From Brazil, With Love

Brazil's role as a prime Western Hemisphere musical melting pot has

been tirelessly documented ever since Marcel Camus' film Black

Orpheus (with a soundtrack co-written by Antonio Carlos Jobim)

introduced samba to the world in 1958. And while it's been Rio's

international party capital status that has most benefited from the

attention of casual fans, those seeking a deeper understanding of

the country's musical fertility have usually focused on the

northeastern coastal city of Salvador de Bahia. Brazil's slave-trading

center of the 18th century, Salvador was where incoming Africans

mixed with natives and European colonists, where Christianity first

mingled amicably with the African faith Candomble (giving birth to the

world's first Carnaval) and where dark continent polyrhythms met

romanticism and melody to set the stage for batucada, samba, bossa

nova, etc.

Salvador is the birthplace of tropicalia heroes Caetano Veloso and

Tom Zé. It's also home to a 34-year-old contralto named

Virginia Rodrigues, who deeply inhales her city's storied traditions

and exhales Nós ("Us") — a collection of smoky

chamber sambas that helps define modern black Brazil as it furthers

its musical aspirations.

Rodrigues' powerful, mellifluous voice brings to mind a diva who's

part humble commoner and part headstrong oracle. She uses that

voice like an experienced storyteller, adding personal nuances to

her interpretations of songs popularized by Salvadoran groups

during local Carnaval parades. Under Veloso's musical direction

and Eduardo Souto Neto's gorgeously swaying arrangements, the

acoustic instrumentation deftly matches her singing to evoke the

community's folk mysticism that is at the heart of most of these songs.

Imagine a guitar-violin aria with ascending batucada drums and a

floating operatic voice rejoicing the power of the people's spirit, and

you have the gist of "Salvador Não Inerte" (RealAudio excerpt), a track indicative of many of these tales and incantations. Rodrigues also can be quite playful when addressing her gods: "Afrekêtê" (RealAudio excerpt) is a funky brass samba, with ever-present percussion happily tap-dancing around the melody, while "Ojú Obá" (RealAudio excerpt) offers a ray of Brazilian pop sunshine as the woodwinds tickle Rodrigues in her adulation of the Obá spirit.

Much like collections of myths of other cultures, the songs of

Nós are affirmations of the joys of life, embodied by a

voice just as joyful. Of samba — and beyond it — Rodrigues' is the grand, new voice of Brazil, celebrating its past and preparing for a fruitful future.