Maui gig: Thursday, March 4, 7:30pm at the Castle Theater, MACC, Kahului, 242-7469 or mauiarts.org
Web site: www.pinkmartini.com
Essential tracks: “Ninna Nanna,” “And Then You’re Gone,” “Sympathique”
Imagine how pop would sound if it met a time traveler and a linguist, and later, all three of them decided to go out for drinks. Do that, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s like to listen to Pink Martini’s Splendor in the Grass. This is music that’s globally, historically and emotionally diverse. One moment you’re a signorina, shyly declaring your love in an Italian cafe, and the next you’re an unshaven hombre in Spain, laying in the gutter, clutching an empty bottle of red wine, trying to light your cigarillo. Whatever mood you’re in—happy, lovestruck, hopeful, cynical, sad, annoyed—Pink Martini’s got something you could toast to.
If you’ve never had the joy of being intoxicated by Pink Martini, they’re a band out of Portland, Oregon, with a larger than average membership. That’d be a dozen musicians, not including artistic director Thomas Lauderdale. Pink Martini has toured throughout the world, and performed at the Hollywood Bowl. They often collaborate with other artists; if you’re an NPR geek (like me), you’ll be delighted to hear that Ari Shapiro was among these esteemed guests.
Recently, I chatted with Pink Martini’s resident diva vocalist extraordinaire, China Forbes. Forbes’s voice is dynamic, mixing girlish innocence with devilish sensuality. Of course, I had to ask her about working with Shapiro. “It was fantastic! He’s a total sweetheart,” she exclaimed. “He sings such an obnoxious song [But Now I’m Back], but since it’s him, I’ll let him get away with it.”
While Forbes performs in a plethora of languages (Arabic, Japanese, Portuguese and Turkish, to name a few), she is fluent only in English, French and Italian. “I’d be working for the UN if I could speak all those languages,” she laughed. Forbes’s immense talent as a vocalist is exemplified by the fact that the emotion of her songs is always apparent, even when the literal meaning may not be. She explained that in order to sing in a language she isn’t familiar with, she practices for hours and works with a native speaker. “Just the repetition and practicing over and over helps,” she said.
Forbes regards music as poetry and always considers the visceral impact. “I really think about what every word means, and I try to learn phrases in that language,” she said. “I try to know the heart of the song. I keep that in the back of my mind when I’m performing.”
While Pink Martini covers several eras of musical stylings, Forbes told me her favorite is definitely the ‘70’s. (Fun fact: Her interest in music blossomed when she became “obsessed” with Donna Summer’s “Live and More” album.) When asked if she would like to live in that era, she replied: “I did! It was great! If I could live in that era again, I would. At least now, I could buy better bell bottoms.”