By now, it’s common jazz knowledge: the tale of classy singer Melody Gardot, who, after being broadsided by a Jeep while bicycling through Philadelphia in 2003, suffered neurological damage that affected her movement, short-term recall and sensitivity to light and sound. Bedridden, she began writing supine songs that first became music therapy, then her official, Peggy-Lee-smoky 2008 debut, “Worrisome Heart.” Despite chronic pain, nothing has slowed her since. Her new fado-samba-bossa-nova-inspired set, “The Absence,” was conceived (then co-written with film-composer-guitarist Heitor Pereira) during long, culture-immersive stays in Brazil, Portugal, Morocco and Argentina.
Your speaking voice actually has an unusual European accent now. Have you noticed this?
Well, I’m speaking French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, so my brain tends to go through mechanical meltdown. I’m in Paris now, and I was trying to speak to somebody today, and it went screech, bam! It couldn’t compute anything that was happening, and it started speaking in Spanish. I wasn’t even speaking English for five months, because in Lisbon, there was no one to speak English to.
How hard was it to master all these languages?
As a musician, I have an unfair advantage, because it’s like music. If you listen to a song like “Sodade” from Caesaria Evoria, eventually you can sing the words just like she does. And if you look at them on paper, and someone explains to you how the language shifts, you’ll have a gentle introduction to the way the words fall from the tongue. So you’re just repeating — it’s like being a mockingbird.
How inspiring was Portugal?
The music there is amazing, and there’s not just one kind. In Lisbon, you encounter fado, which has been spoon-fed to the tourists almost like the tango in Argentina. But the real sounds are harder to find — you have to go to places where you wouldn’t be told to go, like up north. But if you open your windows anywhere from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., you’ll hear everyone singing in a cafe, singing the same words they sang 100 years ago. Everyone knows the words because they keep passing them on — not by the radio, but by the musicians.
You’re not afraid to travel the world alone?
No. That’s my responsibility. And as a performer, it’s your job to arrive with humility and grace to the places where you’ve been asked to go. So I think it’s important to say hello, thank you and goodbye and exchange conversation with people in their native language, as well as understand their customs, rather than disrespect them by staying encased in the ways of your Western world.