Veloso-styled diva Virginia Rodrigues’ first album Sol Negro
was over-earnest in its attempt to send the world a Bahian greeting. Despite fine performances and a classic repertoire, it sounded too skittish to be a true statement.
With the release of Nos, Rodrigues and her piece of the new baroque Latin style flower into full maturity. There is a confidence here that, assuredly, comes from a belief in her own integrity, but it’s strengthened and nourished by tradition - the music of the other Carnival, the Bahian festa not witnessed by many tourists, given in the Brazilian state considered a microcosm of Africa due to its richness of slave-borne traditions expressed here as a proud “Negritude.”
Rodrigues’ vocal character is unlike any North American jazz vocalist, and it would be facile to place it on the same line as gospel, but her playful and caring way with a melody and her interaction with every element of the instrumentation recall the roots and historic development of nearly all diasporic music - melody strongly bound with rhythmic motifs, an elastic concept of time, and a high level of group interactivity. Her mentor Caetano Veloso knows to stay out of the way most of the time, but his duet with Virginia on “Jeito Faceiro” is highly affecting, his thin voice given spine by her richer tones, a curious reversal of the usual duet aesthetic (at least in vocal jazz and pop music of the U.S.; in West African music and its offshoots in the New World, men often sing falsetto while women sing “like men.” A witty and classic instance of this in vocal jazz comes on the Ella and Louis album when Fitzgerald shades Armstrong by singing lines in his own gruff style.)
What’s most remarkable about this disc in terms of the marketplace is its uncompromising material. “Baroque” and “Carnival music” are descriptions which associate themselves with an easy-on-the-ear, romantic and danceable international sound. There is truth to that, but the lyrics to all of these songs, classics of the Carnival repertoire that are rarely heard outside Bahia, concern themselves with the twin themes of black pride and the worldview of the orixas, the characterful embodiments of certain aspects of Nature and the natural world that are sometimes referred to as saints in their New World context, but which in fact are much more complicated and also more grounded in human reality than is implied by that description. Rodrigues sings on many of these songs of waiting for a delicious and empowering union, a sentiment that expresses sexual desire, the desire for divine communion, and the love for her people simultaneously. This sentiment may be Africa’s greatest gift to the world.
Tracks: Canto pra Exu / Uma Historia de Ifa / Salvador nao Inerte / Afrekete / Jeito Faceiro / Ile e Impar / Depois que o Ile Passar / Oju Oba / Raca Negra / Deusa do Ebano / Deus do Fogo e da Justica / Male Debale / Mimar Voce / Reino de Daome.
Personnel: Virginia Rodrigues - vocals / Celso Fonseca - guitars, bottles, calimba, tamboura, bells and lyre / Ramiro Musotto - percussion, calimba and berimbau / Robertinho Silva - percussion / Henrique Band - baritone sax / Vitor Santos - trombone / Rui Alvim - clarone / Philip Doyle - horn / Daniel Garcia - tenor sax / Ze Canuto - alto sax and flute / Dirceu Leitte - clarinet / Mauro Senise - flute, bass clarinet, flutes / David Chew - cello / Mauro Rufino Martins - violin / Ana Maria de Oliveira - violin / Marluce Oliveira - violin / Felipe Prazeres and Gustavo Menezes - violin / Deborah Cheyne - viola / Nayrah Pessanha - viola / Jurema de Candia, Nair Candia, Bettina Graziani, Eveline Hecker, Virginia Rodrigues, Celso Fonseca, Thiago Braga, Eduardo Prado, Elisa Queiroz, Patricia Maranhao, Bruno Levinson, Julio Moura, Milton Guedes, Adriana Maciel, Gabriela Azevedo, Gui Rodrigues - chorus / Caetano Veloso - vocal / Ile Aiye - vocals.