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Sample Track 1:
"Moro Na Roça" from Iaía
Sample Track 2:
"Menina Amanhã de Manhã" from Iaía
Sample Track 3:
"Por Todo a Minha Vida" from Iaía
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Monica Salmaso, Iaía (World Village) The Quintessential Voice of Brazil:
Mônica Salmaso’s Sparse and Colorful Interpretations


Mônica Salmaso, best known as an interpreter of a wide range of Brazilian music, releases her new CD Iaiá on World Village on November 9, 2004. Salmaso pays tribute to a vast array of Brazilian legends and songwriters, stepping across eras deftly while simultaneously creating a contemporary yet gentle mood. The word “iaiá” is a shortened version of “sinhá,” which is the way Brazilian slaves pronounced “senhora” (which means “missus” or “lady”). The release is accompanied by concerts in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

“Mônica Salmaso has a gorgeous, quintessentially Brazilian voice: quietly lustrous and sustained, suffusing each liquid note with languid secrets,” wrote Jon Pareles of The New York Times (1/15/2002). “She is primarily a ballad singer, offering kindly vignettes of rural Indians and Afro-Brazilian carnival celebrators, of faithful Christians and a legendary imp. Her melodies often have the symmetry of folk tunes, but Ms. Salmaso relocates them to sparse modern settings, the better to rediscover their nuances.”

On a highlight of her latest album, these nuances and sparse settings are applied to “Meninas, Amanhã de Manhã,” a song by Tom Zé, the quirky and political songwriter who earned fame in America thanks to David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. A comparison of the two versions instantly demonstrates how Salmaso’s “fluent and beautifully colored instrument” (Billboard) can transform a recognizable song into something new.

On “Moro Na Roca,” Salmaso pays homage to Clementina de Jesus—the granddaughter of African slaves, a woman who began singing professionally late in life after serving as a housekeeper for over twenty years. Singing while washing clothes, this “rough diamond” of a singer preserved the lundus and jongos of the Angolan Bantu.

African-rooted beliefs of Brazil show through on two other songs on the album. “Estrela de Oxum” tells of a girl who while singing near a river awakens Oxum, the Goddess of the river, according to the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. In contrast to the folkloric sound Salmaso brings to her rendition, the poem was originally faxed to her by author and album-producer Rodolfo Stroeter as soon as he wrote it. Candomblé’s Goddess of the sea, Iemanjá is invoked in Dorival Caymmi’s “É Doce Morrer No Mar” (“It’s Sweet to Die in the Sea”), about the families who wait for their fishermen fathers and sons who never return from the powerful and mysterious ocean.

Salmaso’s sweet sound traverses decades starting as early as the 1930s’ “Vinganca,” or “Revenge,’ a song about a musician whose wife leaves him for another singer and thus swears revenge on her. But upon finally discovering her at a party, he falls in love with her all over again and forgets his vengeance. “Cidade Lagoa”—which was made famous in the 1960s by Moreira da Silva—is a joke about the floods of Rio de Janeiro with the storyteller claiming he would boat to ferry beautiful women across the streets.

Salmaso rose to fame in 1999 when she won the Visa-mastercard-Eldorado Prize for best singer in Brazil among 1200 contestants nationwide. After releasing Voadeira—an album that features many of the same musicians as Iaiá—Salmaso was also named “best singer” by the Associacão Paulista dos Críticos de Arte, the association of the Brazilian press.

Whether putting her print on Tom Jobim songs—as she does on “Por Toda a Minha Vida” or on recent compositions like “Cabrochinha,” Mônica Salmaso’s tender interpretations leave us with a refreshed sense of Brazil’s musical history and yearning for more.

“Just barely into her 30s, the São Paulo singer is already high on the list of her country’s vocal artists. Her velvet-toned sound, focused intonation and understated but tenaciously lively rhythms are the hallmarks of a gifted, natural performer. Salmaso could easily have used those gifts in a typically high-voltage Brazilian setting. But she chooses, instead, to work with only a trio for accompaniment… framing her songs in spare, musically insightful settings.”
—Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times (9/29/2003)