20 June 2011

The authentic sound of Lisbon arrives in the US: An interview with Michael da Silva

Bringing the fado from Lisbon to the United States--and preserving what makes the fado fado--has never been an easy task. But probably it helps if you know the music--and everything else that goes into the fado-- from the inside out.

Michael da Silva is a musician and empressario who has recently begun organizing fado events in the US, drawing top quality talent, including new sensations like Fábia Rebordão and Filipa Cardoso, as well as more established performers, such as Jorge Fernando and Lenita Gentil.
Michael and his fianceé Ana

Michael's path to the fado began in earnest in 1996 when at nine years old he heard a recording by Amália Rodrigues. The song was "Tudo Isto É Fado" ("All this is fado"), which he says "stood in the door for a lifetime of fado". He credits his parents, both from Portugal, with introducing him to this music. By twelve years old he was playing guitar (but not fado), and at 14 was beginning lessons in playing fado on the classical guitar (viola do fado) with Sr. Alberto Resende, an influential player and builder of the Portuguese guitar active in the Newark, NJ area. Michael continued to study with Sr. Resende for seven years.

At 17 years of age, Michael met a second influential figure: Jorge Fernando, a viola player, composer, lyricist and singer of the fado, who himself started with the fado at a young age. By his late teens, Jorge Fernando's talents had already been tapped by two of the most prominent fado singers of the time, Fernando Maurício and Amália Rodrigues. At 16, he wrote “Boa Noite Solidão”and, at the age of 23, joined the guitarist Carlos Gonçalves to tour the world with Amália.  At roughly the same time in life, Michael da Silva put himself in a similar position: he approached Jorge Fernando directly about coming to Lisbon to learn and play the fado "at his feet". At 20 years old, he played for the first time in Portugal, along with Jorge Fernando and other musicians from Bacalhau de Molho, a fado house in the old Lisbon neighborhood of Alfama. Central to Michael's repertory are the traditional fados, particularly the "Marcha do Marceneiro", the "Corrido" (which he likes to play "smoking fast") and the "Menor."
Jorge Fernando

His passion is for the guitar and for the music, which he communicates both through performance, but also through teaching. His 25 students are a mix of Portuguese and non-Portuguese, but all are exposed through his lessons to fado and to other traditional Portuguese musics. As with many other fado musicians, learning and mastering the main body of fado music--perhaps around 200 different tunes--is an ongoing ambition. He wants, he says, "To be confident enough of my music that, when I feel the saudades for the fado, I can go to Portugal and play. I want to be in a position where, even if someone asks me to play a fado I've never played before, I know enough about fado that I can make the musical changes to play that fado and accompany that fado." He expects to complete a degree in music and to become a music teacher.

When Michael decided to start organizing fado performances in the US, it was in the midst of a month-long stay in Lisbon, playing by Jorger Fernando's side at Casa de Linhares, "living as deeply immersed as I could" in the fado. One night, visiting a café with his fiancée, he was struck by the entirety of the experience: "it was truly magical. I thought, this is missing in America. There is a certain thing that can only happen in Lisbon, a particular kind of X-factor that doesn't exist in the US, no matter how hard we try." Nonetheless, he decided: "I really want to bring this magic over." This means the food and the wine, the music and the lyrics, but much more. As Michael says, "The most beautiful, most pure form of fado is only for a select number of people at any given moment. The light is right, the mood is right, and that's because everyone is feeling it--the musicians, the people, the singers--the whole environment is right."

Fábia Rebordão
In 2010, Michael launched MD Fado Productions. As a kickoff event, he organized an evening of fado—“Fado Nosso” (“Our Fado”)—in Newark, NJ that brought the singers Fábia Rebordão and Filipa Cardoso, and the musicians José Manuel Neto and, of course, Jorge Fernando. Earlier in their relationship, Jorge Fernando had told Michael that he could already foresee Michael organizing shows of this type, and that he would do everything he could to help. The success of the November event, which was held at Casa Seabra on 20 November and attended by more than 250 people, sealed the arrangement. Afterward, Jorge Fernando told him, "Sometimes I feel that I want to gamble with people. I gambled with Mariza, I gambled with Ana Moura, and now I feel that I'm going to gamble with you as a manager."

Filipa Cardoso
The choice of personnel for each performance combines established and new artists, particularly those bringing "new flavors" to the fado. Aside from Filipa Cardoso and Fábia Rebordão, he cites Ana Moura, Carminho and Ricardo Ribeiro as some of the "many incredible young performers of the fado". His experience as a musician, and his participation as a performer at one of the top houses in Lisbon, also provides him with access to some of the top musicians and singers. Michael has also been present for many "perfect" moments of the fado, moments that were completely unplanned and "not written in any kind of agenda or calendar". His experience—as a musician, a devotee of the music and, frankly, as a person of Portuguese descent—helps him set up the scene so that the fado can happen when it wants to.

Michael notes that organizing an event is a cluster of emotions and activities at the same time: printing posters, selling tickets, handling logistics, then actually managing the event--even while taking part in it as a performer. The November event succeeded in bringing the feel of Lisbon to Newark--and vice versa, a point eloquently made that evening by Jorge Fernando when he said that the experience was an opportunity for these two sets of Portuguese people to see and understand each other better.

Lenita Gentil
In November 2011, Michael is organizing a mini-tour of restaurants in New Jersey and, possibly, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Expected personnel for this mini-tour are Jorge Fernando, José Manuel Neto, Felipa Cardoso and, for the first time in a long time, Lenita Gentil. They expect to make about three stops on this mini-tour, one in each state, spread over two weekends.

In January of 2012, he will launch "Fado: From Lisbon to New York", at a "very important venue" in New York City. Plans are also afoot to extend this to a month-long tour that would bring many of the artists from the mini-tour, along with some spectacular surprises. Rehearsals and practices for the show are already happening, as are plans for the stage show. Watch for an official announcement in late August or early September on the MD Fado web site.

In the meantime, Michael's business, MD Fado, continues to expand, now including a publicist, an entertainment lawyer, a designer, and a "street team" of individuals working on publicity. With Michael's commitment, background and drive, the future of fado in the US is looking bright.

For information on upcoming MD Fado shows, as well as other activities, see the web site at http://www.mdfado.com.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous20 June, 2011

    I want to take those lessons