Jazz: From Cape Verde with love

Vocalist Maria de Barros will perform in the Hot Jazz series.

Vocalist Maria de Barros (photo credit: PR)
Vocalist Maria de Barros
(photo credit: PR)
It is intriguing to hear singers perform songs in different languages. Each has its own inherent rhythm and textures and, as such, the music and articulation must change to suit the linguistic substratum. Maria de Barros is more adept than most at going with the language flow.
The 56-year-old singer is the centerpiece of the next installment of the current Hot Jazz series, with gigs lines up March 7 to 11, in Kiryat Motzkin, Tel Aviv and Herzliya.
De Barros was born in Dakar, Senegal, although her cultural roots stem from Cape Verde, whence her parents hailed.
De Barros has been here before.
Her previous working foray in Israel was four years ago, and she says it was a positive experience.
“I travel all over the world, and people sometimes ask me about the place I love the most. Israel is at the top of my list,” she says. “I had such a beautiful experience last time, and I am so excited to be coming back. The places I went to in Israel were so beautiful, and the people and the country have such a vibrancy.”
De Barros is pretty energized herself and has been performing to enthusiastic audiences for almost three decades. The upcoming series is a tribute to Cesaria Evora, the barefoot diva who is probably Cape Verde’s most famous export, known for such hits as “Sodade” and “Besamo Mucho.” Evora, who performed in Israel on several occasions, died in 2011 at the age of 70. She was De Barros’s godmother and was one of her major influences, both on a personal and professional level.
In fact, it is no wonder the now Los Angeles-based singer connected so well here on her previous visit.
“It was very spiritual and emotional for me. I felt at home because I know I have Jewish blood in my ancestry,” De Barros notes. ”I felt I belonged there, in Israel. We have a Jewish cemetery on my parents’ island [Cape Verde]. My father would always tell me he had Jewish ancestors. So went I went to Israel, it felt so real to me.”
Ethnic roots aside, De Barros’s previous tour here was a success, and she is looking forward to proffering more of Evora-inspired numbers, seasoned with some of the many other musical genres that De Barros has picked up aen route. It makes for a richly layered end product, but one that can also be deceptively complex.
“My original keyboard player [Nick Rolfe] can’t come, so [Brazilian musician] Sandro Rebel will be playing with us instead,” she notes.
That will change the lay of the musical land somewhat.
“Nick has toured with me for a long time, and he plays the music with a Cape Verdean feel. In some of the solos he would take, he might add a little jazz but he tries to make it more Cape Verdean. It’s a challenge for him. People think, when they listen to Cape Verdean music, they hear the melody. As simple as it sounds, it is very hard music to play,” she says.
De Barros and Rebel will be joined by several local instrumentalists, including drummer Shai Zelman, saxophonist, flutist and accordion player Salit Lahav and percussionist Chen Meir. “It’s very hard to get the feel of the [Cape Verdean] music,” the vocalist continues. “ While De Barros intimates that she is happy to have some jazzy colors in what she puts out, she doesn’t want it to grab too much of the limelight in her music. Even so, she says she is enamored with improvisational sounds.
“I love how intricate jazz is. It really challenges you as a singer to sort of find the melody in the jazz. You find that melody, but it also has to go with the chords. It’s sort of harmonizing the musicians with you. It’s beautiful, and I’m looking forward to feeling that in the shows in Israel.”
De Barros says she expects to have an emotively beneficial experience over the four performances here.
“I know when I perform with an Israeli band, from the last time I was there, they also bring a little bit of their feelings to my music. I like that,” she adds.
The Senegal-born singer brings a broad swathe of cultural influences to her work, taking in African, Arabic, Latin, French and American material, with a liberal dose of Latin rhythms.
“I sing more dramatically when I sing in Spanish, for example,” she observes. “That’s why I love boleros. It’s very emotional.”
And, while she is rooted in the music of her parental island and godmother’s home, she is not averse to going off on sonic tangents in mid-flight.
“My music is a traditional music, but I also have a little bit of the contemporary feel to it, although the root is very traditional,” she says.
De Barros is also looking forward to spreading her musical linguistic domain here. “[Acclaimed world music composer-singer] Idan Raichel does a song in Hebrew which I love so much,” she says. “I can’t remember the name right now, but I’d love to do that with a Cape Verdean feel.”
Stay tuned.
Maria de Barros will perform from March 7 to 11 in Kiryat Motzkin, Tel Aviv and Herzliya. For tickets and more information about the Hot Jazz series: (03) 573-3001 and http://eng.hotjazz.co.il/