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.

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