Ana Moura performs at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica next month on Feb. 17th. It is the perfect venue for her acoustic music. Elegant, not too big, great acoustics. Fado is like a fine, old but hidden bottle of cognac. Many people are discovering its riches. Fado, like tango, blues, and jazz, started in the poor sailor districts of Lisbon. Its followers were sailors, poor people on the outskirts of society, prostitutes. Ironically it became associated during the 1960s and 70s, with the long and repressive Salazar colonial dictatorship, which fought to prevent its African colonies from becoming independent. But all that is changing. Fado has since regained respect among Portuguese youth and has become ten-fold more popular over the past few years, largely because of a new crop of fado singers: Cristina Branco, Mariza, Mayra Andrade, Misia, Dulce Pontes, and Ana Moura.
Unlike tango or flamenco, however, fado isn’t as well known outside of Portugal. One reason is that fewer people visit Lisbon, which is a shame. It’s an incredibly beautiful city. There are more love songs celebrating Lisbon than Paris! Fado shares emotional attributes with both flamenco and tango. It is a passionate music, with intense emotions smoldering just below the surface. And it exudes the gossamer filigree of chamber music, the intimacy of a solo concert. The instruments: the distinctive 12-string guitarra portuguesa, guitar, guitar bass give singers the transparent background to really shine.
I first learned about fado from Charlie Haden, who told me about the guitarist Carlos Paredes, whose great 1966 Nonesuch CD Guitarra Portuguesa turned many people onto this regional artform. And we must not forget the alpha and omega of singers, the late Amalia Rodrigues, whom I profiled in my book Rhythm Planet: The Great World Music Makers (Rizzoli, 1998). Amalia got her start singing in the fish markets where she was noticed in short order. But aside from a small guest appearance on the Eddie Fisher TV show, she never became that well known in the U.S. Her song “Coimbra” (April in Portugal), however, became a minor hit. Amalia spent time in Spain as a teenager and learned the meaning of duende, which is also part of fado’s emotional gestalt. And of course the other untranslatable phenomenon, saudade, inhabits the soul of fado and most Lusophone music. Cesaria Evora’s first big worldwide hit was “sodade”.
I also must acknowledge Don Cohen, who taught me so much about fado. He has written an excellent book on the subject, Fado Portues: Songs from the Soul of Portugal.
Two of Ana Moura’s biggest fans are Mick Jagger and Prince. The Stones asked her to perform their song “No Expectations”. You can watch it online. Prince followed her around Europe, attending her every show.
Bottom line: If you like singers, you will love Ana Moura. If you like classical music, you will love Ana Moura. If you love great guitar playing, you will love Ana Moura. If you love beauty, you must go.
Here is a link to a youtube video of the fado “os buzios”: