Debora Watts: Artistic Alchemy

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and’s ‘Songs In The Feminine Key’ series acknowledges Brazil’s Women-of-Song as well as notable leaders in our Brazilian-American communities coast-to-coast. Watch for a new profile every Friday.

Brazilian American singer Deborah Watts

by Sean Chaffin

It’s hard not to hit ‘play’ on a Debora Watts tune without getting into a positive state of mind. Her sultry voice will have listeners envisioning their own afternoon in Rio sipping a caipirinha.

For Deborah Watts, songwriting becomes a visceral experience.

“All my compositions came from a feeling that I had experienced, either through empathy for someone else’s experience or my own,” she says. “The melody in general comes first and I record myself singing on my iPhone, then the words eventually come.”

Those words and tunes have many taking notice of this talented Brazilian singer/songwriter. She grew up in Saquarema, a small beach town just up the coast from Nitorioi and 90 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. From an early age, Debora had a love of science and attended a chemistry technical high school and studied pharmacology in college.

Singing and dancing had always been interests growing up as well, and halfway through her master’s degree in organic chemistry Debora Watts (Artist Page) decided to leave science for a year of traveling. After moving to New York City in 1993, she resumed her pharmacology studies.

Alchemy in action

But after hearing a Brazilian music performance in 1997, Debora’s desire for a singing career emerged. Her future husband, musician John Allen Watts, encouraged her and she began taking singing lessons.

She was soon performing with several Brazilian and Latin bands and released her first album (self-titled) in 2010. The follow-up, Um Samba Ao Contrário, was recorded in 2017 in Brazil.

Her musical influences are varied and include Heitor Villa-Lobos, Chopin, Oscar Peterson, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Chiquinha Gonzaga, Ernesto Nazareth, Hamilton de Holanda, Chico Buarque, Edu Lobo, and Dori Caymmi.

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“So many artists have influenced me as a composer or singer, and many of them still do,” she says. “I love listening to different types of music, especially classical, Brazilian jazz, choro, and MPB romantica. I never set out to write in a particular style.”

Last year, her song ‘E Agora‘ was a winner in the best world music category in the 23rd Annual USA Songwriting Competition. Um Samba Ao Contrário was also awarded a Brazilian Press Award for best CD in 2018.

Finally let’s add two more elements to Debora Watts and her musical movement:

  • a documentary with a composer and filmmaker friend about a music social program she runs the Bronx. The two projects have her taking a short break from performing.
  • notes about her second album. “I wish I could have seen those moments when classical European music married African rhythms. I wish I could have seen the astonished faces of the Brazilian people as they first listened to the new sounds produced by these musical ‘interracial’ marriages!”

For more information on Debora Watts, visit her website or her Facebook page.