Until I started writing this review I never knew that the first traders in African slaves were Portuguese. The bandeirantes, in the 16th Century. That Brazil received more slaves than any other country. Nearly 5 million between 1501 and 1866, who built the nation’s economy on sugar, gold, diamonds and then coffee. That Brazil was the last regional power in the west to abolish slavery, in 1888. That’s some legacy. Milton Nascimento`s Maria Maria, the score to Grupo Corpo`s ballet of the same name, deals with this legacy. Performed and recorded in 1974, the music remained unreleased until 2003. It got its first vinyl pressing just before Christmas, care of Far Out Recordings.
Working with journalist / lyricist / poet Fernando Brant and Argentinian choreographer Oscar Araiz, Nascimento chronicled in song and dance the life of the daughter of a black slave. Using acoustic guitars, spoken narration – inspired in part by French cinema – and ensemble chants. Experiments in harmony, punctuated by prose, berimbau, birdsong, woodwinds and soaring saxophone. Ritual, tribal, percussion, handclaps and massed vocals – like a Brazilian grounation.
The record sounds like a field recording in places. Lo-fi. Raw but beautiful. Capturing shrieks of ecstasy, sobs. Soft serenades mixed in with wild jungle calls. Milton`s falsetto close to breaking. In others there are sophisticated string arrangements. Alternating between the near operatic and David Axelrod-like. Maria Solidaria is Os Mutantes-esque tropicalia. Os Escravos De Jo is a classic take on a classic song.