27 March 2011

Fado in NY Times


Carving Out a Bold Destiny for Fado

Published: March 25, 2011

"IN the beginning was Amália Rodrigues. That singer so dominates the modern history of the fado, Portugal’s soulful, guitar-based national song style, that during a 60-year career brought to an end only with her death in 1999, her name became virtually synonymous with the genre, leaving precious little room for others to flourish."

"But during the past decade or so there has been an explosion of new voices, most of them female, as well as the renovation of a genre that had come to seem hidebound and resistant to change. A so-called novo fado, or new fado, movement has catapulted the genre into the 21st century, opening a space for bold experiments with repertory, instrumentation and ways of singing."


To me, the major points of the article are...open to interpretation. I am a big fan of all the singers mentioned in the article, but I don't agree with this particular spin on what it takes to keep a music alive.

First, it's hard to imagine any one person having enough influence over an entire song form to shut down "innovation" simply by continuing to sing. This seems like a convenient premise for starting the article, nothing more. The fado was around long before Amália and continued after her.

According to the article, Mísia said "For decades the fado was used to emit a message of Portugal that was small, clean, poor, silent and happy, without ambition and resigned to its condition." Sure, the role of big-time fado during the dictatorship is pretty well documented, though hardly equivocal. Less well known is that plenty of fado continued on its own terms during the dictatorship (and afterwards): it's just that it did not necessarily happen on record (or even "on the record"). 

One trap the article slips into--and one found in many similar articles--is the view that the fado's continuing legitimacy and relevance comes only through the introduction of "new forms" or (as Rohter says) "nontraditional influences" or new instrumentations. This is a hugely elitist and cynical view of the music. As one guitarist who played for Amália once told me, "Amália never managed to make the fado work with an orchestra, so how could anybody else?" Imagine if somebody said Charlie Parker's music only became legitimate when he brought in the strings, or that jazz only reached its apotheosis once strings came in. It's not necessary to debase the original in order to exalt the new.

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