Dorival Caymmi was considered a seminal figure in the music of Bahia in Brazil. His influence on the Música Popular Brasileira movement was incalculable and Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso continue to pay him homage in their original work even today as it is impossible to escape his influence. In the appropriately entitled album, Kenia Celebrates Dorival Caymmi, the wonderful vocalist, Kenia literally recreates the unusually festive nature of Caymmi’s work from music that became part of Baiano folklore to charts that Caymmi wrote later in his celebrate career. For Kenia the album takes her back to her childhood in and around Rio and to some songs that fired her ambition to become a singer herself. And what a singer she has become!
Kenia has a singular style, dripping with emotion, principally that unique Brazilian sensibility that comes from a certain saudades that infuses the soul of her music. But not all is elementally lonely in Kenia’s style of singing. She can create a whirl of joy at will. Her ability to turn puckish on a dime is also part of her singularity. This is clearly evident in her renditions of “Roda Pião” and Caymmi’s Baiano anthem, “Eu Vou prá Maracangalha.” Kenia also brings some of Caymmi’s most well-known music to refreshing light with her idiosyncratic takes on “Samba da Minha Terra,” “Você Já foi a Bahia,” and very possibly Caymmi’s most beloved composition, “Doralice.”
Kenia’s voice is unique among the Brazilians who sing today. It appears to emerge from deep within her body and she wields it like a shaman who is out to cleanse the world. Although she can be playful when she sings, the classicist in her often comes to the fore and then the vocalist returns to the purity of intonation and digs deep within her soul for the feeling that songs must carry in their lyric. Her masterful renditions of “Acontece que eu Sou Baiano” and “Nunca Mais” create a gravitas that elevates the music to an almost sacred nature. But it is on the chart, “A Vizinha do Lado” that Kenia commands the greatest respect as another player in the Brazilian pantheon of stellar vocalists. Here the singer becomes both griot and vocalist fusing the magic of storytelling and the skill of an operatic star as she carves out the words intoning them with perfect grace and impeccable diction. And her version of “Marina” is the epitome of beauty and sadness as she becomes the song itself.
The musicians who accompany Kenia on this musical voyage are another key to the success of this project. Pianist Fernando Merlino, who also arranged most of the charts, is an exquisite listener and accompanist. All vocalists need one and Kenia could not have found anyone better suited for that task. Jay Ashby, who is also credited with some arrangements and who shares percussion duties with the great Airto shines on trombone his principle instrument and he is superb. His fat sound fleshes out many songs and also adds much emotion to the music with his almost-vocal style. And guitarist Eric Susoeff always seems perfect when he moves in to solo on the downbeat.
There have been several albums that pay tribute to luminaries from the Brazilian soundscape. Ithamara Koorax has released one to commemorate the music of Joao Gilberto recently. Now this celebration of Dorival Caymmi’s work—albeit a small one that culls some favourites from his enormous repertoire—will add to keeping the memory of early popular Brazilian composers alive.
Tracks: Eu Não Tenho Onde Morar; Roda Pião; And Roses and Roses; Samba da Minha Terra; Vatapá; Requebre Que eu dou um Doce; Você Já foi a Bahia; Sábado em Copacabana; O Dengo que a Nega Tem; Acontece que eu Sou Baiano; Nunca Mais; Doralice; Eu Vou prá Maracangalha; A Vizinha do Lado; Marina.
Personnel: Kenia: vocals; Fernando Merlino: piano (1 – 5, 7 – 13, 15); Leo Travesa: bass (1 – 14); Airto Moreira: percussion (1 – 5, 8 – 10, 13); Jay Ashby: percussion (1, 3 – 11, 13, 14), trombone (4, 6, 11), background vocals (2); Lucas Ashby: percussion (4, 5, 7 – 10, 12 – 14); Thomas Wendt: drums (3); Eric Susoeff: guitar (7, 12 – 14); Marty Ashby: guitar (6); Tatjana Chamis: background vocals (2); Fabiana Chamis: background vocals (2); Ian Ashby: background vocals (2).
Kenia on the web: www.kenialive.com
Review written by: Raul da Gama