Virginia Rodrigues | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Virginia Rodrigues 

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Here in the U.S. we don't seem to turn out singers like Brazil's Virginia Rodrigues. We've divorced our folk traditions from the mainstream music we hear on the radio every day, and to make an unpolished "discovery" palatable our star machinery has to clean it up until it sounds like everything else. Brazil's musical culture is much more cosmopolitan, embracing not only sounds from all over the globe but its own regional traditions. Rodrigues, for example, grew up poor and had sung only in choirs, and though I don't know what she sounded like when her patron, Brazilian pop legend Caetano Veloso, first heard her a few years ago, it's clear from her stunning debut album, Sol negro (Hannibal), that no one tried turning her into a slick 'n' sassy diva. Her gorgeously thick, mahogany contralto makes itself at home in everything from the breezy samba of "Adeus, Batucada" to the haunting a cappella grandeur of "Veronica" to the pretty chamber pop of "Manha de Carnaval." Though you might expect the churchy, almost otherworldly refinement of her voice to prove ill suited to the elastic song forms that dominate the record, she handles them with ease--and that juxtaposition is why her music's so thrilling. She brings an arresting sobriety to Brazilian pop standards and traditionals that makes them feel both familiar and alien. For her Chicago debut, one of only four dates in the States, Rodrigues will be backed by guitarist Luiz Meira, bassist Adriano Giffoni, percussionists Mila Schiavo and Reginaldo Vargas, and violinist Deborah Cheyne. Tuesday, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bob Wolferson.


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