07 June 2020


Just today, the viola player Vítor Tiago had some really touching things to say about FADO VADIO ("wandering fado"), which in general refers to the people (usually singers) who wander from fado house to fado house and.... Well, I'll let Vítor explain it (in my translation):
Vítor Tiago
My friends, today I want to communicate my simple, sincere and profound tribute to the amateur fado artists, those who, with some disdain, are called by some people within our world as the "fadistas of the fado vadio," those who "might even pay to sing". I say this because realistically, without them, and particularly in this period of pandemic, the fado itself would be in a state of recuperation and/or it would simply be reduced to half-a-dozen online performances. Courtesy of these amateur fadistas, the fado houses have once again offered fado by the Portuguese and for the Portuguese who are not bothered by needing to pay in order to sing one or two fados. It is for you, the " AMATEURS OF THE FADO VADIO", that I applaud, with humility and thankfulness for demonstrating the difference between LIKING the fado and NEEDING the fado. Thank you for the love that you show in holding fast to the fado. And, I believe, it is thanks to you that the genuine "fado of the people and for the people" will never die, even if it is sung with an imperfect rhythm or poor diction or errors in the lyrics. Your genuineness will never die even when confronted with the ever-increasing general degradation [in fado] that has been witnessed in the last few years.

I congratulate you for lifting the fado from the darkness in which it was submerged in the past months, and for helping to ensure that a number of houses do not close their doors before the tourists who previously sustained them return with stuffed wallets. When they (the tourists) return, you will return to the "fado vadio", to the customary places, where you will always be welcome.

Thank you to the community of the "AMATEURS OF THE FADO VADIO".

Amizades,hoje quero aqui deixar a minha mais singela , sincera e profunda homenagem aos amadores de fado,áqueles a quem ,com algum desdém, algumas pessoas do meio chamam "fadistas do fado vadio",aqueles  que "até pagam para cantar", porque realmente sem  eles o fado,provavelmente, nesta altura da pandemia, estava ainda "de molho" e,ou, simplesmente reduzido a "meia dúzia" de intervenções cibernautas. Graças a esses fadistas amadores já as casas de fado ( nalgumas das quais esses amadores eram "personas non gratas"...) voltaram a ter fados de portugueses para portugueses que não se importam de  pagar para cantar um ou dois fadinhos. É para vocês, "AMADORES DO FADO VADIO" que vai o meu aplauso de humildade e gratidão p'la  demonstração da diferença entre o GOSTAR de fado e o PRECISAR do fado. Obrigado p'lo amor que demonstram ter ao fado e graças a vocês acredito que  o genuino "fado do povo e para o povo" nunca irá morrer, mesmo cantado com pouco compasso ou má dicção e bacuradas nas letras  a genuidade  não morrerá em face da quantidade crescente da degradação genérica que se tem verificado nos últimos anos.

Bem-hajam por erguerem o fado das trevas em que está mergulhado há uns meses e por  permitirem que algumas casas não fechem de vez as suas portas até que os  turistas que as sustentavam regressem com as carteiras recheadas. Quando eles  (turistas) voltarem então lá  vão ter de regressar ao "fado vadio" ,aos lugares do costume,onde serão sempre bem recebidos.

Obrigado comunidade dos "AMADORES DE FADO VADIO".

I thank Vítor for letting me do this. Any problems with the translation are of course my responsibility!

09 May 2019


"What is this one called?"
"Right. So it's 'Fado Cabaré'?"
"I believe so..."
--"Cabaré", from "Canta Marceneiro" by Camané

In fado, the whole issue of what to call "the thing that people sing" is enormously confusing and not even remotely obvious, but there is an answer.
Each sung performance of traditional fado has two identities: the music (which is what the musicians and the singer need to know), and the lyric (which only the singer needs to know). The music is "THE FADO"; the lyrics are just lyrics. Both a given lyric and a given music have names, some of them quite bizarre, and often with interesting stories attached.

Daniel Gouveia
The first thing to note is that traditional fado is strophic: there is no chorus, just verses. So while pop music might have an AABA structure, traditional fado is AAAAA... As a result, the form is endlessly malleable in terms of the number of stanzas, though there are very strict rules about the length of a metric foot and the number of lines of verse that the music will accommodate. Some older lyrics in particular can be very long indeed. A great example is "O Bêbado Pintor" (the drunk painter). Here it is sung live in its complete form by Daniel Gouveia at Restaurante Niní in Lisbon.

2019 NY Fado Festival
Photo by Ryan Muir
As shown by Daniel's explanation (in Portuguese, but he could do it in English too), "O Bêbado Pintor" is a bit complicated. The first stanza (the mote) has four lines, and the remaining four stanzas have 10 (!) lines each, for a total of 44 verses. Moreover, the last line of the second verse is the first line of the mote; the last line of the third verse is the second line of the mote; etc. until the end. The beginning is sung over the Fado Laranjeira, the middle is spoken over the Fado Menor, then the end is sung over the Fado Laranjeira. Again, these are different musics, but they all accommodate the lyric in question.

The version recorded by Alfredo Marceneiro has a fewer number of stanzas than the original (evidently this is what the producer, Valentim de Carvalho, demanded in order to fit the performance on a single record). To do so, Marceneiro sang the mote, then only the third and fourth stanzas. The contemporary fadista Camané, on the CD "Camané Canta Marceneiro" (Camané sings Marceneiro), sings the stanzas in a different order from the original. Almost nothing in the fado is as it seems.

Two compendia that suggest the stunning breadth of pairings between music and lyric are the sites 4FadoLisbon (perhaps better--the corresponding YouTube channel) and FadosDoFado, but to understand the possibilities and limits of these pairings you have to read between the lines.
At the 2019 New York Fado Festival, for example, Fado Pedro Rodrigues was performed in sets by both Ana Sofia Varela and Hélder Moutinho--though it was sung to different lyrics. Hélder sang the lyric "A Minha Cor" with this fado, and it is under this name (and not "Pedro Rodrigues") that it appears on Sete Fados e Alguns Cantos, his 2004 record. Ana Sofia sang the lyric "Duas Lágrimas de Orvalho", and again this is how it's listed on her eponymous debut album. As Rodrigo Costa Félix rightly pointed out to me recently, "A minha cor" has four lines (verses) per stanza, while "Duas lágrimas de orvalho" has six (and the Pedro Rodrigues can accommodate five verses per stanza as well). I should also note that Pedro Rodrigues is one of the fados that Professor Ellen Gray discusses in landmark book, Fado Resounding.

The total number of different lyrics that can be sung with Pedro Rodrigues is large. For an idea, see hereSome recent performances of Fado Pedro Rodrigues can be seen after running this queryAnd Pedro Rodrigues is just one of maybe 200 or so fados in current circulation. A solid list of traditional fados is here. Fairly recently, the guitarist António Parreira released O Livro dos Fados, which contains the music for 180 fados (and an excellent introduction by Rui Vieira Nery). José Manuel Osório, at the time of his death, had compiled a list of more than 400 traditional fados.

Ana Sofia Varela
2019 NY Fado Festival
Photo by Feligénio Medeiros

Hélder Moutinho
2019 NY Fado Festival
Photo by Ryan Muir

The number of fado/lyric combinations can therefore be very, very large.

As mentioned, the names of the fados are sometimes unusual, even inscrutable. Corrido means "running". Mouraria shares a name with a neighborhood of Lisbon. Laranjeira is an orange tree (long story). And Pedro Rodrigues? That was the name of the person who wrote it. Rui Nery discusses these and many other fados in his book (now available in English), Para Uma História do Fado.

José Fernandes Castro
The site fadosdofado is organized by lyric, so it always shows the lyricist's name first, then the name of the fado (if it's traditional fado)–along with the composer's name (if known)–so you have to dig a bit to find the different lyrics associated with a given fado. A really great, somewhat rare, collection of CDs entitled Todos os Fados de A a Z (All the Fados from A to Z, edited by the late José Manuel Osório) has–you guessed it–examples of around 150 different fado musics (ISBN 9896121532, 9789896121532). It's pretty indispensable if you really want to dig in–and you can find it. There is a similarly themed YouTube channel and a web site.

Interestingly (though not at all uncommon), the lyric "A Minha Cor" is probably most closely associated with a different fado, which is Fado Meia-noite. Meia-noite (midnight) has a completely different vibe from Pedro Rodrigues. So, telling the musicians "A Minha Cor" doesn't help them, since "A Minha Cor" can be sung over Pedro Rodrigues, Meia-noite, and many other fados. The musicians just want to know which music they need to play, and in what key. The public, on the other hand, naturally latches on to lyrics--so that's what appears in liner notes, and it's what people typically talk about (e.g., while "Duas Lágrimas de Orvalho"–which is very closely associated with Carlos do Carmo–is typically in Pedro Rodrigues, no one files it under Fado Pedro Rodrigues since it can be sung with other fados).
André Dias (gp), André Ramos (v), Rodrigo Serrão (vb)
2019 NY Fado Festival
Photo by Ryan Muir
This makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that many singers might pass through a tasca (tavern) on any given night, and each one wants to sing "their" lyric over a particular fado before moving on to the next tasca. The musicians therefore just need to know the name of the music (and the key) in order to provide accompaniment. If that fado has already been played, then the musicians will likely want to improvise a bit to keep things fresh. This helps keep the enterprise afloat.

To make things even more confusing, there are the occasional fados where the name of the fado and the name of the lyric are the same, or nearly so. "Loucura" (also performed by Hélder in NYC) is probably the best example. Of course, in Hélder's set list it is written as Fado Loucura, since the music is now in the canon and there are various lyrics that have been put to it. But in his case he sang the original lyric.

The obvious answer to the question "What is the fado?" is, therefore, the name of the music (if it's a traditional fado). The less obvious answer is yet another question: "Who's asking?" 
  • If it's the singer or musician accompanying the singer, then the answer is the name of the music plus the key in which the music is to be played (e.g., "O Corrido em fá", which means "Fado Corrido in the key of F").
  • If it's the artist's record label, then the answer is "Who cares??!! Put the name of the lyric on the liner notes and let's get this thing out the door!"
  • If it's an audience in Portugal (or anywhere where people care), then the answer is the totality of the thing that's about to be sung, which means the answer (if it's traditional fado) has four elements: the name and composer of the music and the name and writer of the lyric. 
  • And if it's anyone else, then the answer from the fadista could be any combination of the above things.
There are two postscripts to this discussion: 

First, fadistas will typically announce some or all of the complete information from the stage before or after they perform a fado. It's usually something like "In the music of Fado Pedro Rodrigues, I'm going to sing 'Fria Claridade' by Pedro Homem de Melo" (the composer of the music may or may not be mentioned). This happens with some regularity in Portugal; in the US, less so. When it doesn't happen in Portugal, the intelligentsia tend to get annoyed. Sandro Costa sometimes calls these people the Ayatollahs of the fado.

Second, (and I feel this is now very rare), you will sometimes hear "...criação de..." (literally, "creation of...")–then the name of a singer–added to the announcement of the music and lyric. According to Daniel Gouveia, this means that this combination of music and lyric was first sung by the referenced fadista and that it was a hit. For example, "Por Morrer Um Andorinha" was first sung by Francisco Stoffel, but is now associated with the singer who made it a hit–Carlos do Carmo. But this is a topic for another day! 

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Daniel Gouveia and to Rodrigo Costa Félix for the helpful pointers and information. I claim all the shortcomings of this article for my own, though.

Liner Notes
Consistent with the above explanation, I'm listing the lyrics separately from the music.

LYRICS / lyricist
  • O Bêbado Pintor / Linhares Barbosa
  • Fria Claridade / Pedro Homem de Melo
  • A Minha Cor / Manuel de Andrade
  • Duas Lágrimas de Orvalho / Linhares Barbosa
  • Loucura / Frederico de Brito

FADOS / composer
  • Corrido / Unknown
  • Laranjeira / Alfredo Duarte, "O Marceneiro"
  • Meia-noite / Filipe Pinto
  • Loucura / Júlio de Sousa
  • Pedro Rodrigues / Pedro Rodrigues
Some sources:
  • Gray, Lila Ellen (2013). Fado Resounding: Affective Politics and Urban Life. Duke University Press.
  • Nery, Rui Vieira (2017). Para Uma História do Fado. Corda Seca & Público. (There is also an earlier edition, and one in English).
  • Parreira, António (2014). O Livro dos Fados. Museu do Fado.

24 September 2018

Forgotten fadistas--or not

The Fado Internet is filled with people working tirelessly to get out the word (and content) about fado music, community and culture (and every once in a while a few dollops of jealousy, envy and outright animosity). One of those on the strictly positive side is Joaquim Silva, a man with a large supply of high quality connections to the riches of fado's deep history.

In thanks and in honor of Joaquim's work, I want to draw attention to his series "Fadistas esquecidos...ou não" (forgotten fadistas...or not) that he has highlighted in recent weeks. Some of the videos are taken from the deep archives, and all have something strong to recommend them.

Joaquim is pure class. Each of the entries on his Facebook page gives the names of the singer, the musicians, the fado (plus its composer), the lyric (and its author) plus usually a couple of historical nuggets.

Some of these artists can be found on the series "Fados do fado" (reissued in reduced form a few years ago), "Fados do Alvorada" (written about elsewhere on this blog), as well as on the original recordings (often very difficult to find)

See how many of the singers and musicians you recognize.

César Morgado
Benvinda Cruz
Fernando Gomes
Adelina Ramos
Lino Manuel
Maria José Ramos
Natalino Duarte
Romy Barra
Maria Portugal
Manuel Domingos
Lídia Ribeiro
Ada de Castro
Eurico Pavia
Estela Alves
Dina do Carmo
Eduarda Maria
Moniz Trindade
Ivete Pessoa
Eulália Duarte
Julieta Brigue    
Francisco Stoffel
Márcia Condessa
Lucilia Gomes
Julieta Estrela
Jorge Martinho
Raul Pereira
Natércia da Conceição
Odete Maria
Valdemar Vigário
Vicência Lima
Zé Freire
Deolinda Maria
Carlos Duarte
Carlos Barra
Cândida Ramos
Beatriz Ferreira
Ana Rosmaninho
José Manuel de Castro
Maria do Céu Crispim
Manuel Netto
Mariana Correia 
Pedro Lisboa
Orlando Duarte
Leonor Santos

I hope you enjoy these fados--and thanks to Joaquim and to all the YouTube users who put the music out there.

27 August 2015

Ana Laíns and Pedro Galveias--US Tour

This October, Portuguese fado singers Ana Laíns and Pedro Galveias will be touring the northeast US, with concert dates, workshops and other appearances scheduled in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Ana Laíns’ music spans the full depth and breadth of Portuguese fado music, an art form recently recognized by UNESCO for its profound importance to world culture. Ana’s music has achieved wide critical and artistic acclaim, as well as various prizes (including best young female singer in Lisbon’s Grande Noite de Fado (Grand Night of the Fado), the country’s top fado competition). She has released two CDs (Sentidos and Quatro Caminhos) and performed extensively both within and outside Portugal.   

Pedro Galveias is one of the most established and storied voices of Lisbon’s traditional fado scene. Pedro has released two CDs (Assim se Canta and Loucuras de um Fado) and was twice a winner in the category of best male singer in Lisbon’s Grande Noite de Fado. He was profiled on Fado-Today after the release of his second album.

Accompanying the singer are two master musicians, Sandro Costa (on the Portuguese guitar) and Tô Neto (on the viola do fado), both of whom have performed widely at all levels of the fado, from Lisbon’s hidden taverns to the worldwide stage.

Together, the music of this group embraces traditional and contemporary expressions of Portuguese fado, with stories of heartache, joy and longing conjuring images of Portugal’s centuries-old history and of our shared human condition.

The tour kicks off with a concert at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY on 16 October, and includes shows at University of Massachusetts Lowell on 23 October and at the Lusitano Restaurant and Gardens in Fall River, Massachusetts on 24 October. Further information on tickets and concert dates is here.

As part of the tour, the group will be holding university workshops, school visits, and other activities to introduce a wide range of people to fado music in particular and to Portuguese culture in general. The tour is organized by Portuguese/American Cultural Exchange, Inc. (PACE)  a Massachusetts not-for-profit whose mission is to bridge US and Portuguese cultures through the fado. The tour follows previous highly successful PACE programs, including tours by Ricardo Ribeiro, Rodrigo Costa Félix and Duarte Coxo, with extensive participation from US-based fado performers.

02 March 2015

Looking to the future with Camané

Camané will be topping a double bill of fado this Saturday, 7 March, at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he will be joined by Carminho.

Even after more than 25 years of performing the fado, Camané continues to work at an intense and trend-setting pace. A comprehensive exposition on his work opened at the Fado Museum in 2011, and in 2014 he was the subject of a documentary film ("Fado Camané", directed by Bruno de Almeida). He recently released a career-spanning retrospective CD ("O Melhor 1995-2013") and is currently hard at work on finishing a new CD slated for release in April of this year.

Camané has always been an enigmatic artist. His rerecorded output is vast and includes longstanding collaborations with the composer José Mario Branco and lyricist Manuela de Freitas, documented in  "Fado Camané" and revealed through his ongoing collaborations with the guitarist José Manuel Neto, the violista Carlos Manuel Proença, the contrabaixista Paulo Paz (the same trio which will join him in performance at the Zeiterion) and Carlos Bica on the contrabass. His performances, including "Já não estar"--recognized as a pre-selection for the 2011 Oscar for Best Original Song--are slow burns through an open landscape of human emotion.

Yet off-record he is quiet and restrained, not inclined to talk about his personal life. Details of his background have come through in bits and pieces over the years, and even so are little known outside  Portugal. Not only are two brothers, Helder and Pedro Moutinho, singers in their own right, so too his mother and father. And the heritage of fado in their family stretches back further, at least to his paternal great grandfather--José Júlio--who is known to have recorded in the early twentieth century.

These two sides of Camané--the very public singer and the very private individual--came face-to-face recently and by pure coincidence. A Portuguese record collector was on Portuguese radio to talk about a collection he'd recently purchased from a collector in the USA. He mentioned that one of the records was by Júlio César and, when he learned of the connection, called Camané with the news. According to Camané, "I had never heard the voice of my great grandfather. I had some material associated with his career, but I had never heard his voice. He was from Murtosa, near Aveiro. He was a friend of Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral, and performed at the ceremonial dinner after their transatlantic flight."

About his great grandfather's record itself, Camané adds "One of the two fados on the record has the air of Lisbon fado, a traditional decasyllabic fado; the other, Fado Espanhol, is a mixture of the Coimbra and Lisbon styles." In tribute, Camané performs both of these fados on his new CD, with lyrics by Machado de Assis and Fernando Pessoa, respectively.

Given the long history of his family within the fado, it is perhaps not surprising that Camané began singing very early, at age eight at the fado house A Cesária in Alcântara, near Lisbon. By ten years of age, he says, "I had the privilege to learn a lot from the fadistas I knew, including Alfredo Marceneiro, Carlos do Carmo, João Ferreira-Rosa, João Braga and many others. I say 'luck' because my parents would take me, even though I was only ten, to hear the fado. All these people who I've mentioned were already older, but they were alive. I would listen to them talk and sing, and I would learn from them."

Camané's professional career began in earnest at the fado house Fado Menor, courtesy of an invitation from the great Tony de Matos. He has since released a total of eleven CDs and played innumerable concerts in Portugal and throughout the world.

The huge burst of current international recognition for the fado, most recently from UNESCO,  recalls for Camané a time when the music held very little appeal to Portuguese youth. "My friends did not listen to the fado, but I believed in it. With time, their attitudes changed. After many years and I eventually re-encountered my generation through the fado. I always held on to the belief that the fado was a music of deep quality, something that could touch people."

His new CD--and the concert at the Zeiterion--will look both to his own history and to his future. The CD was recorded and mixed at the storied studios of Valentim de Carvalho, where he recorded his first CD, Uma Noite de Fados (EMI, 1995), with the support of Amália Rodrigues. The latest work includes both traditional and new fado music, with lyrics he has never before recorded. The singer says that last year's visit to New Bedford made a strong and very positive impression on him, and those who attend the show at the Zeiterion are likely to hear some of these works performed live in the US for the first time.

Camané retains his passion for the fado. "The fado is a music for the world. It is something that will endure in the history of the world, along with other great musics." But can the fado live and thrive outside of Portugal? "The fado can be sung and lived in any part of the world," he says. Recalling the many fine fado singers and musicians he has heard on his travels, he continues: "Wherever there are Portuguese, there can be fado. The ability to sing the fado is something that is inside of us."

Camané performs at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at 8pm. Joining Camané is the fadista Carminho. For ticket information, visit http://www.zeiterion.org.

29 May 2014

I have some explaining to do!

Since starting the organization "Portuguese/American Cultural Exchange" with my friend Feligénio Medeiros, my time has shifted away from writing about the fado. Now, I am mainly involved in organizing cultural exchange based on the fado. Last year was great: we hosted the singers Rodrigo Costa Félix (with Marta Pereira da Costa and Pedro Pinhal) and Ricardo Ribeiro (with Pedro Joia), and helped organize two university lectures (at Rutgers University and Brown University) by the iconoclastic writer, singer and composer Daniel Gouveia. We are now working on programs for the coming academic year (one in fall, one in spring), which we expect will cover both the east and west coasts. Rodrigo Costa Félix will also be in the US for a brief visit this July--including a visit to Kansas City on 12 July (more on that visit is here).

But I still find some time for writing. Here are a few recent articles of mine that might be interesting:

An interview with Gisela João on the eve of her first concert in the US.
No one bifurcates the fado cognoscenti like Gisela. Her first "real" CD (2013's "Gisela João") was an instant hit. But for many people, it was a hit for all the wrong reasons (cue the Converse High Tops, nonstop cigarettes, and patented tough girl attitude). Yet some of the hardest of the hardcore fado people I know have confessed to me privately that, while Gisela João certainly stretches the limits of the acceptable, hers is a protean talent--particularly live. After interviewing her, I think I can see her trajectory more clearly--though I'm still not sure where the person ends and the singer begins, or even if such a distinction is meaningful. I'll be in Newark to hear her on this tour.

A preview of Camané's show at the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford.
It's no secret that this show was not particularly well attended, but this has nothing to do with Camané's immense accomplishments. My feeling is that Camané--along with a few other singers such as Ricardo Ribeiro--is too much a fadista (despite a few ill-advised forays into the syrupy side of the fado) to fill such a large place. Maybe venues like the Zeiterion will only continue to work for the Marizas and Ana Mouras of the world--I don't know.  As an aside, Camané has recently given up smoking and is on a certifiable health and fitness kick. Good! That voice needs to be preserved for subsequent generations!

A short article on the fado for a National Geographic travel book called "Where the Locals Go."
This is a book covering more than 300 locations worldwide, so I am especially happy that my article is one of only two full-length about Lisbon (the other is about azuleijos--Portuguese tiles--which is great). In fact, the article came about due to a post on this blog, One Night at Sr. Fado. The path to publication was absurdly circuitous: the text went from a shortened, still personal version of the blog post, to an annotated list of fado joints, to a pap story about the origins of the fado (courtesy of one copywriter's overanxious hand), then back to a personal story--albeit one that touched on other locations besides Sr. Fado.

Thanks for reading this blog!

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.

18 September 2013

You and me and fado

O Fado em Movimento
Nuno Saraiva
I wanted to make more fado happen in the US, and I convinced my friend Feligénio Medeiros to help. The consequences of this decision pushed all my fado writing (including this page) to the side for months. But now our efforts are close to bearing fruition. We've secured a number of sponsors, and have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds.

We began with very lofty aims: the fado as a bridge between communities--especially Portuguese communities--in the US and in Portugal. Neither of us was interested in making money off the endeavor. My own inspirations are the many individuals in Lisbon (like Tony Loretti) who organize fado events because they feel the fado brings people together like nothing else. Along the way Feligénio and I have come face-to-face with some hard (but not insurmountable) financial realities, but we have also found that there are lots of other like-minded people who want to make the fado happen because it should.

Feligénio and I formed a nonprofit corporation, "Portuguese/American Cultural Exchange," specifically for this purpose. We wanted to reach and people and help them connect through fado performances and lots of other activities, like workshops and appearances at schools in the areas where the artists are performing. Luís Pires and José Pracana graciously agreed to serve on our board.

Rodrigo Costa Félix
We convinced Rodrigo Costa Félix to be the first fadista to work with us. He is a dynamic guy: driven and modern, but also deeply versed in the tradition of the fado. He is coming with a fado dream team: Marta Pereira da Costa on the guitarra portuguesa and Pedro Pinhal on the viola do fado. Marta is a classically trained musician--and former professional civil engineer--who decided to pursue the fado full time. The complementary female voices are the US-based fadistas Nathalie Pires (who has written previously for this blog), Catarina Avelar, Kimberly Gomes and Fátima Santos. All four are  accomplished singers, with different histories and tastes, suggesting that the fado can indeed flourish outside Portugal. Marta and Pedro will be joined by one more US-based artist, the musician Pedro Pimentel on the viola baixa. All of us look forward to hearing the dynamic that emerges within this small nucleus of artists as they play throughout the northeast US.

Marta Pereira da Costa
As word has gotten out about this endeavor, we have received help from a wide range of people and organizations--despite my many missteps! The Saab-Pedroso Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at University of Massachusetts/Lowell saw how our mission complemented theirs and agreed to host the kickoff concert. The Boston office of the Portuguese Consul-General--together with the Camões Institute-- helped us make connections in Portuguese diplomatic circles and beyond.  SATA airlines agreed to  sponsor the artists' transatlantic travel. The illustrator Nuno Saraiva developed our logo and official poster. And then there are all the people who want to help simply because they love the fado. Despite all the help, this is a complex and expensive endeavor. If you want to contribute (and receive some nice benefits), please consider making a donation through our Kickstarter campaign.

These artists will be performing in alot of different places, from Portuguese social clubs and restaurants to high profile nightclubs.  All the dates and venues currently booked are here--with more to come.

Feligénio has done this sort of thing before, but not me. Normally, I am sitting in my office. If I go to Lisbon and hear the fado, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. But I am excited at the prospect of seeing people at the shows, how they react, and how the artists react to them and to each other. It'll be two intense weeks, but I hope the first of many more.