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WEEKEND REVIEWS

World Music

Madredeus' Tranquil Sound Sizzles With Passionate Subtext

June 24, 1996|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Madredeus more than lived up to its advance billing Saturday night at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater. The much-heralded Portuguese group, making its Los Angeles debut before an enthusiastic capacity crowd, was every bit as unique and entertaining as its notices had suggested.

Dressed in black, performing on a dark stage, the ensemble--two guitars, accordion, cello, keyboards and the remarkable voice of singer Teresa Salgueiro--created a mesmerizing mood with nothing more than its music, its calm, dignified presence and some atmospheric lighting.

The music, most of it drawn from Madredeus' newest album, "O Espirito Da Paz," had an external feeling of tranquillity, filled with long tones, keening harmonies and Salgueiro's soaring, intensely focused sound. But it simmered beneath the surface with saudade, the aching sense of passionate longing so integral to the Portuguese spirit.

The lyrics, all sung in Portuguese, were similarly multilayered. Phrases such as "Here I have been standing / Only to be able to see it / Now I've been getting older / Never understanding it," in a song about the sea ("O Mar"), had the stark density of existential poetry. And a set of three songs, "Sentimento" (Feeling), "Culpa" (Guilt) and "Amargura" (Bitterness), ending with "Nothing is close to me / Neither am I sad," cooly described the "Tres Ilusoes" (Three Illusions) of relationships.

Salgueiro, who sang with an eloquent, reserved passion, was the perfect voice for the inseparable combinations of thoughts and music, expressing their intentions with a revelatory quality that reached beyond the need to understand the language.

Madredeus arrived in Los Angeles at the end of a two-year tour in which the group has attracted a devoted following in Europe and the Far East. If the reaction of the audience--which asked for and received three encores--was any indication, the group can be added to the growing list of world music acts that are beginning to attract American listeners as well.

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