I watch the making of Segundo again; several times, in fact. The film is not only a moving account of the rapport between the musicians and Maria Rita, but in fact a testament to the singer’s ability to express, with directness and searing intensity, the emotional core of the music. I watch her alone in the vocal booth of the studio, staring intently at her notebook in which she has copied the lyrics to the songs, or – as is more often the case – with eyes shut tight, she seems to project herself into the silence that will soon become the song she is about to sing. Perhaps here, in this Empty Quarter, as her breath fills the empty air, Maria Rita becomes the vessel through which the music will eventually flow.
Sometimes the camera captures her lips moving in silence. I realise that Maria Rita is taking in air; filling her lungs for a line that she is about to sing. Here, more magic is afoot. The air is the same each time it is breathed in, but then it seems to be swirled around by an invisible brush. By the time it is expelled with the words of the song, there is a seemingly infinite play on vocal timbre; psychoacoustics so rich in its complexity that it challenges the very notion of anything that might be considered conventional or even recognisable about the quality of a musical note or tone. Infused with a dynamic universe of colour and texture the words now have an almost supernatural effect from merely listening to their sound?
Maria Rita’s ‘sun’ will sink bashfully right before your eyes and the salt of her ‘sea’ will burn you and then will swallow you whole in the finality of farewell. Images come alive like never before and they are filled with colours dipped in tears. There is something Grecian about the cathartic experience. The magic of a Maria Rita performance is repeated time and time again. On her 2011 recording, Elo, she turns in a monumental performance of Chico Buarque’s ‘A História de Lilly Braun’ and suddenly there is not one, but two definitive versions of the song – and the story – one by Chico Buarque and the other by Maria Rita. It is not simply a matter of poetry; for Maria Rita it is much more than that. This is possibly the deepest connection that she has with her illustrious mother: Elis Regina.
Like Elis Regina before her, Maria Rita inhabits music in a visceral and heartfelt manner. No song that was performed by Elis was ever the same and in many respects other musicians were completely intimidated by this. Like Elis, Maria Rita too uses her almost supernatural musical abilities to dig into the score of the music at hand with startling urgency. So deeply is she able to penetrate the soul of the music that she can find greater variety of mood and meaning in a musical phrase. As a result every phrase is perfection; the interpretation has a remarkable degree of enduring potency and is, at the same time, completely ‘in the moment’.
This sort of artistry has its downside. Performing at such an intense level can consume life at an alarming rate. Elis Regina died at 36. None of this seems likely to affect Maria Rita though because she appears to have something of an alchemist in her. Unlike her mother before her, music, far from being her kryptonite, appears to be a life-giving force. This energy explodes on Samba Meu, an album in which Maria Rita explores the heat of her music in other exciting ways. Each of the fourteen songs shows the singer to be an artist unafraid of cascading passagework and acrobatic leaps as she exudes bountiful excitement and lyrical colour. Completely free of the melancholy of her other albums Samba Meu nevertheless still manages to seize the ears and the soul.
It is with a spirit of uplift that I find myself now listening to performances that are carried on an irresistible tide of great humanity that I find myself listening once more to Maria Rita’s relatively brief oeuvre. But ever more since that first experience with her eponymously-titled debut album as with Segundo down to her most recent work I have every expectation of even greater things to come. Maria Rita is an artist, body and soul and because of this she worships at the altar of creativity and spirituality. In her art you cannot separate the two anyway, because they come from the same source: where the mind and the heart meet at right angles.
It is not really known for how long exactly Maria Rita wanted to sing, but it is hard not to believe that she probably wanted to do so at a very young age. However, it is a fact that Maria Rita, her debut, did not come out until 2003, when the singer was already 24 years old. But it is quite clear that by then Elis Regina’s daughter had already ‘arrived’. Symbolically her career was launched with the first cut on her first album, ‘A Festa’ (The Party), written by Milton Nascimento, the legendary Brazilian singer-songwriter whose career was launched by Maria Rita’s mother, Elis Regina, when she began to sing his songs to the national Brazilian audience. If there was any sense of doubt about her veracity as an artist, this notion was probably destroyed by the first bars of that song.