meIza Soares stood in silence, a few minutes before the music was born. Engulfed in the hoopla and uproar of the audience, another one of her competitors had been disqualified from the radio talent show she was attending. It was 1953, and Soares only had one chance to take home the cash prize: She needed it to help care for her sick son. She was still a teenager, and once onstage, her oversized, ripped dress would have the audience bursting with laughter. “What is the planet you come from?” the presenter asked, waiting for the gag signal. “I’m from the Hungry Planet,” he said. Silence fell over the place and Elza sang for the first time. He never stopped, until his death this week at age 91.
Over the decades, the Brazilian artist became a samba staple, a mainstay in her country’s songbook, and a singer who shared a global pantheon with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Dubbed the “voice of the millennium” by the BBC in 1999, Elza met Planet Hunger like few others: a black woman born in the favelas of Rio, who faced racism, sexism and classism with brilliant verve.
“My vocal cords are crooked, like my life,” Elza said on a television show in the 1990s. Born in 1930, the singer developed her signature move at a young age: a deep, vibrato-like tone that fused melody and percussion beats. The technique, which operated in the sweet spot between scat singing and vocal frying, imprinted a rough, supple guttural texture on her voice. Many tried to make a connection to Louis Armstrong’s singing style, but she always denied it. Not only were their gruff voices rendered using different throat regions, but Elza had never even heard of the jazz musician before their first meeting in 1962. “He called me daughter,” she revealed years later.
The opening track of Elza’s first album, 1961’s A Bossa Negra (The Black Bossa), showcases the singer’s style Powerful and unrestrained voices.; the up-and-coming act had grown to sound like a seasoned artist. He juggles head and chest voices, and wanders with improvisation in the studio as he plays with individual syllables in a growl. sol-fa.
Elza continued to push the boundaries of samba in the years that followed, jumping between its various subgenres. He recorded slow-paced, heavily orchestrated songs. samba songs, danceable sambalanço Y gafieira samba tracks, top-tier bossa nova songs, and cool samba-jazz standards with the likes of Wilson das Neves, all while thriving as a singer on the live circuit and as a singer on radio and television.
Throughout the 1960s, Soares epitomized modernity in Brazil’s national music, helping to open a dialogue within a country that sought to build for the future under the presidency of Juscelino Kubitschek.
His airy, upbeat approach became more complex in the ’70s. Soares continued to expand the language of samba, bringing more strident CarnivalAfro-style samba, Afro-oriented songs, and innovations like the party-high subgenre, where soloists and choirs playfully nudge each other, into their repertoire. His recording of the song Malandro, for example, helped popularize Jorge Aragão, one of the greatest party-high sambistas in Brazil.
But the singer also embraced a sense of melancholy. She had been married as a child at age 12 and her first husband died when she was barely out of her teens; after world-famous soccer player Garrincha divorced his wife to become Soares’ second husband, she faced the eyes of a conservative society. Garrincha’s alcoholism and abuse would later push Soares over the edge (his mother died in a car accident when he was driving drunk) and he separated from him in the early 1980s.
Despite proving that she was more than just a samba singer or crooner, and pushing the persona of a singer-songwriter, just look at her brilliant turn in Caetano Veloso’s 1984 rap song. Tongue – Soares took until the late 2010s to regain the success of its early days. That comeback began in 2000 when, after decades of erratic productions and debt struggles, she debuted a new show, Dura na Queda – Tough as Nails.
His renewed energy was fueled by a new generation of artists who had rediscovered his bombastic voice. “She crossed the Brazilian music of bossa and samba, it’s a gift for us,” said musician José Miguel Wisnik in a video for Elza’s 90th birthday. The pianist was one of her most important musical partners in her later career, and together they released 2002’s blaxploitation-flavoured album Do Cóccix Até O Pescoço.
In the last decade, Elza has finally rediscovered her musical enthusiasm. She became a unique figure, an ancient oracle who was also a willing disciple; it was praised by artists and a younger audience as it advanced further experimentation and interpretation.
Elza teamed up with avant-garde artists from São Paulo in the 2015 opera-samba Mulher do Fim do Mundo. “I am the woman from the end of the world,” she sang. In 2018’s Deus é Mulher, she sings, with palpable fury, about the struggles black women face in Brazilian society and prejudice against Afro religions and the LGBTQI+ community, all in the form of broken-tempo samba songs. Planeta Fome, released in 2019, nods to his early Planet Hunger days as he talks about the famine that has returned to Brazil in recent years.
His last three albums, which form a trilogy, reflect a convoluted country. But they also point to new routes in society and music, from fusions of samba with rap to electronic textures. They are full of passion and drama that Soares drew from his life story, and an invincible hunger to disobey what was prescribed for him. Elza Soares not only embraced the revolutionary and liberating countercultural spirit in Brazil as the 20th century became the 21st: she it was that spirit
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism