MANY pop musicians from Europe, Africa, South America, and other countries who have begun to tour and record in the United States have encountered special challenges: to sing or not to sing in English? To alter or not to alter their musical styles to suit American audiences? One of these artists is the Brazilian singer and composer Djavan - a man whose status here in his own country might be compared with that of Stevie Wonder in the US. Like Wonder, Djavan is an exceptionally talented individual whose peak of ``chart-busting'' stardom is past, but who continues to achieve more than respectable sales of recordings and concert tickets.
Although Djavan made attempts to crack the American pop music market with some success, he's now taking a closer look at his own Brazilian roots, as well as the music of other cultures.
Two years ago, I interviewed him in New York during one of his tours. Back then, he was eager to break into the American market, had just recorded his first songs in English, and hoped they sounded ``OK.'' He was trying new waters and was concerned about the outcome.
Recently, I spoke with him again on his own turf - Rio de Janeiro - and was interested to note the change in his attitude and approach toward his own career.
``Two years ago,'' he said, ``the idea of singing in English was a challenge, something new and different. But it's evident that if I sing in Portuguese and manage to achieve my goal and branch out, I'll be winning two victories at the same time: I'll be making it as a composer and singer in a foreign country - a country that's extremely closed to foreign music - and at the same time, I'll be promoting my language.''
Djavan seemed to be on the verge of a big change, and, indeed, a few days after our interview he canceled his entire American tour, much to the chagrin of his managers and US promoters.
Rumors abounded as to his motives for the last-minute cancellation, but he later sent me this statement:
``There were production problems with the tour, which dragged on right up until the last minute and were not resolved, leading me to cancel it.''
The cancellation may have left him temporarily in limbo as far as the music industry is concerned, but the tone of our interview had made it plain that Djavan knows exactly what his goals are and where he thinks his music should go.
``I always like to play with musicians of other nationalities,'' he said, ``Because I learn a lot - I collect new material, and I also share information.''
His latest album, ``Puzzle of Hearts,'' reflects a deepening interest in Afro-Brazilian roots, Caribbean rhythms, and even flamenco - a bit of a departure from his previous release, ``Bird of Paradise,'' which was geared more toward the US market.
And he is always looking for something new. His next album, he said, ``will have to be completely different from the last one, because this is a reflection of my search. I am a very restless person - I always like to try new things, discover new things. I don't know if I'm achieving this, but this is the idea I have.''
Right now, in addition to reaching out to other cultures, Djavan is interested in discovering what lies in his own back yard.
``I want to get to know more and more what exists here, because Brazil is a very eclectic country, musically speaking. Every region has its own music. So what I plan to do is develop rhythmic fusion here and find new ways of doing things - there's plenty of material right here.''
Although he's played with American musicians in the past, the current members of his band are all Brazilians. His 16-year- old daughter Flavia sang a duet with him on the latest album (all three of Djavan's children are musicians.)
So as he enters into a new phase in his career, it looks as though Djavan is turning his back on cultural compromise and opening up to more and more cultural exchange.