Union of Sound: Portugal

16 October 2013
By: Sam Murray

Welcome to another edition of Union of Sound, a unique exploration of Popular Music in Europe taking in music from acts that innovative, creative and exciting. Last time I talked about music that is exciting me from Hungary and this week we are going to southern Europe and the fado houses and the restaurants of Portugal the home of Port, Jinjinha and place that claims to be able to cook cod in over 1,000 ways! But it is also home to one of the only officially UNESCO protected forms of music, Fado. As many of my friends will attest I can’t shut up about Fado, it has grabbed my soul and constantly plays my heartstrings. It even led to me to become engrossed in the Portuguese poet Pessoa whose multiple writing personalities and themes of longing and fate walk hand in hand with the music that it inspired. The Wim Wenders film Lisbon Story captures the feelings one goes through when experiencing the Portuguese Capital. The most captivating moment is when Philip is exploring his friend’s house upon arriving after a long road trip from Germany. Philip hears a sound that gets louder until we find it to be beautiful and transfixing music coming from behind a closed door. He opens it to find a band playing a stunning song sitting in a circle, that band is Madredeus performing ‘Guitarra’, it turns out that Philip has made a wonderful discovery that the audience also experiences. Philip’s musical epiphany is something anyone who has been to Lisbon can relate to. I visited the city with friends last year and had my own Lisbon Story moment when a friend and I went out in the evening to find a convenience store and stumbled down Rua da Atalaia. Walking down the street our ears were delighted to find a different type of music coming out of every doorway. The next evening we convinced our other friends to join us as we once again went down the street and had to pick something to go see, in the end we settled upon a Brazilian 5 piece with charangos and panderos as well as guitar, bass and drums who were incredible. They didn’t have a CD or a name and it felt a truly special moment. Ever since I left Lisbon I have been longing to go back, and Fado articulates this longing and fate.

Fado is a musical that translates as roughly fate and can be a term synonymous with emotions of longing and exploring ideas of destiny. The undisputed queen of fado is the late Amalia Rodriguez who pioneered the genre but what is not clear is who has succeeded Amalia whose legacy is far from being reached. It would perhaps be a form of blasphemy to crown a new Queen of Fado so perhaps a Prince or Princess could be made, and we are not short of contenders. For me it comes down to two insatiable voices: Ana Moura and Carminho. Both offer Fado modernity and give it their own telling reinterpreting the name of the genre in different ways.

Ana Moura is the rock n roll Fadista (a term for one who sings fado). Ana has appeared with the Rolling Stones, been flown out to LA for her latest record Desfado where she worked with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Larry Klein who has produced the record worked with Joni Mitchell whose ‘Case of You’ is covered by Moura on the album. This album is perfect introduction to Fado for those unfamiliar with the genre as it bridges the gap with pop music. Not only do we get the stunning Joni Mitchell cover, sung in English, presented in a Fado style but we also get songs such as ‘Thank You’ which presents a fado song in English to help the audience to get to grips with the themes and ideas. This album is the first time we hear Ana sing in English which is significant as it suggests that he English speaking consumption of Fado is growing. Ana has been in demand in the UK making a television appearance on Later… with Jools Holland to critical acclaim. Ana was one of the first Fadista I invested time to when wanting to make a conscious effort to get to know the genre and it is within her earlier more traditional work I find solace. My favourite song performed is ‘Rumo Ao Sul’ (Heading South) from 2009’s Leva-me aos Fados (Take me to the Fados) a beautiful ballad in which Ana’s voice wraps comfortably around two highly melodic Portuguese guitars playing captivating lines. I can’ help but imagine the yellow trams in Lisbon rattling down the side streets on a sunny day. Ana has a beguiling stage presence and like most Fadistas observes the black shawl as a mark of respect to Maria Severa, a fadista who died at the young age of 26, a singer who vastly populised the genre.

Carminho is an entirely different fadista to Ana. She observes more traditional forms of fado and energises them with intense, pure and genuine emotion. I got the chance to see Carminho perform in my home city of Leeds, and was left speechless after seeing her perform. I have never seen someone invest so much emotion into performing. Her face contorted from passion to longing and pain her body would physically project these emotions wrapping around every note played. I was left greatly moved in a way I didn’t think possible. She also works with a stunning Portuguese guitarist Luis Guererro who plays with such passion and class accompanied by joyous cheeky facial expressions. Carminho has become a Lisbon’s sweetheart and while in the city I couldn’t move without seeing her face on a poster. She has collaborated with some artists as equally interesting as those who Ana Moura has worked with. My favourite of her collaborations is the song ‘Cais’ from the album Alma which is a duet with Milton Nascimento a big name in Brazillian music. Milton’s voice is so vulnerable and when he combines with Carminho who sings with strength and passion makes the song leap out the ether. In terms of Caminho’s own catalogue my favourite track is ‘Meu Namorado’ (My Boyfriend) also on Alma, a lullaby-like love song with genuine emotions of love that drifts like a breeze. So gentle. So calm.


Luísa Sobral
© João Lima

Portugal of course has other genres to offer and it is through Fado we find another of the nation’s great musical exports Luisa Sobral. Luisa has songwriting credits writing for Ana Moura and although she has worked with a landmark fadista Luisa’s own music is somewhat different. Some people say Fado is Portuguese Jazz or Blues, I heavily disagree with this. Whilst I think Fado is a genre in its own right, thus incomparable, Portugal can offer us great jazz in the form of Luisa Sobral. Luisa first came to my attention after appearing on Later…With Jools Holland when she performed ‘Not there yet’, my father really enjoyed it so I bought him her album for Christmas only to then steal it upon listening to it in the car. Sorry Dad! The Cherry on My Cake is such a charming record with beautiful melodies, quirky lyrics and solo turns by incredibly skilled performers from the clarinet solo line in ‘O Engraxador’ to the stunning keys work in ‘I would love to’ underpinned with soft drums and intelligent bass. I keep changing my mind on my favourite track on this album but at the moment it has to be ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ with its funky bass riff which the piano joins in on half way through creating an exciting timbre. The song is full of beautiful quirky lyrics such as ‘I am hanging like a pair of tied shoes’ and ‘don’t let me down you know that I won’t meet the mean old lady down the street’ it also has an exciting soft guitar solo that brings out everyone’s jazz face. A stunning record you just gotta own.

So I’ve talked about the big hitting soloists so it is time to mention a couple of groups. Deolinda are a troupe of Portuguese musicians who play about with many ideas including some fado based music. They first came to public attention with their album Canção ao Ladoa fado based concept album about a woman who is perhaps agoraphobic and lives a hermit lifestyle in a Lisboan apartment and the things she sees out her window. The album beautifully translates as The Song Next Door and captures all sorts of images to help you imagine a typical Lisbon day through a session of musical people watching. Deolinda really come to their full potential on the stunning Dois Selus E Um Carimbo a collection of song well shaded with flourishes of colour. The track ‘Um Contra O Outro’ is a gorgeous musical gem that is full of Lisboan charm. Their last single ‘Seja Agora’ is perfect Portuguese Pop combining fado and folk with more known pop devices such as catch riffs and an easy sing a long chorus, this is quite possible the centre piece of the Portuguese vision of pop!


Flor de Lis

Another group I have a fond affection for is Flor de Lis who came to fame after representing Portugal in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow with ‘Todas as Ruas Do Amor’ or ‘On The Street of Love I Ran’. The band has a vision to harvest and combine all the music they enjoy from around the world with influences from Macedonia, the UK, South America and more. Singer Daniela Varela has such a wonderful presence on stage inviting you into the musical experience with such conviction and a singing voice that is beautiful and endearing. Their album Signo Solar is truly a testament to their vision combining Portuguese moments with Brazillian, Preuvian and Argentinian styles but not in an ostentatious manner. They are closing in on that hard second album at the moment rumoured to be titled Mapi Mundi and if single ‘Cinema Paraiso’ is anything to go by I doubt we’ll be disappointed with this record as the band sound more matured with a strong melody and instrumentation. I was lucky to meet leader singer Daniela Varela in Lisbon, in fact I came to Lisbon on her invitation to join her for a drink. We met on the hottest day of the Lisboan summer with fellow Flor de Lis member Jorge and drink Jinjinha talking about music. Daniela introduced me to the Macedonian band Foltin who inspired her writing and one track in particular ‘Milice’ displays a clear influence for the band who have learn from them a subtle way to tend to all the musical ideas in the world that may excited them.

Portugal has a rich musical culture and I am more than sure that this only scrapes the surface as Portugal grows. I could go on and on I am sure about the exciting music Portugal, in fact my friends are already tired of my Fado obsession! There are other artists I urge you to explore such as Antonio Zambujo and Miguel Araujo . So let Portugal into year heart and be prepared to have a longing for Lisbon as fate grabs hold of your ears and won’t let go!


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