Samba royalty and living legend Elza Soares recently released one of the most ambitious albums of her career. Teaming up with top avant-garde musicians from Sao Paolo, A Mulher o Fim do Mundo (The Woman at the End of the World) is even more powerful given the current crisis looming over the country.
A blend of electro acoustic samba rock and Soares’ inimitable voice make for quite a listen but in order to better grasp the album’s true scope I suggest you get familiar with Soares’ career and bio with this well researched article by the always insightful Wax Poetics.
Politics and music have always been intertwined in Brazil. Gilberto Gil’s career was launched by a government musical competition, he then was exiled by the dictatorship (like Elza) and finally became Culture Minister. Social class and music share a similar unextractable relationship as samba originated in the slums and the most classical repertoire refers to the struggles of agricultural communities (Caboclo) and the working class struggle (Pedro Pedreiro). As a record collector, I am most familiar with the 60-70-80s era of Brasilian music but having had the chance to live there for a year and work with cultural NGOs I earned more about the modern day implications of activism and music. Chico Science e Nacao Zumbi (Brazil’s answer to Public Enemy) & Racionais MCs ruled the 90’s with their engaged hip-hop but the 2000s where led by electro acoustic folk groups with cunning lyrics and melancholic rythms.
This is where Elza 34th career album makes such an impact, it was originally supposed to be a reprise album of samba classics (a tired proposition in a country where covers are the norm) instead it took the shape of 100% original material composed for the vocalist. Her genuine life experience and eprsonal frustrations transpire through all the interpretations and the album is a literal wake up call for Brasilian society. While modern day brasilian music has a much less powerful international reach that it once had, this album is transcendental and serves as a window into a society we too often view through a media lens focused on its political hardships. You probably won’t see Elza perform at the Olympic Games opening ceremonies. However, much like the incredibly powerful movie Elite Squad, (that the goverment originally banned, until they wanted to tax its explosive sucess), artistic representations of the societal inequalities rooted in the foundation of the land of Samba will always resonate with a wider audience and allow the people to speak for themselves!