Primary Instrument: Vocalist
For more than two decades, Boston-based vocalist/composer Mili Bermejo has transcended the borders between cultures and musical genres. Her music blends the beautiful stories and infectious rhythms of authentic Latin American poetry/folk music with social awareness and jazz improvisation.
Critics have called her the Latin equivalent of Abbey Lincoln...a singer/composer who challenges us with her musical honesty (Cadence) and described her inclusive sound as part poetry-folk, part Sarah Vaughn sophistication (Boston Magazine) and the place where jazz meets Latin with elegance and soul (Boston Globe).
Cross-cultural projects are now commonplace, writes the Boston Phoenix's Jon Garelick, but Mili Bermejo's aesthetic has always been singular...long a fixture on the Boston scene, [she] combines all manner of Latin American folk in a way that gives her music a flavor that's as up-to-the-minute as it is Old World.
Daughter of the late Mexican composer Guillermo Bermejo and his wife Luz, an Argentinean tango singer, Ms. Bermejo's blood already contained the wealth of two musical cultures at birth. She was born in Buenos Aires, but raised in the socially and artistically diverse environment of Mexico City where she grew up internalizing the music and political statements made by the Argentineans, Chileans, Brazilians and Uruguayans who fled bloody dictatorships at home.
This cultural diversity, interaction between artists of different disciplines, and commitment to tolerance in the Mexican artistic community (following the revolution in Cuba and Mexico City's massacre in 1968) laid the groundwork for her diverse style and dedication to the social responsibility of the artist.
Although she had already performed professionally most of her life, Ms. Bermejo didn’t discover jazz until her college years when her brother introduced her to the music of Miles Davis. A chance encounter with pianist and Third Stream pioneer Ran Blake led to her first trip to America for a summer jazz program in Boston in 1978. She moved to Boston permanently to study jazz at Berklee College of Music in 1980, and accepted a faculty position following her graduation in 1984.
In addition to her degrees in composition from Berklee and the National School of Music in Mexico, she has studied with Mexican composers Julio Estrada and Federico Ibarra, vocal technique specialist Elisabeth Phinney, and jazz saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi.
Looking beyond the typical female jazz vocalist canon, Ms. Bermejo's groups feature musicians, lyrics, and archetypal themes from a variety of cultural backgrounds. A veteran educator, group leader and supporter of social causes, she was the first woman to receive the prestigious Achievement in Jazz Award from New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA). She is also a former Jazz Ambassador for the United States Information Service/Arts America, the recipient of multiple grants from New England Foundation for the Arts and Meet the Composer, and a board member of the Institute for Community Leadership in Seattle, Washington.
Her 10th and most recent recording, De Tierra (Ediciones Pentagrama, 2007), documents her eight-piece ensemble of the same name (featuring pianist Tim Ray, guitarist Claudio Ragazzi, bassist Dan Greenspan, drummer Bertram Lehmann, percussionist Ernesto Diaz and vocalists Alex Alvear and Karina Colis) performing live at Boston's Scullers Jazz Club in May 2006.
De Tierra, which means Of Earth in Spanish, is Ms. Bermejo's musical expression of hope and meaning in response to the violence and instability in the world today. Inspired by compositions that spoke to a similar darkness in the turbulent environment of her native Mexico City in the 1970's, the band's music is a mix of Ms. Bermejo's original compositions and her arrangements of work by various Latin American composers and poets.
--Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence
Cross-cultural projects are now commonplace, but Mili Bermejo's aesthetic
has always been
singular...long a fixture on the Boston scene, [she] combines all manner of
Latin American folk in a way
that gives her music a flavor that’s as up-to-the-minute as it is Old World.
She has a cabaret
performer's ability to get across a song, and she expressed alternating
currents of sadness and humor
with understated dramatic flair.
--Jon Garelick, Boston Phoenix
Mili Bermejo's lovely and heartfelt new CD, A Time for Love,
born out of sorrow and loss.
It mixes Spanish and English lyrics with Bermejo's graceful, wordless vocal
include a cover of Abbey Lincoln's tribute to Miles Davis, 'Bird Alone'; a
medley of Bermejo's own 'Are
You There?' and Ruben Rada's 'La Rama,' dedicated to Bermejo's late brother;
and 'La Niña de
Guatemala,' based on text from the Cuban poet Jose Marti.
--Bill Beuttler, Boston Globe
Bermejo possesses a burnished, expressive voice... [Casa
is] an album that truly adds
something new and fresh to the Latin jazz scene.
--Mark Holston, Jazziz
Mexico and Argentina are in her blood, Boston academia and progressive
jazz are on her resume, and
the Latin tinge that is her second nature is at its most compelling when she's
surrounded by a sizable
ensemble of deft, daring players. The singer doesn’t come down from New
--Jim Macnie, Village Voice
Mili Bermejo has always been a musical explorer, seeking out new
combinations and new concepts in
her multi-hued career.
--Jay Miller, Quincy Patriot-Ledger
…flat out one of the best singers we've ever had on Mountain Stage.
--Larry Groce, Host of Mountain Stage
Bermejo is not only one of Boston's most talented singers in any genre, she’s
also one of its most
musical. Covering material from Cuba, Mexico, Uraguay, Brazil, and
Argentina, Bermejo took the
approach favored by the likes of Astrud Gilberto and Flora Punim one step
further; she not only
combined Latin American music with jazz to showcase the vocals, she made
her richly shaded voice a
seamless part of the mix…an uncanny sense of rhythm and tempo to make
her luxuriant phrasing
sound emotionally genuine…compelling listening.
--Bob Young, Boston Herald
A gentle warmth and beauty pervades in Mili Bermejo's throaty singing and
lilting songs that pushes
the materials through any and all language barriers.
--Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News