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Elza Soares, queen of Brazilian samba, dies

The singer Elza Soares, in a concert in Spain, in 2019. Marcial Guillén Marcial Guillén (EFE)

The Brazilian Elza Soares, one of the great queens of samba, has died this Thursday at the age of 91 at her home in Rio de Janeiro due to natural causes, as reported by her representatives on Instagram. Singer and songwriter, she leaves behind her a musical career of almost seven decades, 36 albums and an activism against sexist violence, racism and in favor of black feminism that made her an icon of the new generations.

The daughter of a laundress and a worker, she was born in 1930 in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. His biography includes great professional triumphs and very hard episodes in his personal life. She was still a 13-year-old teenager when she had her first child. At 15 she had already lost a baby and by 21 she was a widow. He said he sang so as not to go crazy, says the newspaper O Globo.

It premiered on a radio program after an unforgettable exchange with the presenter: “What planet do you come from?” He asked the young woman in humble clothes who aspired to make a living in music. She answered him bluntly: “I come from your planet, Mr. Ary! From the hungry planet!”.

After that debut, he began to carve out a career. First as a chorus girl in clubs in Rio de Janeiro in the late fifties, then she sang for the first time abroad, in Argentina, and in 1959 she released her first album, Se maybe you'll chegasse (if you came). She was starting a career that would lead her to reign in the samba from Rio de Janeiro for decades, to sing before Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Brazil in 1968, to the BBC choosing her as the singer of the millennium in 1999 and to perform at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Her rounded curly hair, full lips and false eyelashes made her unmistakable. It was always modern. His music combined samba with ingredients of jazz, hip hop, electronic music and funk.

“He sang until the end ”, says the statement about his death. And so it was, literally. He left behind an album and a DVD of memoirs recorded two days before he died, according to a percussionist with whom he collaborated in recent years.

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His biographer Zeca Camargo writes in Folha de S. Paulo that “every passage of Elza's life has a magical and surreal component”. She says that he joked with her saying that that life should not have existed because everything was against her. But, she continues, “she never gave up. Goodness. Because it was like this that throughout an unrivaled career, even MPB (Brazilian popular music) was able to inspire so many people.” A fragile woman, she was an indomitable artist, according to journalist Ruy Castro.

Elza Soares and whoever was her partner, the soccer player Garrincha, in a file photo.

Turned 90, she remained very active even in the midst of a pandemic that lived in front of the sea of ​​Copacabana beach, in Rio. He worked out, he gave interviews, he tweeted. He participated in the public debate. And he kept creating art. On March 8, she released a video clip on the occasion of Women's Day. For the feminist philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, she was “a mother to black women, she sang her loves and her pains.”

During Almost two decades lived a stormy marriage with Garrincha, the legendary footballer who won two World Cups with Pelé. She left him after he hit her, although before that there were many years of enduring his aggressiveness and alcoholism. The player also died of cirrhosis on January 20, he 39 years ago.

For years, she was hated for good part of her compatriots as the villain who had destroyed Garrincha's marriage. The death of their common son, in an accident at the age of nine, plunged her into a depression that included drugs and a suicide attempt. He fell into oblivion. Music companies dispensed with her.

But the composer and singer Caetano Veloso removed her from ostracism in 1984 when he called her to perform together a samba rap titled Língua. It was the seed of a rebirth that turned her into the legend that Brazil says goodbye with emotion this Thursday.

The singer and songwriter Chico Buarque reviews the career of this samba star in an unpublished text published by O Globo after his death: “If you arrived in London in 1999 and saw Elza Soares enter the Royal Albert Hall in a wheelchair, you would not believe that she would be able to get on stage. She went upstairs and sambó 'with a tight and semi-transparent leotard', in the words of a Portuguese journalist”, she writes, playing with the title of the album with which the artist debuted.

Perhaps his fondness for social networks at such an advanced age should not be surprising because he was always at the forefront. With good technique and groundbreaking style, he dominated the stage. Gay São Paulo has paid homage to him years ago in a huge and worn mural that occupies an entire wall.

Elza Soares poses for a photo in Rio de Janeiro in August 2018.CARL DE SOUZA (AFP)

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