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
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.