From Sacred to Samba

    From Sacred
to Samba

    Investors have been pulling their money out of the Brazilian market
    at a frantic pace. In one single day in September, the Rio de Janeiro Stock Exchange
    (BVRJ) Index dropped 15.98%, while the São Paulo Stock Exchange (Bovespa) Index plunged
    By Brazzil Magazine

    Last summer, when the sound of Banda Eva was spilling from every Bahian radio, Caetano
    Veloso initiated a flood of commotion by "discovering" Brazilian music’s newest
    diva. Veloso had been at the rehearsal of a theater piece about social inequalities called
    "Bye Bye, Pelô” performed by the Olodum Theater Group when he heard Virgínia
    Rodrigues. Throughout the play, she had been only a silent presence, but toward the end
    she sang "Verônica," a Catholic a cappella chant. The feeling she communicated
    through the song was crushing and authentic. Her unrivaled instrument exuded a remarkable
    warmth and an involvement with words that deeply moved Veloso. He knew that this voice,
    with its mature and authoritative quality and its emotional depth, had to be documented.

    Veloso arranged for Rodrigues to officially debut at the Teatro Rival in Rio. He also
    negotiated the recording of Sol Negro, her first CD on Natasha Records. Soon after
    release, the CD started to raise issues about whether the World Music audience was really
    taking Brazilian music, and in particular music from Bahia, seriously enough. Sol Negro
    was not the recording of yet another synthesizer-based band from Bahia with heavy
    percussion fronted by an idealized white Baiana. It was the affirmation of a buxom
    black woman’s celestial voice delivered dramatically a cappella or accompanied only by
    harp, contrabass, or berimbau and percussion. Lending emphasis to the controversy,
    two dignitaries of World Music began competing for the rights to release Sol Negro
    in the United States—Joe Boyd of Rykodisc and David Byrne of Luaka Bop.

    Virgínia Rodrigues da Silva is a shy, yet fervent person from a poor family in
    Salvador, Bahia. Her father was a construction worker; her mother sells fruit and
    vegetables in the market place. Although the family could never afford a record player,
    her grandfather played accordion and drew Virgínia toward music at an early age. The
    Catholic church provided Virgínia with her first formal music making. As she imitated her
    peers, the rudiments of singing rooted in Virgínia’s subconscious, and she became
    acquainted with voice projection, intonation, harmony, part-singing and phrasing. Later
    she was able to gain an elementary knowledge of the piano from a short series of afternoon
    lessons, which lasted until funds ran out.

    After leaving the church in her twenties, Virgínia accepted candomblé, which
    has become an increasingly important aspect of her life and a strong influence in her
    music. While dreaming of having a career as a singer, she has worked as a manicurist, a
    domestic, and a cook. Márcio Meireles, director of the Olodum Theater Group had been
    looking for a performer with a lyric voice to fill a particular roll. But it had to be
    someone with Virgínia’s background—someone of "the people." By chance he
    happened to hear Virgínia’s rare vocal gift as she performed with a Renaissance choir. It
    was Márcio who introduced Virgínia to Caetano Veloso.

    That Virgínia Rodrigues could appeal to a wide public—a public outside of
    Brazil—was demonstrated by the September 15, 1998 release of Sol Negro on
    Hannibal Records, a subsidiary of Rykodisc. Audible murmurs of "About time too!"
    were heard in informed circles. According to Joe Boyd, "MPB (Brazilian Popular Music)
    is a huge commercial venture. And the commercial structure, the record companies—as
    they would in any country—churn out ever more modernized versions using synthesizers,
    drum machines, recording techniques. And in a way the public in Brazil seems to want it.
    They like a slick modern sounding samba. But the World Music audience wants classic
    Brazilian music. And so there’s a disconnection between what Brazil is producing and what
    the outside world wants. Virgínia is fascinating because she’s almost like post-modern
    samba, like a return to the roots."

    On Sol Negro, Rodrigues moves from the sacred to the samba with consummate ease
    performing a diversified repertoire of tunes that were chosen specifically to exhibit her
    talent in the perfect settings. The line up of musicians involved in the project reads
    like a virtual "Who’s Who" of Brazilian music: Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento,
    Djavan, choro virtuosi Paulo Sérgio Santos, Mauro Senise, and Zeca Assumpção to
    name but a few. In addition, Celso Fonseca, one of Gil’s oldest stage colleagues, arranged
    and produced the CD. Further, Rodrigues seems relaxed in the company of these exemplary
    musicians as she uses melody to its best advantage, extracting the maximum from lyrics
    that are especially poetic and meaningful.

    Sounding almost electronic in its haunting persistence, Dorival Caymmi’s "Noite de
    Temporal" features the undulating berimbau of Ramiro Musotto. The surging,
    wave-like manner in which percussion plays the opening phrase establishes an exotic and
    powerful flavor before Virgínia’s penetrating entry. Musotto, an Argentine who lives in
    Brazil, created the percussion arrangements for the entire CD. He is well-known among
    Brazilian musicians and artists and has worked for Caetano, Gil, Maria Bethânia, Gal
    Costa, and Lulu Santos. "Negrume da Noite" is a powerful bloco-afro chant
    that has been too rarely recorded. Although it appeared years ago on Ilê Aiyê’s Canto
    Negro album, here the tune is invested with a new and unconventional spirit and is
    another tingling balancing and blending of berimbau, percussion, and hand claps by
    Ramiro Musotto.

    "Nobreza," written by Djavan, is a gorgeous ballad performed almost as a duet
    for voice and contrabass with Zeca Assumpção (Egberto Gismonti Trio). Following the
    brief but captivating contrabass introduction, Virgínia enters with a line of exquisite
    depth. Subliminally, Quarteto Guerra-Peixe enters after the second verse. Assumpção’s
    arpeggiated harmonics on the final chords are excellently placed. Truly, there are few
    bass players with as sumptuous a sound as Zeca Assumpção.

    Using a tone that is uncannily arresting, Virgínia establishes the mood of
    "Israfel" from the first moment. Her voice, ringing and declamatory, contours
    the phrases and particularly complements the tranquility of the harp accompaniment. The
    performance of this adaptation by Zuarte, a sculptor and close friend of Virgínia’s, is
    fluent and supple, a lyric flight. Yet, the fixed atmosphere of its haunted melody reveals
    this setting of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe to be tense and fascinating. I spoke briefly
    with Virgínia about her life and music, and I’ll have to admit that the most enjoyable
    aspect of interviewing her was listening to the sound of her voice. It has a sublime sound
    that can induce the eyes of any self-respecting lyricist to genuine tears of joy.

    Brazzil—Your music sounds so refined, not like MPB, axé-music, or pagode.
    No synthesizers or electronics. How would you describe the music on Sol Negro?

    Virgínia Rodrigues—My music is a mix of every thing that I’ve heard in my life
    and that has happened in my life—in my childhood, in my church. I don’t define it as
    something special, but a music that touches everybody. I’m very concerned about telling
    you this because people in Brazil apply terms like classical and lyrical to my music. Many
    people still think that my music is genuinely refined and elegant. And I’m afraid that
    these people are trying to put my music above the music of others. My music is for
    everybody. It is a music for the people. I want everybody to understand. Most of all, it
    is music that reaches your heart.

    Brazzil—Did you receive formal training?

    V.R.—No, people in Brazil are poor. Studying music in Brazil is only for the
    rich. In Brazil, music training is a luxury. I sang with church choirs.

    Brazzil—Who were some of your biggest musical influences?

    V.R.—I can’t say that I was strongly influenced by anyone in particular because
    we couldn’t afford a record player. But I used to hear a lot of music by Caetano,
    Bethânia, Selma Reis, Gil, and Milton. I always loved Milton’s music. Today I listen to
    the great divas: Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, and Billie

    Brazzil—What about artists like Banda Eva and Daniela Mercury?

    V.R.—No, I don’t listen to Banda Eva or Daniela Mercury, but I like some of the
    new artists like Jussara Silveira, Clécia Queiroz, and Daúde. It’s interesting that when
    I originally wanted to sing popular music, the director told me that it would be a waste
    of my talent.

    Brazzil—Can you tell me a little about the conditions of the recording
    session at Natasha Records in Santa Tereza?

    V.R.—Santa Tereza is a neighborhood in the hills, and it’s beautiful. You can see
    Sugar Loaf and Guanabara Bay. The view is truly beautiful, and I was inspired. You have to
    realize, I wasn’t an experienced artist. I hadn’t been in a studio before, so it was a lot
    more comfortable for me to be in a place where the view was magnificent and the acoustics
    were perfect. Studios are closed places where artists aren’t as comfortable as they are at
    home. Celso (Fonseca) tried to make me feel like I was just singing at home.

    Brazzil—Celso Fonseca seems like the most valuable player on the recording.
    How did you like working with him?

    V.R.—Working with Celso Fonseca was magnificent. We didn’t have much time to work
    together, but we had an important element in common: artistic sensibility. I was really
    happy because he’s not overly technical; he’s really concerned about the sound and how the
    artist feels. He is sensitive, brilliant, non-technical.

    Brazzil—How was it working with Milton Nascimento?

    V.R.—When I was recording with Milton, we were face to face. I kept pretending
    that it was nothing because I love his music and have always been a big fan. I didn’t want
    my emotions to show. I was looking at him pretending he was my brother or somebody else
    because he’s really shy, worse than me. I didn’t want to act like a fan at the time.
    Afterward we were all laughing about it.

    Brazzil—Which tune was the hardest to record?

    V.R.—It was my first recording so in a professional way all of them were
    difficult, except "Verônica" because I sang a cappella. In a personal way the
    recording was difficult because I had just lost my father.

    Brazzil—Can you tell me a little about the tune "Verônica"?

    V.R.—It is a song heard every year in the procession of Senhor Morto in Bahia. A
    woman dressed up as the mother of Jesus is calling, calling, Verônica, and telling
    everyone to look at the pain that every mother has.

    Brazzil—The spiritual "I Wanna Be Ready," a gorgeous duet with
    Zeca Assumpção, is only on the Natasha release in Brazil. Were you disappointed that it
    was omitted on the U.S. release?

    V.R.—People from record companies are business people. First they do and then
    they ask. And when you’re beginning you have to be open-minded to that kind of thing. You
    can’t let yourself be hurt by that. People from record companies are good business people,
    and they know what to do about business. But at their level they are concerned more with
    the market place than the music. I’m not disappointed because I know what I’m dealing
    with. It’s not a big deal.

    Brazzil—Has your life changed much since the recording?

    V.R.—My life has changed a lot because now I can live from the music. I used to
    work as a manicurist, a domestic, and a cook. I still don’t have my own house, but I can
    live and pay the rent just by singing. This is really important for me because now I can
    do what I love.

    Brazzil—Is it harder for a woman in Brazil to have a career in music than a

    V.R. – It’s difficult for both, most of all when you come from a poor family because
    you have to work to survive, to bring food home, and you also have to work on your music.
    You have to have a guardian angel. Otherwise you have to be in the "format." You
    have to be white, you have to be beautiful, you have to have good social position and
    money. And if you don’t have all these things, it’s almost impossible.

    Brazzil—Do you have any advice for women artists hoping for a career in

    V.R.—Be persevering and look for perfection. In my country, commercial music is
    still in the spotlight. But, I think, either way a person should be courageous and
    persevering. Many women didn’t have to fit the format because they had a sponsor. But in
    my case, because I come from a poor family, and like many other cases in Brazil, the women
    who succeeded were courageous and persevering.

    Brazzil—Do you think the music of Bahia is as important today as it has
    been in the past?

    V.R.—I think the music from Bahia is really important for Brazil. But now it’s
    respected more. Years ago it was like, `Oh, these crazy people from Bahia.’ And `Oh, it’s
    nice. It’s good, but crazy.’ People didn’t take the music from Bahia as seriously as the bossa
    nova. Now, it’s stealing the spotlight and not just the music, but also theater. Bahia
    is an artistic environment.

    Brazzil—Tell me about your other roles in the Brazilian theater and film.

    V.R.—In the film Jenipapo, I played a person who doesn’t have a job, a
    homeless person. This person goes every day from farm to farm in the country to look for
    work and at night finds just any place to sleep. I sang three songs in the film. I only
    appeared when I sang. After that I participated in the movie Tieta do Agreste (director:
    Carlos Diegues) and in the movie Diário de um Convento.

    Brazzil—What are your future plans musically? Are you working on a second

    V.R.—I am already planning my second CD with universal Black music. In general, I
    like blues, jazz, Negro spirituals, all of the music of Blacks: American black music,
    African Black music, Brazilian Black music like samba and the Yoruban influences of candomblé.
    I’ve come to realize how close-linked I am to all of them in spirit and how each
    represents the irrepressible richness and vitality of the Black race, its gifts of
    laughter and melody and sensuous feelings.

    Brazzil—When will you be coming to the United States?

    V.R.—The idea is just starting to take shape, but it looks like I’ll be going to
    the United States at the end of October or the beginning of November for shows in
    California—Los Angeles and San Francisco. I think there might also be a performance
    in New York and maybe Miami, Florida.

    Brazzil—Are you looking forward to the tour?

    V.R.—I performed a concert in Bahia yesterday and there were ten Americans from
    California, some of them from Los Angeles and some of them from San Francisco. They came
    backstage afterward and asked me when I would be coming to their country. Performing in
    the United States will be very special for me, and I’m very happy that there are people in
    the United States who appreciate my work.

    Brazzil—There are many. Thank you for sharing so much of your time.

    V.R.—Thank you.

    Noite de Temporal

    Dorival Caymmi

    Stormy Night

    É noite, é noite
    É lamba é lambaio
    É lamba é lambaio
    É lamba é lambaio

    Pescador não vá pra pesca
    Pescador não vá pescar
    Pescador não vá pra pesca
    Que é noite de temporá
    Pescador não vá pra pesca
    Pescador não vá pescar
    Pescador não vá pra pesca
    Que é noite de temporá

    É noite, é noite
    É lamba é lambaio
    É lamba é lambaio
    É lamba é lambaio

    Pescador quando vai pra pesca
    Na noite de temporá
    A mãe se senta na areia
    Esperando ele vortá

    É noite, é noite
    É lamba é lambaio
    É lamba é lambaio
    É lamba é lambaio
    É noite, é noite

    It is night, it is night,
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It’s tough, it’s hard work

    Fisherman, don’t go after the fish,
    Fisherman, don’t go fishing,
    Fisherman, don’t go after the fish,
    Because it is a stormy night.
    Fisherman, don’t go after the fish,
    Fisherman, don’t go fishing,
    Fisherman, don’t go after the fish,
    Because it is a stormy night.

    It is night, it is night,
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It’s tough, it’s hard work

    When the fisherman goes after the fish
    On a stormy night,
    His mother sits in the sand
    Waiting for him to return.

    It is night, it is night,
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It’s tough, it’s hard work
    It is night, it is night.



    Trad. sung in Latin and
    arranged by
    Virgínia Rodrigues


    O vos omnes
    qui transitis per viam,
    attendite et videte
    si est dolor
    sicut dolor meus

    Oh, all you
    who pass along the road,
    Look, look, and then see
    If there is pain
    Like my pain.



    Zuarte, Edgar Allan Poe

    Israfel (1)

    Edgar Allan Poe, 1831
    set the first of eight stanzas.

    Há no céu um espírito
    Em que as fibras do coração
    Formam um alaúde
    Canção nenhuma
    Tem a mágica virtude do teu canto
    Oh, Israfel
    Israfel quando é voz, vibra
    Os astros que estão no firmamento
    Cantam as lendas em desatino
    Cessam seus hinos
    Emudecidos de encantamento
    Israfel, Israfel, Israfel

    In Heaven a spirit doth dwell
    "Whose heart-strings are a lute";
    None sing so wildly well
    As the angel Israfel,
    And the giddy stars (so legends tell)
    Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell
    Of his voice, all mute.





    Nossa velha amizade nasceu
    De uma luz que acendeu
    Aos olhos de abril
    Com cuidado e espanto
    Eu te olhei
    No entanto você sorriu

    Concedendo-me a graça de ver
    Talhado em você
    A nobreza de frente
    O amor se desnudando
    No meio de tanta gente

    Um doce descascado pra mim
    Eu guardo pro fim
    Pra comer demorado
    Uma grande amizade é assim
    Dois homens apaixonados

    E sentir a alegria de ver
    A mão do prazer
    Acenando pra gente
    O amor crescendo enfim
    Como capim pros meus dentes

    Our old friendship was born
    From a light that kindled
    On the eyes of April
    With caution and surprise.
    I looked at you,
    Meanwhile you smiled

    Granting me the grace of seeing
    Engraved in you
    The nobility of appearance,
    The love baring itself
    Amid so many people.

    A piece of candy unwrapped for me,
    I keep in the end
    To eat later.
    A great friendship is like this,
    Two men impassioned.

    And to feel the gladness of seeing
    The delightful hand
    Beckoning to the people.
    Love growing at last,
    Like grass for my teeth.

    1. The Koran says that the angel
    Israfel,whose heart-strings are a lute,
    has the sweetest voice of all God’s

    Bruce Gilman, music editor for Brazzil, received his Masters degree
    in music from California Institute of the Arts. He leads the Brazilian jazz ensemble Axé
    and plays cuíca for escola de samba MILA. You can reach him through his

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