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Review: With Brazil’s Badi Assad, it’s not the same old song and dance

Brazilian singer/songwriter/guitarist Badi Assad has been called a performance artist. That’s not far off the mark. Her solo concert at One Longfellow Square on Friday night was delightfully unusual but ultimately rooted in the music.

She danced around expressively at times and included many of her now signature special vocal effects during her 75-minute appearance. The 48-year-old also told interesting stories about her family and gave some intriguing glimpses into her creative process.


What: Badi Assad
Where: One Longfellow Square, Portland
Reviewed: Friday, Oct. 23
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With her headset microphone affixed and her amplified Frame Works guitar in hand, Assad began the evening seated, singing tradition-minded Brazilian songs in Portuguese. She announced each piece by reference to the regional origins of its rhythms within her native country.

Varying her vocals from intimate whisper to expressive shouts, she established the dynamic range of her approach and commanded attention while still allowing her warm personality to shine through.

“Voce Nao Entendeu Nada” was the first of several songs to get her up and dancing wildly to its infectious rhythm. “Pega no Coco” was another engaging tune delivered in an appealingly energetic way.

Assad’s finger-picked guitar work, whether behind her vocals or during brief instrumental passages, was rich in reflecting her classical training while also full of spontaneous surges of intensity. A solo guitar number might have fit well at some point but vocals were her primary focus for this occasion.

After citing her multiethnic heritage and consequent openness to various musical genres, as well as her taste for music with “depth,” Assad played several English language selections from her just-released CD, “Hatched.” While indicating that she would stylistically “take them to Brazil,” the artist offered flavorful takes on such tunes as Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man,” Alt-J’s “Hunger of the Pine” and Hozier’s “Sedated.”

She spoke about her older brothers Sergio and Odair, both renowned classical guitarists with whom she occasionally works. A passionate rendition of the poetically inspired “Spirit Dog,” which she composed with Sergio, came after a talk about an illness that had greatly hampered her guitar playing at one point in her career.

Perhaps the most outstanding of the selections from the new disc, however, was a pulsing rendition of Skrillex’s “Stranger.” Assad cleverly arranged the composition as a fast-paced, Brazilian dance piece, enhanced by some electronics-mimicking vocal effects.

For an encore, the smiling singer relied entirely on her body for a solo improvisation that included the use of hands, chest, legs, neck, cheeks and nose as percussion instruments, all culminating in a series of clucks and popping sounds that quickly drew a standing ovation for this unique artist.