At 81 years old, Elza Soares is the unspoken Brazilian Queen Mother of samba. On stage, she reclines on a six-foot-high throne, surrounding her is a set decorated with black bin bags. At 13 years old, she won a Brazilian singing competition. She had been forced into marriage by her father for a year at this point and several months later, gave birth to her first child. When the presenter asked her what world she came from, her baggy clothes not familiar to any world he resided in, she replied “the world of hunger”. This juxtaposition between these two worlds, one of hunger and one of triumph has not been lost throughout her success.
Her voice, always reed instrument-like, sings the laments of a woman’s experience. Her vocal chords seem frayed, tired and angry. With these same vocal chords she sings about lust, sex, racism, trans rights and prostitution. While famous men in their old age are traditionally allowed to continue with their young behavior, their bodies relaxed and opinions loud, women traditionally are thought to take on a role of wisdom. The listener feels as though Soares is laughing at any notion of this.
In ‘The Woman at The End of the World’ (mulher do fim do mundo) released in 2016, she decided to collaborate with unlikely fans; Kiko Dinucci (from Metá Metá) and her bandmates in Passo Torto – Rodrigo Campos, Marcelo Cabral, Romulo Fróes, Felipe Roseno (who plays percussions with Ney Matogrosso) Celso Yes and Guilherme Kastrup. Their sound feels like less a “collaboration”, than an agitation; less of a sonic mixture and more the sound of irritation, ideas rubbing off each other, one old concept of a melody being pushed past itself, and the resulting friction being captured.
The album opens with ‘Coracao do mar’ (heart of the sea), an acapella track in which Soares sings a poem by Oswalde de Andrede. It is almost a parody of a national anthem in which she sings his words concerning slavery and loss. The album’s highlight is its title track ‘Mulher do fim do Mundo’ (Woman at the End of the World) in which the Brazilian instrument, the cavaquinho, lays beneath her vocals, decorated with strings, pizzicato at times like Morse code. “Woman at the End of the World” she sings. “I am, I go on, singing till the end”.