Southern Exposure

Desde as Entranhas dos Labirintos Latinos.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Virginia Rodrigues - Don't Believe the Hype

At the risk of treading on Hank's territory, I regard taste in music as very personal, so I am loathe to criticize any particular artist outside the pop mainstream. Nevertheless, I remember in a college class called "Persuasion: Theory and Analysis" how often it was enough for something to be new and different to win over an audience, even if there were legitimate criticisms as to quality and content. Unfortunately, pop music has become an endless stream of such examples.

So imagine my annoyance when people start raving yet again about how Virginia Rodrigues is the "new voice of Brazilian music." with the release of her new disc, Mares Profundos ("Deep Seas") on Deutsche Grammophon, no less. Ms Rodrigues has a powerful musician on her side, Caetano Veloso, an artist who is a skilled and gifted performer and composer. But as someone - who happens to be a musician and teacher - on an e-mail list I subcribe to about Brazilian music wrote after seeing her perform in the Boston area had this to say:

I had the following thought: has there ever been another brazilian singer whose band had so much sense of rhythm, whose repertoire was in a such a rhythmic tradition, and whose singing had so little to offer rhythmically?

I couldn't agree more after seeing her a couple of years ago on television. The way this person on the list described her voice was that it sounded great from a choral tradition, but when she sang, an amorphous blob of sound came out. Here's how he described the band's work in accompanying her:

I noticed something about the band. They succeeded quite well at an almost impossible task: swinging just enough to keep Rodrigues sounding interesting, but never really laying into the syncopations to the point where it would show her weakness in that area. It seemed like a lot of work for the band, though as I said, they pulled it off admirably.

Of course, melody instruments and singers can "float" over the rhythm section to a degree, but when the music is jazz or samba related, you have to hook up with the rhythm section - once in a while - or the whole thing turns to mush.

I made and still make the argument that the woman has no sense of phrasing. Phrasing involves, among other things, interpretation of the lyric and Rodrigues in my opinion is just making sound, sound that is often completely removed from meaning. Compare this sample of her singing Baden Powell's Canto de Ossanha (Windows Media Player required) with this version of the same song (Windows Media Player required) by Joyce, the singer/songwriter.

But why all the hype? Well, as I said, she's got Caetano behind her as well as a big record label now. Yet this comment from the same writer on the e-mail list underscores why she is popular in the USA, but so far away from the traditions of Brazilian music:

To me her popularity illustrates (among other things) how unfamiliar North Americans audiences are with certain crucial features of Brazilian music, in particular the notion of interlocking rhythms which everyone in the band including the singer must draw on.

I just don't understand it. The "new voice of Brazilian music?" God help us!


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