Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Triste Cantado - The New Fadistas

A new generation of angelic-voiced divas has hit the world music scene. And they're all young, beautiful and Portuguese.

Following in the footsteps of Portugal's most famous female entertainer, Amalia Rodrigues, this new generation of highly stylized and emotional vocalists is a musical phenomenon of major proportions - not to be overlooked by serious musical explorers.

Most fans of world music, jazz and the popular music of the 70's and 80's are familiar with Portuguese-language songs from Brazil. More recently, the island of Cape Verde off of Angola has produced a host of well-received Afro-Portuguese vocalists, including: Cesaria Evora; Waldamar Bastos and the Mendes Brothers.

The new divas of Portuguese song are the young "fadistas."

I'm not sure how the Portuguese fado originated. One of the world's most haunting and melancholy styles, the fado has become the modern voice of Portuguese musical traditions - just as the Samba is the soul of Brazilian music. The word "fado" comes from the Latin fatum, meaning fate, destiny or doom.

The Fado is yearning and melancholy, before all else. The Portuguese have always been widely traveled explorers and seamen. One can only suppose that these long journeys - characterized by homesick sailors and home-bound lonely wives - played a role in the Fado's development.

Structurally, the fado features the Portuguese Guitarra, the classical guitar - called a viola in Portugal - and a strong, often contralto voice. Though a number of male vocalists perform fados, the song is best and most recognizably performed by female artists - who often drape themselves in black shawls while on stage and devote themselves to the tradition. Fadistas perform in a still posture which is solemn and dignified, using hand and facial gestures to add style and emphasis to their songs.

Amalia Rodrigues, Portugal's most internationally acclaimed celebrity of the last century, was a renowned "fadista" who brought her style and presence to stages and audiences worldwide in her heyday. A symbol of the Portuguese culture, there was an official state mourning period of three days when she died in 1999.

Argentina Santos, who, it is written, still lives and cooks in Lisbon, was also a celebrated practitioner of the art of the Fado. Today, young and vital singers like Misia, Mariza, Christina Branco and Malfalda Arnauth continue the tradition. Even Cesaria Evora, Cape Verde's Diva of song, relies on the Fado to really move her audiences. And moving an audience, often to sympathetic tears, is the whole point of a Fado performance.

Songs combine traditional Iberian folk influences with North African, Gypsy and some Middle-Eastern vocal ornamentation. That's my ear and opinion. Like authentic Flamenco in Spain, finding real Fado in Lisbon can be challenging. From what I've read, the smaller bars with no stages, just a couple of chairs for the musicians and a created space for the vocalist, are the best bets. And there is a tradition of absolute silence while listening to Fado being performed. I'm sure that speaks to the emotional content of the songs, whether you understand the language or not. The passion and yearning are palpable.

Sample playlist

Song Artist

Fado Da Saudade Amália Rodrigues
Guitare Triste Amália Rodrigues
Dura Memoria Amália Rodrigues
O Fado Chora-Se Bem Maria Da Fe
Medo Mariza
Toada Do Desengano Mariza
Que Deus me Perdoe Mariza
Primavera Mariza
Fado Arnauth Mafalda Arnauth
Canção Mafalda Arnauth
Cavalo à Solta Mafalda Arnauth
O sabor de saber Cristina Branco
Um Fado Palavras minhas Cristina Branco
Soneto de separação Cristina Branco

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