Artists You Should Know: Carlos do Carmo

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Carlos do Carmo - Recording
Portuguese fadista, Carlos do Carmo (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

There is a new documentary by filmmaker Ivan Dias, called Um Homem no Mundo, that hit Portugal’s theater circuit on New Year’s Day. Best known for his work as Carlos Saura’s co-director for the documentary, Fado (2007), Dias has now turned his camera to Portugal’s champion of its fado heritage, Carlos do Carmo.

I’ve long been a fan of fado, the Portuguese traditional song form, ever since lusophile historian, Donald Cohen, visited me on Morning Becomes Eclectic back in 1988, bringing with him albums by a bunch of artists that I’d never heard of. Fado, once much less known than flamenco or tango, has now carved its own niche and gained dedicated followings in America, Japan, and other countries outside of Europe.

In my interviews with top fado artists like Mísia, Mariza, Ana Moura, Cristina Branco, and others, Carlos do Carmo has been named repeatedly as a hugely influential teacher and mentor, credited with cultivating a whole new wave of fadistas. What Nadia Boulanger was to Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Ástor Piazzolla, Carlos do Carmo has been to a whole new generation of singers who have reimagined fado.

The son of legendary fado singer and fado house owner, Lucília do Carmo, do Carmo came into his own fame when he made the world stage by placing in the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest with “Uma Flor de Verde Pinho” (“A Green Pine Flower”), a ballad proclaiming his love for his Portugal, following the 1974 Carnation Revolution’s coup d’état in Lisbon, which ended nearly fifty years of military dictatorship and decades of censorship.

During his extensive fifty-year career, do Carmo has not only upheld—but revitalized—the Portuguese fado tradition by pushing the art form and infusing his own practice with other cultural elements such as French pop balladry, Brazilian bossa nova, and even jazz. The broad range of his unique stylings can be heard in hits like “Lágrimas de Orvalho” or his Frank Sinatra covers sung alongside the Count Basie Orchestra.

Carlos do Carmo - Latin Grammy (2014)
Latin Recording Academy Chairman Luis Cobos honors Carlos do Carmo at the 2014 Latin Grammy Awards. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

And whereas fadistas are customarily accompanied by guitarra portuguesa (Portuguese guitar) or small fado ensembles, do Carmo was the first to pair this intimacy of sound and expression with the backing of full orchestras, enabling performances to scale acoustically from small fado houses to huge theater spaces that seat audiences numbering in the thousands.

Carlos do Carmo was honored in 2014 as the first Portuguese to receive the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award Grammy by The Latin Recording Academy. In 2011, as one of Lisbon’s elected cultural ambassadors for fado, do Carmo was instrumental in the Portuguese urban song tradition’s induction to UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The documentary, Um Homem no Mundo, follows Carlos do Carmo on the road over the course of one year, capturing his extraordinary life, his work, and concerts around the world, with guest appearances by the late Spanish flamenco guitarist, Paco de Lucía, Brazilian composer/guitarist Chico Buarque, and many others. Let’s hope this documentary makes it to our shores!

Watch the trailer for Ivan Dias’ Carlos do Carmo: Um Homem no Mundo  (2014).

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Carlos do Carmo performs “Uma Flor de Verde Pinho” at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976.

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