Mayra Andrade & Calypso Rose @BarbicanCentre | Live Review

More summer exposure to music from the Lusophone world continued Saturday 24 July with Cape Verdean beauty Mayra Andrade and band live at the Barbican Centre.

There was a change of support act as advertised and the audience were instead warmed up by Caribbean music legend Calypso Rose. It was clear she meant business when on making her grand entrance her shoes got stuck in her floor-length gown and she dealt with the problem by flinging them off unceremoniously. At 70 years old she hasn’t lost any of her fervour; she’s still partial to winding her hips, shaking her booty at the audience and the odd saucy innuendo.

Her powerful voice explored topics as varied as her great-grandmother being taken from Guinea as a slave to Tobago, the plight of Ethiopian Jews and the virtues of Rum and Coke according to Yankee soldiers passing through the West Indies. There was even a Satchmo impersonation thrown in for good measure. Despite her name Rose isn’t limited to Calypso; indeed it was her Reggae and Ska numbers that made the biggest impression. By the end she had won over the reserved crowd who were on their feet for an ovation.

After the break Mayra Andrade mounted the stage looking as stunning as ever in an iridescent green dress that flatteringly hugged her figure-eight frame. Her husky contralto came through strong and clear as she sung the first few bars of her opening number acapella.

Mayra’s is not a conventionally pretty voice but it has something very pleasing and alluring about it all the same. Based in Paris, she sings in both Portuguese and French which is just as well; Andrade’s rasp is particularly suited to her Francophone songs.

Apologising for her English (which was unnecessary since it is quite competent) Mayra expressed how honoured she felt to be once again playing the Barbican, a venue she greatly enjoys. Incorporating Jazz, Brazilian influences as well as traditional Cape Verdean styles Coladeira and Bataku into her sound, there’s something about Mayra’s music that translates so much better on stage than on record.

Her albums are pleasant enough but verge on the banal. Played live however, the same songs engage the listener in way that is lost on wax. This probably has a lot to do with Andrade’s amazing band; every single one of them visibly having a wonderful time throughout the set.

(Incidentally, her percussionist José Luis do Nascimento gave what has to be the most interesting and memorable drum solo this reviewer is yet to hear.)

The sparse arrangements that might sound underwhelming on record are just perfect for the live experience. The title track of Mayra’s sophomore project ‘Storia, Storia’ for example and ‘Tchapu Na Bandera’- another song from the same album-came across especially well in their live interpretations. But surely Mayra and co have got it the right way round; after all, an album should only be a foretaste of what is to come in the performance.

Andrade and her band created a chilled atmosphere without proceedings once becoming dull; to the contrary in fact. By the time Mayra returned for the encore most of the Barbican Centre were dancing away in carefree fashion, begging her to stay for just one more number. A fabulous night to be had by all.

The band:

Mayra Andrade – Vocals
Munir Hossn – Guitar and Cavaquinho
Benoit Medrykowski – Guitar
Stéphane Castry – Bass
José Luis do Nascimento – Percussion
Luiz Augusto Cavani – Drums