Virgínia Rodrigues, dubbed “the new voice of Brazilian music” by The New York Times, looks to the past on her latest album, “Mares Profundos.”
The edge Music/Deutsche Grammophon LP, released on Oct. 14, features the spellbinding contralto’s versions of Afro-sambas written in the 1960s by Brazilian legends Vinicius de Moraes, who penned “The Girl From Ipanema,” and guitarist-composer Baden Powell. Rodrigues’ beautifully warm voice is surrounded by Luiz Brasil’s shimmering arrangements.
Rodrigues sat down recently for an e-mail interview with Pause & Play to discuss her journey from her native Salvador de Bahia to today, being compared to such luminaries as Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone.
Pause & Play – What was it like growing up in Salvador de Bahia? It must have been rough to drop out of school so you could help support your family.
Rodrigues – “When you are a child, you think that everything is fine as you do not understand things quite well nor the difficulties in life. When teen ages come, you then start understanding your real situation and life makes you to fight everyday. As we say in Brasil: ‘We have to kill one lion a day to survive.’ But growing up in Salvador was not bad. I had a normal childhood and lived as a normal teen, although I left school at age of 13 and had to look for a job so I could help support my family. I liked to work as I really enjoyed making my own money. I could start buying my things without having to ask someone else to do so.”
Pause & Play – What are your earliest memories of music?
Rodrigues – “When my grandparents used to pray in the Catholic festivities. My grandpa used to play accordion along with his friends, who played drums and tambourine, and my grandma, as she was a good samba dancer, is also part of my earliest memories of music.”
Pause & Play – How did you get introduced to the sounds of Billie Holiday, Marian Anderson, Jessye Norman and our personal favorite, Ella Fitzgerald?
Rodrigues – “Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, I discovered by chance when I bought their records (vinyl at that time) in a street market where my mother used to sell vegetables and fruits. I was 11 years old. I didn’t even have a record player of my own, meaning that I could only listen to it at my neighbor’s. When I joined the chorus and started studying lyrical singing, my coach introduced me to Jessye Norman. A friend of mine introduced me to Ella Fitzgerald.”
Pause & Play – Your recording career didn’t get started until you turned 32. Prior to that, what kept you going through the adversity?
Rodrigues – “I worked as a manicurist and as a cleaning woman and at 28 I started making money with my voice, though I kept working as manicurist until I was 30 years old.”
Pause & Play – Some music critics have referred to you as a South American “diva.” What do you think of that term?
Rodrigues – “I thank them all and feel honored for this kind term, even though I do not consider myself a diva.”
Pause & Play – For “Mares Profundos,” you revisit classics from Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell. For some people, this would be intimidating. How did you approach it?
Rodrigues – “It surely is intimidating and honestly if I had thought twice I would not have recorded it. Can you imagine one revisiting classics previously recorded by singers such as Elizeth Cardoso and Elis Regina? But anyway, I dared and did it and liked the result. Hope that those people who like my singing also enjoy it.”
Pause & Play – You have said that you “sing for people of African descent.” Have you visited Africa?
Rodrigues – “I sing for people of African descent as I sing for the whole human beings in the world. I have a dream of having my voice heard all over the world. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Africa. I hope I have the opportunity to visit it now with my new album.”
Pause & Play – Do you still live in Brazil? If so, has fame changed things for you?
Rodrigues – “I still live in Salvador, Brasil. Fame hasn’t changed things for me. I keep on going to the supermaket, taking cabs, going to the beach, walking on the streets as an ordinary citizen.”
Pause & Play – What’s the first record you ever bought?
Rodrigues – “The vinyl I bought in the street market (Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin). I don’t remember their titles. The second one was Jessye Norman’s, which I bought when I first went to London.”
Pause & Play – What’s the first concert you ever went to?
Rodrigues – “In the late ’70s, I went to see Ney Matogrosso (a Brazilian singer) who was performing at Teatro Castro Alves in Salvador.”
Pause & Play – What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Rodrigues – “House-cleaning. I didn’t like doing it. I only did it because I needed to.”