Brazilian-born singer and cellist Dom La Nena doesn’t second-guess inspiration. “I believe in the spontaneity of the moment, of the feeling, otherwise the song loses all the freshness,” she says. “I think one of the most beautiful parts of a song is the sincerity, the freshness.”
That philosophy shaped her second album, “Soyo,” a collection of delicate, often wistful, but rhythmically dynamic songs in Portuguese, Spanish, French and English. In the aftermath of that work’s early March release, Dom La Nena will visit Artisphere on April 4 for a performance presented in partnership with the IDB Cultural Center.
The 24-year-old lives in France, but a jaunt between continents is all in a day’s work to Dom La Nena, born Dominique Pinto. (Her nickname, “La Nena,” means “little one.”) She grew up in Brazil, France and Argentina, studied the cello and eventually became a professional performer on that instrument. She spent part of her early adult years traveling around the world as an accompanist for the singer-actresses Jane Birkin and Jeanne Moreau. After putting her own vocal talents to use, she toured for 18 months to promote her 2013 debut album, “Ela.” As for “Soyo,” it was recorded in Paris, Lisbon and Mexico City.
“I am very often traveling, so I am always far from my people,” she said in a phone interview from a Paris cafe, explaining that her family is still in Brazil. The feelings of loneliness and dislocation that she has experienced during her peripatetic career are “very present” on “Soyo,” but so are feelings of cosmopolitan connection, she said.
How does she determine which language is appropriate for each song? “It’s something quite mysterious actually,” she said. “I never sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a song in French or in Spanish.’ It just comes with the melody.” Different languages have different sonorities, she points out.
Ceremonial wooden spoons as tall as a human. A five-foot-long sculpture of a boat packed with fishermen. Masks, headrests, tapestries, decorative combs, mirrors with carved rims and several carved wooden crocodiles, one of which serves as casing for a traditional board game.
These are among the eye-catching pieces in “African Art on the Move,” an exhibit at the Embassy of Ivory Coast. Mounted by the Fondation Fatou Sylla pour la Culture et l’Artisanat, a foundation based in Ivory Coast, the trove opened for public viewing last fall in cooperation with the local Mbari Institute for Contemporary African Art. Recently affiliated with the 2015 D.C. Francophonie Festival, the exhibit has been extended through the end of May.
And if you spot something you really love, you can buy it: Proceeds from any sales will go toward the Fondation Fatou Sylla’s charitable activities, which include programs for West African artists. So said the foundation’s namesake, Fatou Sylla, as she sat amid the display on a recent visit to Washington. But the industrialist-turned-philanthropist added that the primary motivation for the exhibit was not to raise funds, but to promote West African art and culture. “I wanted to send a large number [of artworks] so that people would know what we can do,” she said, speaking in French.
Born in 1935, Sylla fell for art when she was only 7 or 8, living in a village in Ivory Coast’s south where sculpture-making was a frequent activity. As an adult, she left a husband who already had three wives. She learned to type, created a plumbing and water supply company, and eventually achieved success in the paper-milling and bakery fields, allowing her to launch her foundation.
Asked which piece in the exhibit is her favorite, the cheerful Sylla replied that she had a slight preference for a large sculpture of a face by Charles Alphonse Combes (1891-1968), a French artist who lived in Ivory Coast. The piece, which portrays its subject emitting a cry of anguish, faces the door leading in from the embassy lobby.
Otherwise, Sylla said of the artworks, “I love them all.”
Move over, Smetana and Dvorák. The Chilean-born artist Jacqueline Unanue has created paintings inspired by those Czech composers. More recently, the Philadelphia resident said, she found herself thinking that she should celebrate classical tunesmiths from the country of her birth.
The result is the exhibit “My Ancient Land,” a collection of abstract paintings that has touched down at the Embassy of Chile. Gloria Garafulich-Grabois curated the show, which includes painterly homages to Juan Orrego-Salas, Enrique Soro, Sylvia Soublette and other figures. The canvases eddy with streaks, pools and squiggles in cobalts, turquoises and peach tones.
At the show’s opening March 18, Unanue said she tends to work “in a very spontaneous way,” while listening to music, of course. After the brief D.C. run, the exhibit heads to Viña del Mar, Chile and Barcelona.
Dom La Nena April 4 at 8 p.m. at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Tickets: $12. 888- 841-2787. www.artisphere.com.
African Art on the Move Through May 31 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Embassy of Ivory Coast, 2424 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free.
My Ancient Land Paintings by Jacqueline Unanue. Weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., through April 3 at the Embassy of Chile, 1732 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Free.
Wren is a freelance writer.