gigs, figure their next move, and set sail for a major metropolitan area. “We assumed there would be better reception of our American and Brazilian fusion of styles in a bigger city,” says Humberto. “But people here were very positive and, with Madeline’s family in the area, our love of nature and the outdoors, and the proximity to Richmond and [Washington] D.C., we decided Charlottesville made for a perfect base.”

For a city known for the collective eclecticism of its taste and passion for cultural diversity, the duo was destined to make a winning impression. Madeline’s old-school, Ella Fitzgerald-esque jazz-meets-soul tonal purity and improvisational agility really intensifies the duo’s sound. Humberto’s ability to mix the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic complexity of Brazilian folk and samba music with classical and flamenco guitar techniques and funky American jazz ignites the experience. Many occasions, the crowd will even join in the fun and dance to the spicy sounds. In the 14+ years since moving to Charlottesville, Beleza has put out three well-received albums including, including “Just for Fun,” a collection of children’s songs.

Most recently, on November 6, 2020, the duo released a new single, “Love Where You Are.” “This song came from an internal longing to feel settled and at ease. To feel planted, rooted, connected and filled with a sense of belonging to the people and place where I live,” Madeline says. “I’d ‘learned’ through mindfulness studies that happiness only exists in the present moment. The problem was that I was restless and leaning forward most of the time. So, I started daydreaming about how my surroundings might gently infuse me with this sense of ease, of rightness of being, of the capacity to feel spacious, open, grounded and free. Charlottesville is the beautiful, small town where I went to middle and high school. And, it was here all along. The color and vibrance of the spring and fall; the stillness and spaciousness of winter; the thick, languid days in summer; my family, home and love. In this particular season, as we continue to grapple with covid-19 and are spending more time in our own little worlds, I need this loving reminder to love right where I am over and over again.”

Looking to the future, the duo says there is much room for growth and much to be excited about. “We hope to spend more time arranging, composing and recording more of the music that inspires us,” says Humberto. “Otherwise, it’s just such a gift to be able to share this love with the world and, more than anything else, we simply want to do more of that.” ~




 

Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings, are complemented by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. The Shop features over 40 Virginia artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire to locally made foods and award-winning Virginia wines and craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country covers the grape-growing foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Lynchburg to Leesburg, including points in between like Charlottesville and Middleburg. Ivy Life & Style Media also creates other projects, including CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as the CharlottesvilleWelcomeBook.com a guide to resources for Charlottesville tourists and newcomers.

Beleza has numerous performances coming up soon, so be sure to check their online calendar to see where and when you can watch this duo live locally.

This article originally appeared in Book 4 of Wine & Country Life. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.

ERIC WALLACE is a freelance writer based out of Staunton, VA. He is an avid outdoor enthusiast, traveler, lover of zen, mountains, rivers, sunsets and literature, literature, literature.




 

Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings, are complemented by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. The Shop features over 40 Virginia artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire to locally made foods and award-winning Virginia wines and craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country covers the grape-growing foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Lynchburg to Leesburg, including points in between like Charlottesville and Middleburg. Ivy Life & Style Media also creates other projects, including CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as the CharlottesvilleWelcomeBook.com a guide to resources for Charlottesville tourists and newcomers.

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