A Mulher do Fim do Mundo Elza Soares Mais Um Discos/Planet The Rio Olympic Games may be on the horizon, but these are far from golden days for Brazil. Indeed, latest news reports suggest that South America’s largest country is in political and social turmoil.
An improbable new album that pairs a veteran Rio de Janeiro diva with a maverick crew of experimental Sao Paulo players reflects the country’s present ills, addressing some of the burning issues of the day, including corruption, racism, drug addiction and domestic violence, with the inherent vitality of Brazilian rhythm and the intensity of punk rock.
As an artist who champions Brazil’s downtrodden and cries out against racial, gender and sexual discrimination, Elza Soares is an appropriate conduit for protest song. Adding street cred, this septuagenarian queen of samba has walked on the wild side, boasting a backstory that reads like a soap opera script.
Born in a favela and coerced into an abusive marriage while still a child, she was widowed with three children by 21 and expelled by the military junta for having an extramarital affair with legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha. The vicissitudes of Soares’s roller-coaster life are encapsulated in the extraordinary vocal range that gives A Mulher do Fim do Mundo / The Woman at the End of the World its potency.
Although the singing is soothing and sensitive, supported by strings in penultimate song Solto, and plaintive when rendered a cappella on the opening and closing pieces Coracao do Mar and Comigo, the sound elsewhere on her 34th album is the antithesis of Copacabana bossa nova croon chic.
The predominant disposition of a set exclusively composed for the singer in the style of so-called samba sujo (dirty samba) is tense and cacophonous, with Soares screaming, gurgling and spitting out lyrics over screeching horns in free-jazz mode, grungy rock guitar, sheets of white noise and a battery of Brazilian percussion.
The title track transfixes, as sweet strings, cavaquinho and mild beats give way to angsty carnivalesque groove and bloodcurdling affirmations of indestructibility from Soares. A punctuated account of domestic violence ( Maria da Vila Matilde) is equally deadly, with the singer hissing a stream of angry words to the backdrop of a rumbling electronic wash, angular guitar, edgy drumming and inebriated trombone.
The astringent Benedita relates the demise of a crack-addicted transvestite — a “wounded beast” who “keeps a bullet between her breasts”. Another urgent afropunk samba, Pra Fuder, portrays the feminist libido in its more extreme form over jazzy horn stabs and distorted slabs of electric guitar. Luz Vermelha speaks of “a country abused for centuries” while interlocking electric bass and guitar riffs and repeated lead lines weave menacingly in and out. Wild fiddling and clattering drums discombobulate behind a bluesy vocal in Canal. Guest band Bixiga 70 brings an afrobeat vibe to Firmeza before it too soars into avant-garde territory.