A night with the queen Elza Soares

Brasil Observer - Dec 06 2016

(Leia em Português)


Brazilian singer thrills the audience in London and speaks to the Brasil Observer: ‘The secret is to sing tol the end’


By Guilherme Reis

From the top of her throne positioned in the centre of the stage, surrounded by the musicians of her band, Elza Soares asks the audience to shout. “I want to hear screams, I want to hear noise.” The audience responds promptly, thrilled by the diva of Brazilian popular music.

Elza Soares’ concert at the Barbican in London on November 13 was as potent as the hoarse voice of the singer about to complete 80 years old and 60 years of career. Not even the health problems that compel her to be seated during the show are enough to shake her power on the stage.

Elza offered the audience with the repertoire of the album “The Woman at the End of the World”, which days after the presentation won the Latin Grammy 2016 in the category “Best Album of Brazilian Popular Music”. First album with original songs written especially for Elza, the work was recorded at the end of last year and has critical lyrics that deal with racism, homophobia and violence against women, among other subjects.

“It’s a very strong work, it was wonderful. No one imagined that it was going to be that strong. It’s a divine gift,” Elza Soares told the Brasil Observer in her dressing room, hours before the show in London.



Elza da Conceição Soares was born in 1937 in the Moça Bonita favela, in Rio de Janeiro. Her mother was a washerwoman and her father a factory worker and amateur musician. At 12, obligated by her father, she married a man ten years older, with whom she had five children, the first one when she was 13 years old. Of the five, one died of malnutrition and another was delivered for adoption. At age 21 she became a widow.

The first time Elza Soares went on stage was in 1953, when she was 16 years old, on a radio program hosted by the legendary Ary Barroso. On the occasion, the public reacted to his appearance with laughs – Elza weighed 45 kg. The presenter took advantage of the situation and asked what planet that girl came from, in which she replied “from the same planet as you”. He then retorted, “What planet is this?” And Elza replied: “from planet hungry”. After singing “Lama” by Aylce Chaves and Paulo Marques, Elza heard from Barroso: “In this moment a star is born”.

In the Barbican’s dressing room, the reporter wants to know how she would answer that question if it was made today. “Likewise. Planet hungry. I still see a lot of wrong things. Lots of people sleeping on the street, lots of children without school, education, culture. Planet hungry”.



Elza Soares made her first recording in 1959, a version of “Se Acaso Você Chegasse” by Lupicínio Rodrigues and Felisberto Martins. The following years were of meteoric rise. Among the songs sung by Elza most played in Brazil are “Boato” (1961), “Cadeira Vazia” (1961), “Só Danço Samba” (1963), “Mulata Assanhada” (1965) and “Aquarela Brasileira” (1974).

Born musically in samba, Elza Soares has always been able to travel through the most diverse musical rhythms, from jazz to bossa nova, from hip hop to rock n ‘roll. No wonder she was chosen by the BBC in 1999 as the Brazilian singer of the millennium. This competition was originated in a project called The Millennium Concerts to celebrate the year 2000.

Her career, however, did not go without some mishaps. Elza had a long relationship with football player Garrincha, world champion with the Brazilian national team in 1962 in Chile, and suffered from public opinion. Garrincha was married and had nine children, which did not fit well into a conservative country at the gates of a civil-military dictatorship. Elza, in fact, even exiled himself in Rome for fear of reprisals by the military.

The power of his voice, however, spoke louder. Elza Soares is fairly considered the queen of samba, a true diva. A woman who assumes her views regardless of the gaze of others.



The whole force of Elza Soares appears on her latest album. In the song “Maria da Vila Matilde”, the singer encourages women victims of domestic violence to denounce their aggressors. In one of the verses she sings “you’ll regret raising your hand to me”.

“In a point of view I have always been a feminist,” Elza told the Brasil Observer. “I’ve always done everything myself, I’ve always fought alone, so I’m a feminist. The woman who is there to fight has to fight.”

In the track that gives its name to the album, Elza exclaims, “I’ll sing until the end / I’m a woman at the end of the world / I’m going to sing, let me sing until the end.” What’s the secret? “There is no secret. As long as I have health and life, I will sing. While I’m standing there’s a lot to do.”

The world of music can thank Elza Soares. She is immortal.