Virginia Rodrigues is a commanding presence
Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass. Nov. 6, 2003
By Jeffrey B. Remz
SOMERVILLE, MA - Virginia Rodrigues is certainly a commanding presence. Both physically and vocally.
A large woman, the black Brazilian singer fortunately has the vocal ability to ensure that her music is overpowering as well as she amply demonstrated before a crowded club.
Rodrigues grew up dirt poor in the Bahia region of Brazil and has released three albums in the U.S., including the just releases "Mares Profundos" (Deutsche Grammophon) where she offers her own versions of 1960s sambas from Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell.
While Rodrigues' music is samba based, it also encompasses African sounds as well.
What stood out most was Rodrigues' unusual contralto. She possessed a full body voice. Who knew what she was singing about, but it all sounded quite heartfelt and solid. An intensity pervaded the evening, obvious from the announcement by the sound man that Rodrigues wanted quiet throughout her performance, something unusual for the generally noisy club.
The evening probably could have used a few more uptempo songs as most of the music tended to be on the slower side. With that said, most every song stood up well. They might have started off slowly and gotten into a bit of a groove with Rodrigues kicking in vocally.
A very fine three-piece group consisting of congas/percussion; acoustic guitar and clarinet/flute capably backed Rodrigues.
Rodrigues is not the world's warmest performer. Rodrigues, often holding a scarf, which she tugged at, occasionally danced slowly to the music, often drawing applause from the receptive crowd.
She rarely, barely ever smiled during her 70-minute set and has a bit of a reputation as being somewhat difficult.
She also doesn't talk very much. Her English apparently is extremely limited to maybe "thank you," and she spoke several times in Portuguese, but aside from that it was her haunting voice and songs that did the talking.
And that's a good thing given the quality of both. It should be pointed out Rodrigues smiled appreciatively as the crowd gave her a well-deserved standing O at the conclusion of the show.