27 August 2015

Ana Laíns and Pedro Galveias--US Tour

This October, Portuguese fado singers Ana Laíns and Pedro Galveias will be touring the northeast US, with concert dates, workshops and other appearances scheduled in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Ana Laíns’ music spans the full depth and breadth of Portuguese fado music, an art form recently recognized by UNESCO for its profound importance to world culture. Ana’s music has achieved wide critical and artistic acclaim, as well as various prizes (including best young female singer in Lisbon’s Grande Noite de Fado (Grand Night of the Fado), the country’s top fado competition). She has released two CDs (Sentidos and Quatro Caminhos) and performed extensively both within and outside Portugal.   

Pedro Galveias is one of the most established and storied voices of Lisbon’s traditional fado scene. Pedro has released two CDs (Assim se Canta and Loucuras de um Fado) and was twice a winner in the category of best male singer in Lisbon’s Grande Noite de Fado. He was profiled on Fado-Today after the release of his second album.

Accompanying the singer are two master musicians, Sandro Costa (on the Portuguese guitar) and Tô Neto (on the viola do fado), both of whom have performed widely at all levels of the fado, from Lisbon’s hidden taverns to the worldwide stage.

Together, the music of this group embraces traditional and contemporary expressions of Portuguese fado, with stories of heartache, joy and longing conjuring images of Portugal’s centuries-old history and of our shared human condition.

The tour kicks off with a concert at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY on 16 October, and includes shows at University of Massachusetts Lowell on 23 October and at the Lusitano Restaurant and Gardens in Fall River, Massachusetts on 24 October. Further information on tickets and concert dates is here.


As part of the tour, the group will be holding university workshops, school visits, and other activities to introduce a wide range of people to fado music in particular and to Portuguese culture in general. The tour is organized by Portuguese/American Cultural Exchange, Inc. (PACE)  a Massachusetts not-for-profit whose mission is to bridge US and Portuguese cultures through the fado. The tour follows previous highly successful PACE programs, including tours by Ricardo Ribeiro, Rodrigo Costa Félix and Duarte Coxo, with extensive participation from US-based fado performers.

02 March 2015

Looking to the future with Camané

Camané will be topping a double bill of fado this Saturday, 7 March, at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he will be joined by Carminho.

Even after more than 25 years of performing the fado, Camané continues to work at an intense and trend-setting pace. A comprehensive exposition on his work opened at the Fado Museum in 2011, and in 2014 he was the subject of a documentary film ("Fado Camané", directed by Bruno de Almeida). He recently released a career-spanning retrospective CD ("O Melhor 1995-2013") and is currently hard at work on finishing a new CD slated for release in April of this year.

Camané has always been an enigmatic artist. His rerecorded output is vast and includes longstanding collaborations with the composer José Mario Branco and lyricist Manuela de Freitas, documented in  "Fado Camané" and revealed through his ongoing collaborations with the guitarist José Manuel Neto, the violista Carlos Manuel Proença, the contrabaixista Paulo Paz (the same trio which will join him in performance at the Zeiterion) and Carlos Bica on the contrabass. His performances, including "Já não estar"--recognized as a pre-selection for the 2011 Oscar for Best Original Song--are slow burns through an open landscape of human emotion.

Yet off-record he is quiet and restrained, not inclined to talk about his personal life. Details of his background have come through in bits and pieces over the years, and even so are little known outside  Portugal. Not only are two brothers, Helder and Pedro Moutinho, singers in their own right, so too his mother and father. And the heritage of fado in their family stretches back further, at least to his paternal great grandfather--José Júlio--who is known to have recorded in the early twentieth century.

These two sides of Camané--the very public singer and the very private individual--came face-to-face recently and by pure coincidence. A Portuguese record collector was on Portuguese radio to talk about a collection he'd recently purchased from a collector in the USA. He mentioned that one of the records was by Júlio César and, when he learned of the connection, called Camané with the news. According to Camané, "I had never heard the voice of my great grandfather. I had some material associated with his career, but I had never heard his voice. He was from Murtosa, near Aveiro. He was a friend of Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral, and performed at the ceremonial dinner after their transatlantic flight."

About his great grandfather's record itself, Camané adds "One of the two fados on the record has the air of Lisbon fado, a traditional decasyllabic fado; the other, Fado Espanhol, is a mixture of the Coimbra and Lisbon styles." In tribute, Camané performs both of these fados on his new CD, with lyrics by Machado de Assis and Fernando Pessoa, respectively.

Given the long history of his family within the fado, it is perhaps not surprising that Camané began singing very early, at age eight at the fado house A Cesária in Alcântara, near Lisbon. By ten years of age, he says, "I had the privilege to learn a lot from the fadistas I knew, including Alfredo Marceneiro, Carlos do Carmo, João Ferreira-Rosa, João Braga and many others. I say 'luck' because my parents would take me, even though I was only ten, to hear the fado. All these people who I've mentioned were already older, but they were alive. I would listen to them talk and sing, and I would learn from them."

Camané's professional career began in earnest at the fado house Fado Menor, courtesy of an invitation from the great Tony de Matos. He has since released a total of eleven CDs and played innumerable concerts in Portugal and throughout the world.

The huge burst of current international recognition for the fado, most recently from UNESCO,  recalls for Camané a time when the music held very little appeal to Portuguese youth. "My friends did not listen to the fado, but I believed in it. With time, their attitudes changed. After many years and I eventually re-encountered my generation through the fado. I always held on to the belief that the fado was a music of deep quality, something that could touch people."

His new CD--and the concert at the Zeiterion--will look both to his own history and to his future. The CD was recorded and mixed at the storied studios of Valentim de Carvalho, where he recorded his first CD, Uma Noite de Fados (EMI, 1995), with the support of Amália Rodrigues. The latest work includes both traditional and new fado music, with lyrics he has never before recorded. The singer says that last year's visit to New Bedford made a strong and very positive impression on him, and those who attend the show at the Zeiterion are likely to hear some of these works performed live in the US for the first time.

Camané retains his passion for the fado. "The fado is a music for the world. It is something that will endure in the history of the world, along with other great musics." But can the fado live and thrive outside of Portugal? "The fado can be sung and lived in any part of the world," he says. Recalling the many fine fado singers and musicians he has heard on his travels, he continues: "Wherever there are Portuguese, there can be fado. The ability to sing the fado is something that is inside of us."

Camané performs at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 8pm. Joining Camané is the fadista Carminho. For ticket information, visit http://www.zeiterion.org.



29 May 2014

I have some explaining to do!

Since starting the organization "Portuguese/American Cultural Exchange" with my friend Feligénio Medeiros, my time has shifted away from writing about the fado. Now, I am mainly involved in organizing cultural exchange based on the fado. Last year was great: we hosted the singers Rodrigo Costa Félix (with Marta Pereira da Costa and Pedro Pinhal) and Ricardo Ribeiro (with Pedro Joia), and helped organize two university lectures (at Rutgers University and Brown University) by the iconoclastic writer, singer and composer Daniel Gouveia. We are now working on programs for the coming academic year (one in fall, one in spring), which we expect will cover both the east and west coasts. Rodrigo Costa Félix will also be in the US for a brief visit this July--including a visit to Kansas City on 12 July (more on that visit is here).

But I still find some time for writing. Here are a few recent articles of mine that might be interesting:

An interview with Gisela João on the eve of her first concert in the US.
No one bifurcates the fado cognoscenti like Gisela. Her first "real" CD (2013's "Gisela João") was an instant hit. But for many people, it was a hit for all the wrong reasons (cue the Converse High Tops, nonstop cigarettes, and patented tough girl attitude). Yet some of the hardest of the hardcore fado people I know have confessed to me privately that, while Gisela João certainly stretches the limits of the acceptable, hers is a protean talent--particularly live. After interviewing her, I think I can see her trajectory more clearly--though I'm still not sure where the person ends and the singer begins, or even if such a distinction is meaningful. I'll be in Newark to hear her on this tour.

A preview of Camané's show at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford.
It's no secret that this show was not particularly well attended, but this has nothing to do with Camané's immense accomplishments. My feeling is that Camané--along with a few other singers such as Ricardo Ribeiro--is too much a fadista (despite a few ill-advised forays into the syrupy side of the fado) to fill such a large place. Maybe venues like the Zeiterion will only continue to work for the Marizas and Ana Mouras of the world--I don't know.  As an aside, Camané has recently given up smoking and is on a certifiable health and fitness kick. Good! That voice needs to be preserved for subsequent generations!

A short article on the fado for a National Geographic travel book called "Where the Locals Go."
This is a book covering more than 300 locations worldwide, so I am especially happy that my article is one of only two full-length about Lisbon (the other is about azuleijos--Portuguese tiles--which is great). In fact, the article came about due to a post on this blog, One Night at Sr. Fado. The path to publication was absurdly circuitous: the text went from a shortened, still personal version of the blog post, to an annotated list of fado joints, to a pap story about the origins of the fado (courtesy of one copywriter's overanxious hand), then back to a personal story--albeit one that touched on other locations besides Sr. Fado.

Thanks for reading this blog!

28 December 2013

First Report from Lisbon...2013

"Sr. Vinho", you say. "But don't they charge 50 euros per person?" Maybe they do, but we got there late and so the conditions were quite reasonable. Sr. Vinho is one of the more storied fado houses of Lisbon, even among the cognoscenti. It is now run by Maria da Fé and her husband, José Luís Gordo. She is one of the current grand voices of the fado, as well as the muse of Gordo, who has written countless lyrics for her. The house was originally co-owned by them and the late António Melo Correia, until his untimely death. It's out in the middle of comparative nowhere, south of the Assembly of the Republic, on a street with impossible parking. I've been saying "no" to going there for about five years. Big mistake.

Tonight we were in the company of Cristina Nóbrega and her husband (and manager), Manuel Rodrigues. I have had the opportunity to meet many singers. The first time I heard Cristina speak, I thought wow, this woman has a voice. Despite some personal hiatuses, her career is blazing forward. Manuel makes things happen. No parking? No problem, we will use the human system to manufacture a parking space and ensure we do not get a ticket. Need to put together a CD? Yes, we will find the musicians, writers and composers to get the work done in advance of the deadline.
Joana Amendoeira

Back to the Rua do Meio à Lapa. We arrived and stood outside waiting for a table while Duarte sung in the background. Inside, the space was somehow smaller than I imagined, with not a ton of fado iconography. Joana Amendoeira sang first. The magic number was four (not three) fados. Joana did fine--a fairly standard and eminently digestible repertory. With Joana, at times I feel she could bang out an evening of deeply obscure, very affecting fado (see her most recent album), but I haven't heard her enough to know if that actually happens.

Maria da Fé keeps her singers waiting in a small alcove in the back of the restaurant, tucked behind a large floral arrangement. Who was in there? Gisela João? Aldina Duarte? I had no idea.

It was Aldina. She is unquestionably one of my favorites. Where others go for the easy hits, Aldina hews to the obscure, the idiosyncratic, the deeply personal, the introspective. My contact with her has been sporadic: she was working with some director on a film about Beatriz da Conceição; she was doing a series of interviews for the Museu do Fado; she was writing again. I tried to get an interview. No dice.

She belongs to a tradition of psychologically intense singer/lyricists, tied inextricably to the "fado fado"--a music based on strophes, and not on a verse-chorus-verse structure. Lyrically, you can draw a straight line from Gabriel de Oliveira through to Carlos Conde and then to Aldina--despite their (apparently) wildly different themes. With Aldina, the barroom brawls of Gabriel de Oliveira are swapped out for scenes of domestic (or post-domestic) turmoil. It's a rich, infinitely reflective territory that, over the years, she has mined to devastating effect.
Aldina Duarte

She came on very strong. Stylistically, lyrically and musically, she opened new vistas through her own work and those of others. Antes de quê, like other lyrics she has written, spoke directly to some enigmatic third party (we were the interlocutors): to a lost love but one who should remain so.

Manuel and I practically jumped out of our seats when, after a brief musical introduction, Aldina dived into De Loucura em Loucura--a work identified unambiguously with the towering presence of Fernanda Maria. Aldina turned the lyric around for all of us to reconsider, inviting new and deeper interpretations. Her next two fados, both with lyrics by her--Xaile Encarnado and Espelho Meu--put the natural contradictions of the fado front and center: a jumpy, almost joyous music paired with unfiltered saudade. More than this I could not want. Then there was an intervalo: ten minutes or so to think it over.

Duarte
The place cleared out--a reflection of the hour (close to 12:30am) and not the quality of the fado. This is most always a special moment, when the artists stretch out knowing the true intentions of the remaining patrons. Ana Marina sang two brave fados, raising visions of the Alentejo. Behind her--and behind all the other singers--were three exceptionally competent musicians: Rogério Ferreira on the viola; Paulo Pereira on the guitarra portuguesa, and the singer Duarte on second viola.

I knew about Duarte's singing from his work on the title song for the film "Mistérios de Lisboa", as well as his earlier recordings. In the intervening years, he has preserved the sentiment of this work but grown earthier, ready to take on less esoteric themes. Two notable fados were Fado Escorpião and Arraial--both eminently believable and professionally done. It's trivially easy to imagine him singing for a broad public, particularly outside Portugal: his timing and delivery are impeccable, and he is disarmingly handsome.

He finished, and that was it: time to pack it up and head home. The next day, all of this music--and all of these artists--provoked more reflection and emotion than I could possibly jam into this single blog entry.

18 September 2013

You and me and fado

O Fado em Movimento
Nuno Saraiva
I wanted to make more fado happen in the US, and I convinced my friend Feligénio Medeiros to help. The consequences of this decision pushed all my fado writing (including this page) to the side for months. But now our efforts are close to bearing fruition. We've secured a number of sponsors, and have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds.

We began with very lofty aims: the fado as a bridge between communities--especially Portuguese communities--in the US and in Portugal. Neither of us was interested in making money off the endeavor. My own inspirations are the many individuals in Lisbon (like Tony Loretti) who organize fado events because they feel the fado brings people together like nothing else. Along the way Feligénio and I have come face-to-face with some hard (but not insurmountable) financial realities, but we have also found that there are lots of other like-minded people who want to make the fado happen because it should.

Feligénio and I formed a nonprofit corporation, "Portuguese/American Cultural Exchange," specifically for this purpose. We wanted to reach and people and help them connect through fado performances and lots of other activities, like workshops and appearances at schools in the areas where the artists are performing. Luís Pires and José Pracana graciously agreed to serve on our board.

Rodrigo Costa Félix
We convinced Rodrigo Costa Félix to be the first fadista to work with us. He is a dynamic guy: driven and modern, but also deeply versed in the tradition of the fado. He is coming with a fado dream team: Marta Pereira da Costa on the guitarra portuguesa and Pedro Pinhal on the viola do fado. Marta is a classically trained musician--and former professional civil engineer--who decided to pursue the fado full time. The complementary female voices are the US-based fadistas Nathalie Pires (who has written previously for this blog), Catarina Avelar, Kimberly Gomes and Fátima Santos. All four are  accomplished singers, with different histories and tastes, suggesting that the fado can indeed flourish outside Portugal. Marta and Pedro will be joined by one more US-based artist, the musician Pedro Pimentel on the viola baixa. All of us look forward to hearing the dynamic that emerges within this small nucleus of artists as they play throughout the northeast US.

Marta Pereira da Costa
As word has gotten out about this endeavor, we have received help from a wide range of people and organizations--despite my many missteps! The Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at University of Massachusetts/Lowell saw how our mission complemented theirs and agreed to host the kickoff concert. The Boston office of the Portuguese Consul-General--together with the Camões Institute-- helped us make connections in Portuguese diplomatic circles and beyond.  SATA airlines agreed to  sponsor the artists' transatlantic travel. The illustrator Nuno Saraiva developed our logo and official poster. And then there are all the people who want to help simply because they love the fado. Despite all the help, this is a complex and expensive endeavor. If you want to contribute (and receive some nice benefits), please consider making a donation through our Kickstarter campaign.

These artists will be performing in alot of different places, from Portuguese social clubs and restaurants to high profile nightclubs.  All the dates and venues currently booked are here--with more to come.

Feligénio has done this sort of thing before, but not me. Normally, I am sitting in my office. If I go to Lisbon and hear the fado, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But I am excited at the prospect of seeing people at the shows, how they react, and how the artists react to them and to each other. It'll be two intense weeks, but I hope the first of many more.

29 April 2013

Where to hear fado in the US?

Ask Feligénio--he is on the case.

I've had the pleasure of many months of contact with Feligénio Medeiros: Açorean by birth, and a man with a voracious appetite for the fado. I first met him in person during a recent visit by the fadista Sonya da Silva to the US (see the post from this blog, with photos by Feligénio). This past month he brought  Sara Correia from Lisbon to Massachusetts to perform in a variety of venues (report coming soon).

But his major contribution to the fado to date is his web site: FadoNight. The site is a collection of information on upcoming and prior fado shows, particularly the more intimate ones, that are happening in the US and Canada. The site also contains a large and ever-growing list of restaurants that offer fado.

This is an indispensable service to those (expecially in New England) who are looking for fado. The site is updated regularly. And if you know of some fado happening in the US that is not listed on the site, send him some email: info at fadonight dot com.


P.S. Feligénio and I are also both steady contributors to the group "Fado in the US" on Facebook, where you can go for additional background and reviews of fado shows in the US. The group is open. If you want to post, simply request permission to join.

26 March 2013

Carlos Macedo and Anita Guerreiro in the US

Anita Guerreiro and Carlos Macedo will be performing on 30 March in Newark, NJ. Tomorrow (27 March) at 2:00 EDT on Rádio Amália (www.amalia.fm) you can hear Carlos Macedo live. These programs are always worth listening to. So, tune in--and be sure to go see them this week!


04 March 2013

Interview with Rodrigo Costa Félix


The fadista Rodrigo Costa Félix will be performing on 16 March 2013 in Toronto, Canada at the Casa do Alentejo, where he will be joined by the musicians Marta Pereira da Costa (the two are married), Pedro Pinhal, and Rodrigo Serrão.

Both Rodrigo and Marta are fiercely hard working. In the last year, they have been thundering through various European venues, and continuing to communicate their work via traditional and new media. While these activities may not be particularly novel, they are noteworthy for coming from two performers whose work is deeply grounded in the traditional fado. I corresponded recently with Rodrigo (in English) about his life in the fado, and he offered some sparkling insights into his formative years, current activities, and thoughts on the fado in general, including its growing profile.

He was raised in a family that was deeply connected to the fado: his father co-owned a fado house in Cascais with the great fado guitarist José Pracana, and his family's circle of friends included the fadistas João Ferreira-Rosa, Ricardo Novaes, António Noronha, Carlos Zel, Manuel de Almeida, and others. As a young boy after the 1974 Portuguese revolution, Rodrigo moved with his family to Brazil, staying there for five years (even now, he feels very much at home in the country). About these early days he says:

"My mother's taste for Fado was a great influence. And because both my parents knew many fadistas and musicians, I began socialising with them relatively early. But I only really began understanding fado at 16 or so. I think you have to have some kind of maturity to fully understand a music that speaks about deep emotions and serious matters. My greatest influences at the time were Carlos Guedes de Amorim, António Melo Correia, Carlos Zel, João Braga, Manuel de Almeida and, of course, Amália Rodrigues. But I was also influenced by amateur singers that I began to know. Back then you didn't have the amount of young people in fado houses that there are today. So my friends--apart from our little group of 8 or 10--were all 50 or 60 years old. And that was a good thing. I learned a lot."

He continues:

"The first time I ever sang in public was at Nuno da Camara Pereira's Nove e Tal near Santa Isabel church, in Lisbon. I was with a group of friends who knew I had been singing Fado lately at private parties, among friends and family, and they challenged me to get up there and sing. I sang the two or three songs I knew at the time: 'Canoas do Tejo, 'Fado Rosita' and 'Fado do Estudante.' My first contract as a fado singer was with the fado house São Caetano, in the Lapa neighborhood of Lisbon, one or two years later. I was 18."

In the 20 or so intervening years, he has been singing steadily, most recently at Mário Pacheco's Clube de Fado in the Alfama neighborhood of Lisbon, but also, earlier in his career, at the legendary Taverna do Embuçado (then owned by Teresa Siqueira). A key person during this early period was the fadista João Braga:
with Marta Pereira da Costa

"With João Braga I had my first stage experience (at Teatro Garcia de Resende, in Évora) and some of my most amazing travels (Newark, NJ twice; as well as France, Luxembourgh, and Spain). He was one of the people most responsible for the visibility of my generation of fadistas. The CD 'Alma Nova' (Strauss, 1994)--the first of the 90's generation--was his idea, and many fadistas, such as Katia Guerreiro, Mariza, Mafalda Arnauth, Gonçalo Salgueiro, António Zambujo, Maria Ana Bobone and many more had their first stage appearences with him. This is something that one day will be acknowledged more than it has been."

At 40 years old, Rodrigo is therefore already something of a veteran. With time he has witnessed a number of changes in the fado, including those brought about by new communication technologies and new media. As shown by his heavy presence on the web, he has helped usher new technologies into the fado, yet his approach to his repertory is very much traditional. Discussing the changes of the past twenty years, he says:

"There's a huge difference between then and now, of course," he says. "Back then things were taken more lightly and in a more amateur way, with a few exceptions. Now it's easier to show the world what you do, and the communication between artists and fans is easier and faster. But I think we also lost a bit of the ingenuity we had then, maybe even some authenticity. Fadistas are now more professional, more cerebral, more cautious of what they say or do, and this affects the way they interact with each other and others. There's a good and a bad side for all things, I guess."

Rodrigo is now roughly the same age as some of the people who were in his family's circle of fado. In reference to the young (i.e., teenage) singers of today, he says:
In recital…(photo by Jorge Simão, used with permission)

"I see that many singers evolve very quickly, sometimes too quickly. One thing we might have lost with this boost in Fado was that genuine sharing of experiences and knowledge with the elders. As a younger singer, I dealt daily with artists a lot older than me and learned alot from them. Now, youngsters jump very quickly from singing in their shower to the big stages. And you lose something in the middle that is needed."

"I tend to appreciate many of the new singers and players, and I also learn from them. The likes of Carminho, Ana Moura, Marco Rodrigues, and also less known people like Lina Rodrigues, Carlos Leitão, Vanessa Alves and Gisela João really impress me. I have no idea what they'll be singing in the coming years, but what I always try to do and say is: keep genuine and true to yourself. Sometimes I think some people use fado as a mean to go somewhere else...but I guess that happens with other kinds of music with these characteristics, like Flamenco or Tango, or even Blues or Country...but Fado goes on and keeps getting stronger and livelier than ever."

As he suggests, another important change has been UNESCO's recent designation of the fado as Immateral Patrimony of the World. This has generated plenty of discussion about whether the designation is making the fado "more fado," or watering it down:

"I would say both. I hope it will help to define and explain to foreigners what the Fado really is, and to help them distinguish real Fado from what is not. But of course it has attracted loads of people from other genres, people that maybe before this visibility either diminished the fado or spoke poorly about it, but who are now profiting from its increased media exposure. Some artists have brought good things, others have not. The problem is that this confuses people. But I guess, like always, time will manage to separate what to keep and what to dispose of--and I believe that quality will be the decisive factor."
Marta Pereira da Costa

Of course, the designation has led to an increased profile for the fado worldwide. He says:

"I think Fado is flourishing well internationally. There are artists from the Netherlands, Croatia, Japan, Brazil and several other countries singing Fado, people that don't speak the language. Disregarding the lack of quality of some, the point is that Fado is becoming a worldwide recognised music style. But I continue to think that Fado needs to flourish and establish itself in the country of Portugal: there are still loads of anti-bodies against Fado, although some people now feel forced to speak well of it, because it's in fashion."

In various interviews, Rodrigo has spoken about the importance of fado's lyrical content (and of poetry in general) to his work and career, both as a singer and lyricist. He says:

"I have a great passion for poetry, and it has been a guide throughout my career. Normally the process of creating a fado performance begins with me choosing a poem with which I identify, and I then try to find a Fado that will do it justice. Either that, or I will ask someone to compose original music for the lyric, like I did with Tiago Bettencourt, who composed the music for 'Amigo Aprendiz,' and previously with Mário Pacheco on my first solo album."

"I also like to write a few verses, which I don't dare to call poems, for poetry is a much more profound and mysterious thing, and my lyrics are plain and simple. But I started writing a long time ago: the first poem I recorded was "Ainda te quero" and that was back in 1994 for the album Alma Nova, the first Fado CD from my generation (with Maria Ana Bobone and Miguel Capucho). Later, in Fados d'Alma I also wrote a couple of lyrics: 'Balada ao meu amor,' with original music by Fontes Rocha, and 'Mãe,' an adaptation of a song by Zeca Afonso."

His latest release, Fados de Amor, has generated plenty of interest inside and outside Portugal. Indeed, the song "Amigo Aprendiz" was voted one of the 12 best ballads of the year the The Atlantic magazine in the US--a rare feat for a fado recording. The record also represents his further exploration as a lyricist:

"With Fados de Amor, I went a bit further and wrote two lyrics ('Canto Breve' and 'Partida') and composed one song ('Partida'). There's also a song written by the four of us (Marta Pereira da Costa, Pedro Pinhal and Rodrigo Serrão) for a poem by Rodrigo Serrão, called 'As palvras que eu procuro.'"

The invitation to perform in Canada was a consequence of a previous visit by Marta Pereira da Costa:
"My wife Marta went to play at Hugh's Room in Toronto, in a festival called Proud to be Portuguese-Canadian. The director of Casa do Alentejo, Mr. Armando Viegas. met her and invited her to return with me for this concert, which will celebrate the 30th birthday of this iconic and exemplar institution of the Portuguese diaspora."

Rodrigo Costa Félix will be playing at the Casa do Alentejo de Toronto (1130 Dupont Street, Toronto, Ontario M6H 2A2) on 16 March 2013 at 7:30pm as part of the "GRANDIOSA GALA DO FADO." He will be accompanied by the musicians Marta Pereira da Costa, Pedro Pinhal and Rodrigo Serrão. Also performing that evening are local fadistas Tonny Gouveia and Jennifer Bettencourt, accompanied by Hernâni Raposo, Eduardo Câmara and Pedro Joel. Reservations at ++1 (416) 537-7766.

02 March 2013

Reissues from Ovação Records

The music label Ovação is beginning to release a number of fado recordings that were originally released by the label Polysom/Discos Estúdio in the 1970s and 1980s. Included among these are three recordings reviewed here by Fernando Maurício (Fernando Maurício), by Fernanda Maria (Fados) and by a group of performers associated with the fado house "A Severa" entitled Wellcome to Severa.

As the promo materials state, these are reissues of the original recordings, down to liner notes. Judging from these three, the sound quality is merely good, but far short of that achieved in, say, the uniformly excellent Fados do Alvorada. The audio quality on the Fados, for example, is shockingly bad: it is full of pops and crackles and deeply buried highs and lows. This is the kind of work that I'd expect out of a fado chop shop (there are many), but not Ovação. In contrast, the sound on the other two is reasonable, though still far murkier than it should be (after all, Ovação is in possession of the masters).

This is a good place to mention that the Smithsonian Institution has a number of excellent fado records available online. These are impeccably curated reissues. For example, I have a digital copy of the Fernanda Maria record that is completely clean and strong (it is available here if you search for "Fernanda Maria" and look for the title "Portugal's Great Fado Singer"). 

Back to these recordings.... Wellcome to Severa is a time capsule portrait of touristic fado and folklore of the 1970s, with some very good singers but a conventional repertory. Fernando Maurício and Fados, on the other hand, capture some glorious moments of recorded fado. You can hear excerpts from the tracks on Ovação's web site. Despite the diminished audio quality, the Maurício is worth seeking out, particularly at this price. Indeed, with just a couple of exceptions (including compilations such as Saudade de Fernando Maurício - Antologia 1961-1995, which is still available on Amazon), those interested in the recorded work of this great fadista have to suffer through the soulless production quality of his Metro-Som recordings (Branco de Oliveira is the culprit there). If there is one artist whose discography is in urgent need of re-editing an re-distribution, it is certainly Maurício.

As for Fernanda Maria, hers was a protean power of fado (she is still alive, but has retired from performing). As with Maurício, she was a consummate stylist: able to sing the same lyric in many different ways, even when that lyric was paired with the same music (her various versions of "A candeia" are a good example). Unlike Maurício, she recorded prolifically (those interested in her earlier work can check out any of the recordings available on the Smithsonian site). There are also many, many videos of her on YouTube (again, in contrast to Maurício). Put Fernanda Maria and Fernando Maurício together and you will be looking into two of the fado's most blinding lights.


24 February 2013

Fado at Tabacaria Açoreana, Fall River, MA


Sonya da Silva
The Portuguese fadista Sonya da Silva is in the US for a series of performances in the New England area, beginning yesterday (24-Feb-13) at the Tabacaria Açoreana in Fall River, MA. The evening showed the re-emerging nucleus of the fado in this area, and particularly how a number of local fado stalwarts--including the Luso-American fadistas Ana Vinagre and Rosa Maria--are maintaining the fado tradition despite the long distance to Portugal. The three singers (plus a surprise fourth, Ana Vinagre's husband, José Vinagre) were joined by the musicians José Silva (guitarra portuguesa) and Viriato Ferreira (viola) of the group Guitarras do Atlântico.

Sonya da Silva is a a member of the Lisbon fado scene, performing at many of the typical fado houses in Alfama and Bairro Alto, as well at other locations in Portugal. As she discussed during an interview before the show, her current repertory draws on classics of the modern fado, and is now expanding to include lyrics written specifically for her and set to the music of traditional fado. It's likely to be a winning recipe: the influx of new lyrics (and, occasionally, musics) keeps the fado vibrant but also true to its tradition. Sonya da Silva has firsthand knowledge of the fado's inner workings: her father was a dancer with the great fadista Maximiliano da Sousa (Max) of Madeira; he was also a cousin of the fadista/guitarist Carlos Ramos. It was Sonya's father, in fact, who impressed upon her that her voice was made for the fado.

José and Ana Vinagre
The program brought together not only two distinct generations of the fado, but very different approaches to performing it. After an opening guitarrada, Rosa Maria opened the evening. She is a singer with an uncompromising, even iconoclastic approach to her repertory. Ana Vinagre--a full-voiced singer with lots of crowd appeal--opened with a lively Fado Pedro Rodrigues ("Amor não é pecado"), before hitting both newer and older mainline fado. On taking the stage, Sonya da Silva confessed to a bit of opening night jitters, but no worry: she demonstrated throughout the evening an ability to work closely with her material and to reach her audience, despite not having performed previously with these musicians. This is is the kind of exchange between Portuguese communities that, judging by this evening, could and should happen much more often.

Some of the livelier points during the night (and there were plenty) happened during duets: Sonya and Ana on "Tudo Isto É Fado, Ana and José Vinagre on "Só nós dois", followed by the same couple again on an upbeat and humorous desgarrada--a series of back-and-forth challenges between two singers. The strength of the voices of all the singers, as well as the relative quiet in the crowd, made me question again the use of amplifiers for this music, particularly when the performance space is not large. Perhaps some future shows will drop the electronics and go fully acoustic--which is how it happens in the most typical fado houses of Portugal. My own feeling is that, when the fado is unamplified, the evening has the best chance to turn into a real conversation between audience and performers.
José Silva, Rosa Maria, Sonya da Silva, Ana Vinagre, Viriato Ferreira (l-r)

The evening's common denominator was the musical duo of José Silva and Viriato Ferreira. As fado guitarists, they have to be ready for the singer to "call" any one of a large number of fado musics in any number of keys (e.g., "fado meia-noite em ré"). In a given night, the same fado music (here, the Fado Pedro Rodrigues) can be called numerous times. The challenge, then, is to present the music in a way that is true to its form, but that says something different from what has been said earlier. This is an improviatory side of the fado that, much like the ongoing invention of fado lyrics, keeps the fado experience moving forward. Silva and Ferreira kept the music fresh, and more. In fact, at one point in the second set, the singer Ana Vinagre turned around to face the musicians and said to them and thus, "I let them play what they want, and I then sing."

According to the singer José Vinagre, the Tabacaria Açoreana (or "TA") once held regular fado nights, and it is easy to see why. The community of singers is strong and tightly-knit, the performance space (downstairs in the restaurant) is intimate but not small, and the food (typical Portuguese) is excellent. Tonight the room was full with a distinctly Portuguese crowd, and the service timely.

Sonya da Silva continues to perform in the area with upcoming appearances at Restaurante Dinis Paiva in East Providence, RI (with Rosa Maria) (25 February), and two more dates in New Bedford: Tilia's Café (3 March) and Inner Bay Café (4 March).

Many thanks to Feligénio Medeiros of FadoNight.com for permission to use his photographs. Be sure to check out his site as well as the Facebook group Fado in the US for more information on fado events in this country.