Banda Cosmica / Madredeus

Metafonia

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In more ways than one, Metafonia clearly signals a new beginning for Portuguese ensemble Madredeus. After having established themselves as one of the more prominent names in the ethnic/ambient music universe, and turning singer Teresa Salgueiro into a world music diva in the process, the band virtually disintegrated in 2007. Salgueiro quit to pursue a solo career, and with her also went Fernando Judice and José Peixoto. True, Madredeus went through several lineup changes in the past, but none were as traumatic as losing its singer, by far the most recognizable element of the band's sound and image. Even so, Pedro Ayres Magalhães, the only remaining founding member and main composer, decided to reshuffle and move on, instead of calling it quits. Metafonia is billed as a Madredeus & a Banda Cósmica album, since an entire band was asked to join for this project. To Madredeus stalwarts Pedro Ayres (classical guitar) and Carlos Maria Trindade (synthesizers), Ana Isabel Dias (harp), Sérgio Zurawski (electric guitarra), Gustavo Roriz (bass), Ruca Rebordão (percussion), Babi Bergamini (drums) and Jorge Varrecoso (violin) were added. Most critically, Salgado's place was split between vocalists Mariana Abrunheiro and Rita Damásio, who do the job well, but do not do it better. So the question critics and audiences have been debating since the release of Metafonia is, how appropriate it is to still call this band Madredeus, as it is clearly something else? The list of new instruments alone, most notably electric guitar, bass, and drums, hints at a music deemed unthinkable for the original Madredeus, a band that chased the purity of the acoustic sound (often using period instruments) with almost religious zeal. All this make it quite hard to objectively judge Metafonia. Let something be made absolutely clear, however: this is by no means a bad album. In fact, it is often quite beautiful -- but it is not like previous Madredeus albums. If Madredeus was often criticized for making the same record over and over again, that certainly does not apply to Metafonia. This album is as tastefully crafted as ever, but the music this time is less original, or perhaps one should say, less Portuguese. On the other hand, the influences of Brazilian, Caribbean, and African music, or even good old-fashioned pop/rock music, come to the fore with unprecedented force. Instead of the hypnotic lullabies of the past, the new Madredeus makes songs, some of which would not be out of place in the records of say, Bebel Gilberto or Césaria Évora. Aware that comparisons were inevitable, Ayres had the courage to confront the matter head on. Indeed, while the first disc of this double album features all new compositions, the entire second disc consists of Madredeus classics redone in the new style. The ultimate verdict is mixed. While Metafonia is probably no match for the haunting beauty of the early Madredeus, it is still an exquisite lounge/world music album. Yes, a huge chunk of the magic is undeniably gone with Salgueiro, but it is also true that the band had lost the quality of being mesmerizing and were instead, merely repetitive. Metafonia, on the other hand, is a bold new step. Only time will tell what will happen with Madredeus in the future, but with Metafonia at least they are showing a new sense of adventure, as well as their customary superlative craft.

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