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.

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.

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