Invoking Yoruba Gods

Virginia Rodrigues
Earshot Jazz Festival
On the Boards S
Seattle, WA October 29, 2003

As the temperature dropped on a starlit Seattle night, Brazilian diva Virginia Rodrigues performed her seductive musical repertoire to a packed house. After a brief introduction by a local public radio hostess, Virginia and her band (guitarist Sergio Chiavazzoli, saxophone/flautist Glaucio Martins, percussionist Ronaldo Silva and cellist Iura Ranevsky), ignited a luminescent set of songs with Lapinha from Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell’s Afro-samba Suite and other sources. The temperature in the room began to heat up as Virginia and her stripped down band delivered one gorgeous gem after another, doling them out like candy to hungry children. And Virginia’s honeyed soprano
vocals sailed over saxophone/flute, cello, acoustic guitar and a slow samba groove.

Although numerous musicians appear on Virginia’s most recent recording, Mares Profundos, the quintet proved versatile and resourceful delivering a minimalist performance that lightly framed Virginia’s vocal talents. On “Bocoche”, the flute was brought out and the instrument engaged in a melancholic dialogue with Virginia’s clear vocals and Iura Ranevsky’s cello. “Canto de Xango”
followed suit and featured a backdrop of cello, guitar and percussion for Virginia’s lament in which she delivered in an operatic diva fashion, wringing a scarf in her hands while she sang. And the scarf took on a versatile role of its own. At one point the scarf became an Arabic headdress (“Lamento de Exu”), a duet with Ranevsky’s virtuosic cello and at other times the Virginia twirled the
scarf as her voluptuous body engaged in fluid dance movements.

Although much of the repertoire revolved around tearful laments, the quintet wheeled out a few upbeat sambas and capoeira numbers including “Berimbau,” featuring the titular instrument; “Consolacao,” featuring a duet with Sergio on guitar and Canto de Pedra Preta in which the cellist and sax player joined Ronaldo Silva on percussion and Virginia captivated audience members with her
seductive dance. The song reappeared during the encore. Although the entire concert proves a memorable event for me, the most moving moment involved the duet with Virginia and the cellist as she stood in profile, her silk scarf covering her head, delivering the heart shattering “Lamento de Exu” in a true
operatic diva fashion. And through the course of the evening concert, Virginia moved easily between soulful alto to operatic soprano vocals in her easy going manner.

Born into poverty in the Bahia region of Brazil in 1964, similar to many of the finest African American soul singers in the US, Virginia’s vocal training came from singing in church. Later, she found inspiration from America’s jazz, blues and soul performers including, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and African American opera singers, Marian Anderson and Jessye Norman. With very little formal vocal schooling and upon embracing Candomblé (an Afro-Brazilian religion based on the polytheistic Yoruba spirituality of Nigeria), Virginia was discovered by the infamous Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso while he saw her singing with a street theatre. Virginia has gone on
appearing at prestigious events and has attracted kudos from major papers and magazines.

Perhaps it is her spiritual connection and her love of life that ignited her delightful Seattle performance. The Virginia Rodrigues concert proved more than a memorable event, but one that transformed my view about inner and outer beauty. And the sambas softly play on in my thoughts reminding me of the joy and sadness we call life. Viriginia also reminds me of the African American opera singer in French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva. After all, Virginia Rodrigues and Wilhelmenia Wiggens Fernandez’s (of Beineix’s film) heavenly voices transcend the mundane world. And what could be better than that on a cold and starry night?

The Virginia Rodrigues concert was presented by Earshot Jazz as part of the 15th Annual Earshot Jazz Festival which commenced on October 24th and runs until November 15, 2003. For more information on concerts and performers,

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music.