Sergio Mendes Opens iFest With a Charge to "Enjoy Life"

The 43rd Annual Houston International Festival kicks off its Brazilian-themed, two-weekend affair this evening with an opening gala at the Hobby Center featuring Grammy Award- winning pianist and musician, Sergio Mendes. Opening for Mendes will be Casa Samba, a samba school located in New Orleans.

Bookending the concert will be a Chairman's Reception before the concert and an opportunity to meet and greet with concert performers Mendes and Casa Samba after. Rocks Off got an early start on the latter, speaking with Mendes by telephone about this evening's performance.

"[There will be] a lot of great songs and great music," promises Mendes, confirming that he will perform his classics, his hits and newer songs from 2011 album Celebration: A Musical Journey.

For Mendes, Friday will be something of a homecoming, as he hasn't played in Houston, he says, "for a very long time."

"I don't remember," he says of the last time he was here. "A long time ago, I guess."

Mendes will not be performing at either of iFest's two weekends; he will be in Tokyo, Japan. Instead, as Brazil's most successful musical artist, his performance will give audiences a perfect preview of what to expect during the festival, in addition to a showcase of his nearly 50-year career. His smooth Brazilian sound blends jazz, pop, folk and dance, as immortalized in such songs as the 1963 classic "Mas Que Nada" and 1983's "Never Gonna Let You Go."

Mendes' talents exist on the silver screen, as well, in the Rio and upcoming Rio 2 soundtracks. (Mendes hails from Rio de Janeiro.) He is also a certified genre-jumper, working alongside hip-hop artists like Q-Tip, soul singer Erykah Badu and pop group The Black Eyed Peas.

The interview doesn't last long; after all, Mendes is an important man and has many things to do. Though succinct, his desire for the concert comes through in a powerful and effective sentence: "I just want them to have fun and dance and enjoy life."

Tonight's kickoff concert begins at 7 p.m. The Houston International Festival will be held April 20-21 and April 27-28. For more information, to buy tickets and to find out what other musicians are performing at the festival, visit ifest.org.

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