Central Park Summerstage
New York, NY
June 19, 2011
A line of cajóns, played at the same time, ushered the entrance of Brazilian singer Mart'nalia, the featured artist on the closing night of the 9th Brazilian Film Festival in New York City, with films screened in Tribeca Cinemas throughout the preceding week. Backed by an eight-piece band, formed of six percussionist, an acoustic guitarist and a bassist, she started out with a selection of contemporary sambas from her Biscoito Fino CDs, Menino do Rio
(2006) and Madrugada
One of the original tunes paid tribute to her father, Martinho DaVila
, a singer and composer who is considered samba royalty in Brazil. Mart'nalia alternated between original material and classic tunes, often switching between playing guitar and percussion. Possibly aware that she was before an expat audience who might not be familiar with her current material, she included many of da Vila's hits, including "Mulheres," a slow-tempo number whose lyrics looked back at a long life of searching for a true love.
The audience responded well, singing along with every number. The band varied the rhythms, incorporating elements from Calypso and Latin music, within a samba format. One great moment was her bilingual take on Bobby McFerrin
's "Don't Worry, Be Happy," played with a blend of salsa and samba. She also paid homage to her native Vila Isabel, a district of northern Rio de Janeiro, with "Kizomba Festa de Raca," a song written by da Vila that was the 1987 theme song for the samba school, Unidos de Vila Isabel, which won the annual competition that year.
The set closed with "E Hoje," the 1981 theme song for Uniao da Ilha and later a hit for Caetano Veloso
. The Brazilian-dominated audience roared with approval, singing along and dancing with every beat.
Mart'nalia has great charisma onstage, and her low contralto fit the material to perfection. She had a very good band behind her, that kept the rhythm going almost without stopping between numbers. It was a great opportunity for fans to hear where samba is going to in Brazilmoving forward but always looking back at its traditions.