With new album, Elza Soares celebrates status as an 'incredible woman'

Luisa Lucciola | Agence France-Presse | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 

Jakarta   /  Tue, August 28, 2018  /  01:00 am

In this file photo taken on May 19, 2017 Brazilian singer Elza Soares performs at the Town Hall theater in New York. (AFP/Kena Betancur)

Time seems to run at a different pace for Elza Soares. The Brazilian samba legend is 81 but on the eve of a Rio de Janeiro concert for her recent album "Deus e Mulher" ("God is a woman"), you wouldn't think so.

"Let me tell you, my age has nothing in common with the way I feel," she told AFP by telephone ahead of Tuesday's show in her native city.

In her unmistakable tone, Soares described herself as excited as ever to be going on stage, even if she now sings seated.

"I consider this a good moment, an extraordinary one in my career. I don't know if it's the best. The best was when I started. Things are always marvelous when you start," she said.

Soares's powerful voice is an integral part of Brazilian music.

She embodied samba and went on to play a major role in cutting edge modern interpretations of the sensual, rhythmic Brazilian sound, mixing in everything from bossa nova to jazz, Afrobeat and funk.

Her sheer longevity and extraordinarily dramatic personal life -- including multiple tragedies and a turbulent marriage to the much-loved footballer Garrincha -- have made her nothing less than a national figure.

The self-confidence and dedication to music making that have carried her along that epic road clearly remain intact. Asked if there were any love interests in her life now, she joked: "I'm dating Elza Soares."

"I'm in love with her, this incredible woman. I'm going to ask to marry her," she said.

'Hurricane of life' 

Her latest album, released in May, draws on a recent surge in debates about the role of women in Brazil, where rapes and femicide -- the intentional killing of women -- are growing.

As a black woman in a Brazil where about half the population identifies as non-white, but power and wealth is concentrated among whites, she carries even more moral authority.

"We live in a country with horrendous prejudices," she said. "It's my country, my land and I love it so much, but we almost have no rights. Poor, black, female -- what rights are there?"

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One of the songs on the album, "What is Silent," is dedicated to those fighting for society's least powerful.

"God is Woman" follows success with "A mulher do fim do mundo" ("The Woman from the End of the World") in 2015, which won a Latin Grammy for Best Album of Popular Brazilian Music.

The albums have been widely praised for their inventiveness.

Her producer Guilherme Kastrup said that musically Soares hasn't lost a beat, with a "way of thinking that is very contemporary."

"She's a hurricane of life," he said.

Soares agreed. 

"I was always very daring, I was never afraid of anything and I'm going forward," she said.

"I think that's my triumph. It's not possible to stay put in one place. If things are bad, then go forward. It's what I always do."

Soares said she was cheered by the rise of Brazilian feminism and LGBT activism. 

"I see women becoming more open, with greater ability to express themselves, to demand more, to ask for their rights," she said.

"The enslavement of women is over. Without women, you have no world... That's why God is a woman, God is mother."

Living legend 

The phrase "living legend" accurately describes Soares, who apart from her newest album is also the subject of a current musical called "Elza," which tells the story of her journey from a tough childhood in a Rio de Janeiro favela to the big stage.

"It was a challenge. I felt the weight of responsibility in developing the role in a way that she would be able to recognize herself," said Larissa Luz, who plays the singer. 

"The hardest part was dealing with the sensitive issues, like the loss of a child. But it was magical. I felt she was with me."

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A biography is due out next year.

Soares, though, looks to the moment, not to the past.

"Let me tell you, I don't make plans. If something happens, that's because it had to happen," she said. 

"I always say I'm in the now. Yesterday's gone and I don't know what will be tomorrow. My name is 'now.'"