American singers could learn from Elza Soares’ hard-earned shine

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Elsa Soarez at the town hall on Friday, May 19. Justin Joffe for Observer

On Friday night, the town hall was inundated with Brazilians of all ages, sizes and colors, recklessly seeking a seat as close to the stage as possible. Several friends recognized each other and exchanged jokes in the aisles. A man took out a sheet of stickers which he printed that read “I am with Lula”, distributing them to his friends in solidarity with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president and founder of the Workers’ Party who has spawned a non-partisan movement focused on changing the way Brazil seeks to recognize, support and reform its poorest communities.

Public empathy for Brazil’s marginalized and forgotten people was celebrated by who they were there to see—Elza Soares, 79 years old, matron of Samba music and Brazilian national treasure.

To call Soares’ story “from rags to wealth” would be simplistic: she grew up in one of the poorest favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Moça Bonita, in the neighborhood of Padre Miguel, her father a factory worker and her laundress mother. Soares was forced by her father to marry at age 12 and only participated in the talent show that introduced her voice to the world a few years later when she had to buy medicine for her child. Asked by the host what planet she was from, she replied, “The same planet as you, sir… Planet Hunger.”

Countless tragedies attempted to pursue Soares’ ambition in the years that followed: losing a child at 15, becoming a widow at 21 and having to raise five children on her own, a marriage to footballer Garrincha that threatened her. and ostracized by an audience that called her a gold digger and tow truck. Both were exiled in 1966 by Brazil’s military junta. Garrincha would later be behind the wheel in a car crash that killed Soares’ mother.

Thirty-eight albums later, Soares continues to put all of his pain, desires and aspirations into music. His set at City Hall last Friday, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Festival, was rich in tunes from last year, hugely innovative. In Mulher do Fim do Mundo, a collection of songs written for Soares by producer Guilherme Kastrup and musicians from the samba sugo, or “dirty samba” scene.

Realizing Soares’ intentions of making an album about ‘sex and the dark’, Kastrup and the band produced a collection that finds the samba swashbuckler with radically inventive arrangements ranging from acid jazz to post-punk, creating grooves you’ve never heard before. , the kind of Marc Ribot-esque riffs that could fill a Tom Waits recording of the golden age worked into a fluid and sumptuous samba rhythm. The stories she tells on the album are no less difficult, as Soares takes her audience to the favela with tales of loss, racism, violence against women, gay and transgender people, prostitution and prostitution. bubbling anger.

She delivered them from atop a Gothic throne on Friday, with the kind of wiry black carpet at her feet that Tim Burton dreamed of in his nightmares. The group flanking her sides, Soares girded with her guts, and the fans dancing down the aisle during the openings of Forro in the Dark were careful to sit down and soak up her majesty as soon as she came. has begun.

The Observer spoke briefly to Soares, with the help of a translator, about her new album, how she keeps the fire in her belly and what it’s like to be now celebrated by a country that you hated it before.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SWIwW9mg8s]

What was it like to open the Olympics last year, given that the country you once celebrated exiled you?

Participating in the opening of the Olympics was moving: I am above all Brazilian and I love my country, despite exile during the dictatorship… It was difficult for all of us to fight for freedom of expression!

But between the Olympics and the government corruption scandals, can you say that something has really changed?

I always say that Brazil is one of the most beautiful countries that I know… a country where, planted, everything grows, even what is not good! Brazil is a rich country, it was nobody’s business to starve, it was up to everyone to have their land and to live with dignity, but they steal too much.

You said that The woman at the end of the world reject certain things. What parts of your autobiography do you think this collection poses the most challenges?

In my new job, I stand up for what I believe. [In] In Mulher do Fim do Mundo, I’m talking about racial prejudice, homophobia, and violence against women… I will always defend blacks, gays and women, these are my flags! I had to fight to not be prejudiced. Prejudice, whatever it is, is the dumbest thing in the human race.

“Poverty should not be ‘appreciated’ and trivialized. ”

How has the collaborative spirit of this record worked and how does it feel to have people working for you?

My meeting with this generation of new composers from São Paulo – who innovate Brazilian music with all that is most modern in the world – is for me a happiness that you cannot imagine. The result could only be this, a well-rewarded record and a show!

What excites you most about the “samba sujo” scene today? Who isn’t really afraid of getting their hands dirty?

I am passionate about modernity, novelty. I am excited by the risks; I don’t like the comfort zone of doing the same things. It makes me restless to always do what everyone else is doing. I am different and I love what is different!

When you told the host to Calouros in Desfile Whether you came from “Planet Hunger”, did you ever intend to use your public platform to put people of power in their place?

When I told Mr. Ary Barroso on his talent show that I was from Planet Hunger, I meant we are all the same. Hunger can strike anyone.

Elza Soares sends kisses to her audience at town hall on Friday. Justin Joffe for Observer

TV show The simpsons suggested that the Brazilian government paint poor neighborhoods in bright colors so that they don’t look unsightly to tourists, is that right?

I don’t know, but I am against taking tourists to show the misery in poor communities. Poverty should not be “appreciated” and trivialized.

You’ve said before that your life can be turned into a movie, and I think anyone who’s ever heard your music would agree. What would this film look like, stylistically, visually. Who would play you? What kind would it be?

I’ve been through so much in my life that even I don’t know how I survived… in fact, my life could make a movie script. Maybe my film would be like “Tragi-comedy”. [Laughs] There is a project underway to make the film of my life …

How did you manage to keep the indefatigable punk attitude towards assholes and cowards through your work, despite so much praise, recognition and reverence?

I insist ! I fight until the end, that’s why I sing “Let Me Sing to the End”!

Elza Soares returns to New York on August 5 for a free show as part of Summer party in Brazil.

What American singers can learn from Elza Soares' hard-earned brilliance


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