Maria de Barros was late for her show just days after the release of her second CD, Dança Ma Mi (Narada Records). Impatient chatter in Portuguese, French, Spanish and a plethora of other tongues occupied the space where the empty stage stood, her eager audience growing increasingly fidgety. Finally, more than 30 minutes later, the shapely and smiling Cape Verdean singer graced the stage dressed in a form-fitting yellow ruffled blouse and golden floor-length swirled skirt. It was as if Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of beauty and femininity, emerged with honey pouring from her mouth, as mythology has it.
The audience was mesmerized into an awe-inspired hush as she enthusiastically launched into song. Ignoring her insistent urgings to “get up and dance,” they seemed to prefer instead to watch her shake, shimmy, sway and samba through the first songs.
De Barros is fully human, although her crystalline, soulful voice and otherworldly appearance defy reality. But her genuine love of music, particularly of her homeland, radiates flawlessly to the broad swath of listeners who have come to know her since Nha Mundo, her 2003 debut CD, also on Narada.
That autobiographical recording, which translates into English as “My World,” introduced Maria de Barros to music lovers internationally, reflecting her multi-culti upbringing. Born in Senegal of Cape Verdean parents, de Barros spent her childhood in Nouakchott, in the West African nation of Mauritania. The rich musical traditions of both countries affected de Barros deeply and can be sensed in her approach to songs, yet it is Cape Verde that dominates, whether through the Portuguese Creole of Cape Verdean compositions, or the rhythms that predominate on the variety of styles she effortlessly takes on, from French Caribbean ballads and Brazilian bossa nova to Latin rhythms and reggae.
“It started when I was very little, for sure. Let me tell you…instead of being outside with the little kids playing, I was listening to music, dancing and singing,” de Barros said, beamingly flashing her perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. “My mom was the very first voice I heard singing. She had a beautiful, angelic voice, and she would always be singing to me. But I come from a family of well-known (Cape Verdean) musicians.”
When de Barros immigrated to the United States as a teenager with her parents and four siblings, she immediately began performing with bands, playing weddings and parties in the large Cape Verdean immigrant communities in New Bedford, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. In fact, two of her current band members, Djim Job and Carlos “Kalu” Monteiro, were in those early bands and remain as her band members, principal songwriters and musical directors along with Argentine guitarist Danny Luchansky.