23 May 2012

Day 4 in Lisbon (revised and expanded)

O casal Jaime Pedrinho
In the morning I took my want list in hand and headed to the Feira da Ladra to buy some music. There is only one vendor I pay attention to--Jaime Padrinho. He is easy to find: his stall is always at the northern end of the market, and he is usually playing something by Amália Rodrigues (often very loud, often the same fado multiple times). Works like a charm. I have spent many hours there, and his method never fails: put on Amália singing "Estranha forma da vida" and the tourists will show up to ask "Who is this?" Within seconds they are buying a copy of "O melhor da Amália".

To the side of the CD table he has a small but very respectable selection of vinyl and cassettes. That is where the real action is. Sr. Padrinho has all the qualities of a great record seller: tasteful stock, understanding of the customer, the appropriate degree of detachment. In fact, it was he who first recommended that I listen to Artur Batalha. This time, he recommended an LP from Vasco Rafael. When I returned to the US, I put it on: this is a singer who had a very big, earnest sound. It's a top flight record in the castiço tradition.  I also picked up a 45 of Fernando Farinha--brilliant as always.

Later that evening, after many months of trying, the opportunity had finally arisen to interview Mário Raínho, an iconoclastic poet of the fado. Raínho has written lyrics for many singers, ranging from Fernando Maurício to Ana Moura, and is outspoken about the critical importance of poets and lyricists to the continued vitality of the fado. This importance is partly a consequence of the nature of the art form. The "fado tradicional" (traditional fado, or, perhaps more appropriately, the fado estrófico--or strophic fado--as the guitarist José Pracana has referred to it) consists of a smallish number of musics. The "fado tradicional" approach to the fado therefore requires new lyrics set to works within this corpus of music if the form is to survive, or at least not become stale. Another force at work here is the simple fact that there are lots of people who go out and sing multiple times every week--and many more who go out to here these same people every week. And when I say "every week", I mean it. Now, do you really want to hear the same three lyrics from the same singer every week? Hence, the poet.

Mário Raínho
Raínho has recently become involved with organizing fado at a small restaurant called "Pérola do Fado", (Pearl of the fado) and this is where we met to discuss his work. The interview produced a lot of material, though we only spoke for 30 minutes. One interesting tidbit: Mário began as a singer, who eventually wanted different lyrics to sing, and thus began his career as a poet. Pick up any current fado record, and the chances are good that at least one of his lyrics is included.

Miguel Ramos
The Pérola's location is "out"--not in Alfama, not in the Bairro Alto, not anywhere near the tourist track--but actually not at all far out of town. Maybe this is how it's going to be for a while: the fado is going to hide in the hills until the craziness over the UNESCO designation dies down. Judging by the results of this evening, if you're willing to venture just slightly beyond the standard confines, there are some beautiful moments to be had.

Pérola is divided into two spaces: café in the front, restaurant in the back. The fado happens in the back. Dinner was great and not at all expensive. The musicians for the evening were Paulo Jorge (gp); André Ramos (vb)--more evidence of the small world of the fado as he is the brother of the singer Miguel Ramos; João Moreira (vb); and, later, António Oliveira (vb).

As I learned, the singers and musicians were all essentially professional: many of them had "other jobs" but were here for the night to sing for each other, and for others with a very strong appreciation of the fado. The repertory and style of playing were nothing like what you would hear in the first hour or two at the typical fado joint: they got right to the heart of the matter.

Miguel Ramos was the first singer. He delivered a powerhouse performance--quite different from the subdued one I expected. Unfortunately, I do not have any recording whatsoever of his performance: I was too flabbergasted to do anything. Buy the record! Next was Ana Sofia Varela. Her voice was really not with it this evening: seemed like she had something perpetually stuck in her throat. Next was Jorge Aguiar, followed by Jorge Nunes (mp3) (the son of Jorge Fernando)--instantly recognizable by his voice.

Now an intervalo. As I ventured outside, Artur Batalha was just arriving. "It's the first time I've been here", he said. At some point I asked Mário if he could somehow squeeze Batalha into the lineup before we had to leave. He said he'd try. In truth, it was not a very fair request, as the house was full of fadistas who had been waiting for their turn to sing. But I was beginning to feel desperate. The next singers Nelson Lemos and  Sónia Santos (mp3). Here is a fairly recent video of her from RTP. Judge for yourself: I liked her quite a bit. Then that was it: we had to leave.

To give a flavor of his work, here is a translation of a short lyric of Mário's, most associated with Fernando Maurício, entitled "A minha oração" ("My prayer"). Many thanks to Mário himself for providing the lyrics and the translation.


19 May 2012

Day 3 in Lisbon

Jaime Nunes
Settling in to the groove... Visited the Tasca do Jaime for the first hour of the afternoon. The musicians were Paulo Silva (gp) and Carlos Fonseca (v), who were later joined by the owners' son, Duarte Nunes (v). They opened with a guitarrada. Jaime sang, followed by César Caixinho, João Soerio and Bruno Horta. Below are two videos from João and one from Bruno, respectively. Those who are familiar with João's work will notice a more refined style to his singing here, particularly in his attention to the lower end of his range, as well as a more relaxed and confident approach to the lyrics. The change is conscious. I am looking forward to a couple of musical surprises from João this year. He is sounding great.

Scroll down for the rest of the story from today...

Miguel Ramos at
Mesa de Frades
Later that evening I met with the singer and musician Miguel Ramos, to discuss his life and work in the fado, focusing in particular on his new CD, which he is in the midst of recording. This was a follow up from my earlier conversation with his brother, André--himself a musician. The interview is going to take a bit of time to write up, but I want to note a couple of things here. Miguel's record sounds very promising, with nearly all original lyrics (by various lyricists), and mostly all classic fado with a few musical fados. The personnel are top notch and varied. Our conversation covered his early years, including his time spent under the tutelage of Fernando Maurício, and his training and ongoing work as a musician and singer. I had an opportunity to hear him the following evening at the Pérola de Fado--but more about that in the next writeup!

13 May 2012

Day 2 in Lisbon

Now I understand why, during our year in Lisbon, I did not keep a continuous blog: there is simply too much happening to cover, and there is certainly not enough time to do everything we'd like to do.

Last night we met a friend in the Alfama to hear some fado--destination unknown. We simply could not decide where to go: we wanted a decent dinner, plus fado, but did not want to pay 30+ euros per person for the privilege. He suggested dinner at a local restaurant, one that our friend, Tô Lisboa, knows well. We entered and to our surprise, there in the corner, was the great guitarist José Pracana. José Pracana has been in the fado for a long time (see this evidence and a short biography in Portuguese). The last time I met him was also by accident: on a plane from Boston to the Açores. Also in the restaurant was the viola player José Nunes.
José Pracana (l) and José Nunes (r)
After a short conversation with Sr. Pracana, he and Sr. Nunes played a Coimbra fado (sung by Sr. Nunes, see the video below), then a young woman sang "Os meus olhos são dois círios", then a short guitarrada. Sr. Pracana told me that he is going to be taking part in the second fado festival of Madrid. The program looks excellent: they are showing two films by Diogo Varela Silva (Fado Celeste and O Rei Sem Coroa). I covered some of his work in a recent article in the Luso-Americano. Sr. Pracana is going to be giving a lecture/demonstration on the fado, addressing music, lyrics and instrumentation. Lots of other great stuff is going to be happening. I hope to meet with Sr. Pracana during the coming week, so perhaps there will be more information.

Next stop was Sr. Fado, where the musicians were Eduardo Rodrigues (guitarra portuguesa) and Duarte Santos on the viola. Duarte began the evening with an explanation of the fado (in English) for the audience, most of whom were not Portuguese. He discussed first the instrumentation of the classic set-up, then the "traditional" versus "musical" fado. Unfortunately, I was not able to record this mini-lecture. If I can get Duarte to recount it for me, watch for the post here. The singers we heard were our friend, Tô Lisboa, then Oudete Miranda, Nuno de Aguiar, and Ana Marina.

[video to come in the next day or so]

Now what? Tô and Nuno de Aguiar left for the Tasca do Chico in the Alfama after they sang. By the time we walked by there, it was too full to bother trying to enter. The Grupo Sportivo Adicense, up from the Esquina d'Alfama, was having a fado night, so we stopped there (the last time I was there it was to hear Rodrigo, courtesy of the super-duper fado fan. João Braga (gp) and Chico Borges (v) were the musicians. We heard Inês Ribeiro, Rui Costa and Alice Nunes. As we were arriving, there was some arguing over the order of singing, and a couple of fadistas left in a huff. Floating in the background the entire time was Zé António.

During the break, Artur Batalha walked in. It's hard to describe what happens to a room like this when a very established fadista enters. The place got a little bit quiet. As everybody around here knows, with the closing of Os Ferreiras, Batalha no longer has a regular gig. That's a lot of talent floating around, waiting to land. The super-duper fado fan (doesn't sing, doesn't play, knows all fados and fadistas, is always there at the right place and the right time) leans over to me and says, "Batalha. My favorite." Somebody managed to corral Batalha and Zé António into a photo. I saw my chance and jumped. These two singers have a common history but diverging paths.

Artur Batalha (l) and Zé António (r)
Date Unknown
May 2012

We were then put in a tough predicament. But as we left we heard somebody say something like "Batalha was going to sing for a couple of friends, but they just left, so no." Thinking that Batalha would be singing, we came back. However, the next singer was not Batalha but Vítor Rodrigues (who I really like). We stayed for his three fados then left. So, we'll never know whether Batalha sang, or what, or the heights he reached this time.

New flash! The videographer 4FadoLisbon has posted two videos of Batalha from last night, along with those of a number of others. The videos are here and here. The other videos are also good (e.g., here is Quim Cigano). <

Taxi home, and that was the end of the night.

12 May 2012

Day 1 in Lisbon

Pedro Galveias
First stop, Esquina de Alfama, where there have been a few changes. As we walked up from the Largo do Chaffariz do dentro, I thought..."I recognize that voice." It was Pedro Galveias. He was there substituting for Ricardo Mesquita. We managed also to hear Ivone Dias, Daniela Giblott (worth seeking out) and Lino Ramos--in duet with Pedro on "Lucinda Camareira". The musicians were Tiago Morna (gp) and Júlio Garcia (v). Pedro told me that he has begun working on a new record (lots of surprises in store there). We talked a little bit about the closure of Os Ferreiras, which really is a major blow to the fado tradition. This of course means that Artur Batalha is now without a steady venue, which raises the question--Where is he?

We had dinner and then wandered around the Alfama. Carlos Macedo and Jerónimo Mendes were taking a break from their work at the Taverna d'El Rey (here is an interesting photo with the two of them and Nathalie Pires, a recent contributor to this blog). These are two top flight musicians, particularly when they are playing together.

At Sr. Vinho, the house was completely full with one group of Spaniards having a pre-wedding celebration for one of their friends (a woman wearing an electric purple wig). At 22:00, they hadn't even started playing--too busy taking care of dinner arrangement. The Spaniards were really raucous. We'll stop by there tonight (Saturday).

Things were quiet at Mesa de Frades (normal for that hour). I foolishly mistook Miguel Ramos' brother for Miguel Ramos, but he was quite diplomatic about it. Both are musicians and look very similar to each other.

I said the first stop of the night was the Esquina, but it was really O Faia in Bairro Alto. This place (and the Tasca do Chico) are to me the only two reasons to visit the Bairro Alto for fado. O Faia at the moment has an incredible group of singers: Anita Guerreiro, Lenita Gentil, Ricardo Ribeiro (and, I think, António Rocha). We also passed by the Tasca do Chico in the Bairro Alto, where I learned from the owner that, starting next month, they will be having "Youth fado"--with younger kids who sing or play the fado. Should be great. It was indeed Chico who we saw later in the night at the Tasca do Chico in the Alfama, delivering some of the supplies for the night.

The Current Lineup of the Esquina d'Alfama

09 May 2012

António Zambujo in the USA--Right Now!

António Zambujo is in the US for three dates:

Tonight (May 9) in Cambridge, MA at the Regattabar;
Tomorrow (May 10) Naragansett, RI at the Atlantic House; and
Saturday (May 12) in New York City at the World Music Institute.

Go if you can!

Earlier today I interviewed him briefly for an article in the Portuguese-American Journal. Should be coming out today or so.

07 May 2012

Vamos aos fados!

--"Can you guys go home, quietly?"
--"Yes sir we can. But right now we are not going home..."

from Humores ao Fado e à Guitarra (bilingual edition)

I will be in Lisbon for a couple of weeks this month. Watch this space for updates on the fado. I have a couple of projects in mind that I want to accomplish while there.

If you happen to be reading this and have any recommendations on fado houses to visit, let me know in the comments. There are a number of places I plan to visit--stalwarts like Sr. Fado in Alfama, and maybe even O Faia. There are also some that I'd like to visit (Sr. Fado in Alcochete; Pérolas do Fado, which is Mário Rainho's new venture). Others that I'd really like to visit but that are too far away (Ricardo Ribeiro in Figueira da Foz). Some, unfortunately, are gone--like Os Ferreiras (or this). The fado is poorer without them.