Duke Performances brought the extraordinary musicians of the Virginía Rodrigues Quartet to Reynolds Theater to open its mini-series of contemporary Brazilian music, and if this concert was anything to go by, the two remaining should not be missed. Mares Profundos was indeed a deep ocean of sound.
Rodrigues began her show offstage, singing “Maçalê” unseen and unaccompanied, casting a spell with her liquid voice. She has a wide vocal range and nearly perfect pitch. Her voice is almost completely vibrato-free, and it glides over you like pure water or scented oil. By the time she took the stage, round, golden-brown and beaming, the small but adoring audience was completely hers. Accompanied by Bernardo Bosisio on guitar, Raul Mascarenhas on soprano saxophone and flute, and Marco Lobo, percussion, Rodrigues proceeded to sing for nearly two hours without a break.
Rarely do you get to witness such fine music-making. Most of the songs were well-known from Rodrigues’ CDs, and clearly the band was deeply familiar with them all, yet there was nothing rote in their delivery. They were extremely attentive to one another, and the result was a sound so full and pure that one’s entire body quivered with it. This was especially true when guitar, voice and flute were sustaining the same note for an extended float of sound, with the deep drum resonating beneath.
Marco Lobo is a one-man percussion section. He had more percussive instruments than I could count, some of them worn on his body. He danced among them, literally, giving not only the heartbeat of the music, but creating a range of fabulous textures in the sound. I had been anxious to see what made some of the sounds on the CDs, which I thought must be created by numerous musicians. It was incredible to see one person generating those aural riches.
During the instrumental interludes, Rodrigues danced for the musicians, and she sang one song individually with each of them. All of these songs were particularly sweet for how clearly the love and respect between Rodrigues and the players came through. At the end of her duet with guitarist Bosisio, she extended her hand to him, and he grasped and kissed it as if kissing the ring of a priest. And he was: Rodrigues was raised in the Catholic church (the influence of which you can hear in many of her stylings) but now is a Candomblé priestess. Some of the most powerful of her songs come from this Afro-Brazilan religion, like the strong “Canto de Xangô.” (Xangô is the Brazilian version of the great West African Yoruba deity Shango, god of lightning, iron and the crossroads.)
The beautiful songs poured on and on, culminating with the fine “Canto Das 3 Raças,” “Labareda,” a wonderful version of “Adeus Batucada,” which always makes one feel blessed, and “Ojuobá.” You knew somehow that was the last song, and when its final notes floated away, you just wished that you too could kiss the hand of the woman who had shared it.