MARTA REN & THE GROOVELVETS
MARTA REN (Portugal)
When, at the beginning of the 21st century you attended a concert of the Oporto band Sloppy Joe – a huge band that had everything in the right place, from rhythms to guitar and organ and metals – what attracted you the most in the middle of all that good cacophony of ska, reggae, dub, colourful pop, tinges of rock, some afrobeat, and a secret passion for Manu Chao, was the petite figure of the jumping chick – Marta Ren – who was already an absolutely overwhelming figure on stage. However, more, much more, commanding than her figure was her voice. An incredibly powerful voice, a voice that was pliable, with a dark grain of the utmost darkness flowing out of her as if it were possible for a vocal power like that to come out of such a small ‘speaker’ and, on top of it all, as if it were possible for such a dark voice to come out of such a white figure (Ok, there was Janis Joplin and before her Marion Harris, there was Amy Winehouse and there is Adele…), but here? Yes, we have Petra Pais of Nobody’s Bizness and Hearts & Bones, but Petra is half black (on her father’s side) although her skin is whiter than snow.
From Sloppy Joe we mostly have the album ‘Flic Flac Circus’ (2003), a huge longing, and a thirst to maintain contact with the voice of Marta Ren. And that thirst has always been quenched. Over the years after the band split, the singer has lent her voice to other bands, such as Bombazines – a project that interwove soul, funk, psychedelism and shoegaze from Manchester with whom she recorded a homonymous EP in 2009 – and Movimento – where she shared the stage with Miguel Ângelo, Gomo, and the Mozambican singer Selma Uamusse (one of the winners of Loulé Med last year) – with whom she recorded an album also featuring the name of the band in 2011, dedicated to a different songbook from her usual one: the great Portuguese classics of the 1960s and 1970s, such as ‘Perto’ by Sheiks, or ‘E Depois do Adeus’ by Paulo de Carvalho in a soul environment. And, in more recent years, the Funkalicious, where she sang standard black American songbook songs by artists such as Aretha Franklin or James Brown.
In the meantime, Marta Ren has delighted us by participating in songs of great names of hip-hop, rock, reggae or Portuguese electronic music: Mão Morta, Trabalhadores do Comércio and Blind Zero, Sam The Kid, Dealema, New Max, NBC, Expeão, Link, Prince Wadada, and Nu Soul Family. And there was also her experience with the Italian band from Turin, The Soulful Orchestra with whom she recorded the song ‘Well I Done Got Over It’ (2015), and also more recently her partnership with David Fonseca – the song ‘Fame’ – in the tribute album to David Bowie, “Bowie 70”. But the cherries on top of the cake were still missing: original songs to sing with a band that suited her voice, her talent, her stage passion (and also her studio passion).
Those cherries have arrived, accompanied by her current band, The Groovevelvets: instantaneous soul classics, with a simultaneously contemporary and retro flavour, included in the single ‘2 Kinds Of Men’/‘Summer´s Gone (Didn´t Swim)’ (2013), and its logic follow-up in the single ‘I´m Not Your Regular Woman / Be My Fela’ (2015), and the much awaited debut album ‘Stop, Look, Listen’ (2016). An already large and significant set of songs – with lyrics signed by her and music, production and much of the rest by New Max (Expensive Soul) (re)confirm the voice of Marta Ren as one of the best ever in the Portuguese music scene, regardless of style. To listen, dance, shout together… And try once more to imagine how is it possible for that girl, now a woman, to reach that far and to bring ‘out of her’ (as Jô Soares would say) a voice scorched by UV rays that weighs a tonne more than her body.