Samba Bloodlines

It's hard to grasp everything Mart'nália tells you in Spanuguese — the only common language through which she and New Times can carry out a Miami-to-Rio de Janeiro phone interview.

But one thing comes across as colorfully as the music she makes: muita alegria. In between a linguistically complex explanation of her childhood as the daughter of famous samba artist Martinho da Vila and singer Anália Mendonça, she lets loose a series of infectious chuckles.

"Always jumping, always jumping," she says giggling. "I used to jump up and down, and now he jumps up and down for me," New Times is able to make out.

"You mean, you always jumped up and down at your dad's shows and now he jumps up and down at yours?" New Times asks in Spanish.

"Si! Si! Si!" She chuckles. "My dad is my number-one fan!"

It's no wonder. His lighthearted Afro-Brazilian rhythms are rooted in her signature sound, prancing alongside the throaty voice she inherited from her mother. But Mart'nália, who used parts of both parents' names to create her stage alias, offers a jazzy, upbeat combination of carioca, samba, and bossa nova, with all those sweet, quirky guitar, percussion, and skatty vocal tweaks that generally keep Brazilian music from becoming too sappy.

"It's inspired by joy, by geography, by the mystery of the favela, movement, samba, and every other happy thing you find around here," she says.

Ask her how she captures it in her music and she giggles again. "Music is intuitive. I've never known anything else. I feel something, I write it down on any piece of paper, and then suddenly it converts into a complete melody, and the rest of it — the lyrics — just kind of come to my head."

In fact, her whole career just kind of happened. She was born and raised in Brazil's entertainment industry from the very home where her parents regularly hosted talent shows with musicians, artists, politicians, and important intellectual figures.

As a teen, she sang backup vocals for her father and her sister Analimar. Shortly thereafter, she found her way onto the stages of a number of Rio nightclubs, and in 1987, she recorded her first album, Mart'nália, with the likes of Caetano Veloso, Djavan, Martinho da Vila, Moska, and Zélia Duncan. Six more albums would follow over two more decades, including the 2002 Veloso-directed project Pédu Meu Samba and the 2006 Mart'nália em Berlim, which was recorded live at the House of World Cultures in Berlin.

"Since I was born into this, I can't say that there's any one special moment," she says. "They're all unique moments."

What Mart'nália can say is that, with each album and the increasing international recognition that follows, she gets more comfortable with her own throat. "I'm more used to my voice now," she says. "I've come to like it."

Her audience at the Culture Room is sure to feel the same way. What to expect at this Saturday's show? Muita alegria.

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Julienne Gage is a Miami-based anthropologist and journalist who has worked as a reporter and as a civil rights and international aid communications specialist in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. Her fieldwork has exposed her to many forms of cultural expression, and during her master’s in anthropology, she studied at Cuba’s Center for the Investigation and Development of Cuban Music.
Contact: Julienne Gage