Badi Assad doesn’t like to be pigeonholed into one musical category. The Brazilian guitarist has made a career melding the traditional sounds of her homeland with the worldwide influences of rock, pop, jazz and other genres into something completely new and original.
“I think it has to do with the combination of a great variety of different rhythms and the Brazilian jazz chords,” Assad said of her musical output. “And as I believe that there is no limitation for a thirsty soul, anybody that wants to master the ‘Brazilian guitar’ can do it, but it doesn’t mean it is going to be without a great amount of dedication.”
Assad will bring that “Brazilian guitar” sound to the Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College in Silver Spring on Saturday, Jan. 26 as part of the John E. Marlow Guitar International concert series. She will entertain the audience with her playing, singing and vocal percussion.
The artist comes from a showbiz family, with a father who played mandolin and brothers, Sérgio and Odair, who toured as the Duo Assad. Badi, at her mother’s urging, began studying piano before moving onto guitar — picking up rave notices and winning competitions along the way, including being named “Best Brazilian Guitarist of the International Villa Lobos Festival” in 1987, when she was still a teenager.
Because Assad’s type of playing and influences have been so fluid, she is hesitant to put a definitive label on it. “I do use a little bit of the flamenco technique, but with Brazilian grooves and chords,” she said. “In Spain, where flamenco originated, it translates [to] a gathering of rhythmic music, dance and a lot of drama.”
She calls her integration of flamenco motifs with the music of her homeland “universal Brazilian music,” or UBM. “Brazilian music also presents that kind of strength, but it can be very gentle as well,” she said.
Assad, who counts among her influences such artists as Bobby McFerrin, said that her Jan. 26 concert will be of a companion piece with her first book, “Around the World in 80 Artists,” in which Assad writes about the musicians who have most affected her own style. These include Brazilians like Elza Soares and Ney Matogrosso as well as international stars like Sting and Björk.
“The book hasn’t been published in English yet, but it is a tribute to 80 musicians worldwide that have influenced me somehow,” Assad said. “I’ve been doing this performance in Brazil for the past year, and I thought the Americans would enjoy it as well.”
The guitarist said her program encompasses songs in different languages from nine different countries, representing the true international nature of music. “However, on the guitar, I’m always bringing different Brazilian flavors,” she said.
In 2012, Assad went to India for the first time to perform at the Brazilian Embassy during a state visit by then-President Dilma Rousseff. But she doesn’t mince words when it comes to her thoughts on Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president, who is known as a firebrand and for his controversial public comments.
“The new Brazilian president, in my opinion, is as fake as all the fake news that helped to elect him,” Assad said of the newly inaugurated Bolsonaro. “But I hope I’m wrong, and I do hope that Brazil finds a way to survive in peace and gets into a better overall shape. It is such a beautiful country.”
She said it is hard not to be politically minded in the times in which we find ourselves, but Assad thinks this type of reaction to populism is cyclical, and the world was “never free of some kind of chaotic phase.”
“I prefer not to go deep in the subject because it would take me far from what is my best, which is a contribution to a better world with my music, which is something I cherish as sacred,” she said, adding she tries her best to always stay optimistic.
Assad is venturing beyond her typical genres in a new trio called StringShot, in which she pairs with American bluesman Roy Rogers and Paraguayan violinist-harpist Carlos Reyes. Their debut album, “Blues & Latin,” came out last fall. “When Roy discovered my music, he envisioned this trio,” said Assad. “We released the album and toured for the first time last November. And I loved it.”
Assad, who lives about an hour outside São Paulo, also dabbles in film score composition, and said she would be open to doing more if the right project comes along. In the meantime, she invites Montgomery County music lovers to join her in an aural “adventure around the world” on Jan. 26 in Silver Spring.
“Listen to some of my stories with great masters of music, and enjoy a lot of guitar chops and learn that the voice is, indeed, one of the most amazing instruments we have,” she said. “And be prepared for a roller coaster of emotions.”
The Marlow Guitar International Guitar Series presents a concert by Badi Assad at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at the Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College, 7995 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. Tickets range from $17.50 to $35. For information, call 301-799-4028 or visit www.marlowguitar.org/marlow-guitar-series.