"Amália doesn't need a successor or a daughter, because her music is still alive."
Marty Lipp talks with the next generation of fadistas: Mísia, Mariza, Cristina Branco and Dulce Pontes.
Imagine if The Beatles had dominated rock for 60 years instead of the 10 they were together; that would begin to give you an idea of the kind of dominance that Amália Rodrigues had over Portuguese fado.
Like Spanish flamenco, Argentine tango and the American blues, fado rose from poverty, where daily hardscrabble existence sparked the urge to cry out, albeit artistically.
Like the other genres, fado eventually was embraced by the more "respectable" parts of society. Its pervasive melancholy, which first found sympathy among homesick sailors and the urban poor, became a touchstone for an introspective people whose land looks out onto the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
Rodrigues began her career in 1939 and became the undisputed queen of fado for the next several decades, retaining her status through her semi-retirement. With her powerful voice and sense of high drama, Rodrigues seemed to shout down fate itself and held audiences rapt.
In the years after Portugal's peaceful "Carnation Revolution" in 1974, fado was marginalized because it had been touted by the former dictators. In a strange twist of fate, however, fado has become more popular worldwide since Rodrigues's death in 1999. One reason has been the rise of a handful of young talented women who the press regularly dubs heirs to Rodrigues. Even in the U.S., where we are accustomed to Hollywood happy endings and sugary pop music, there is a small, growing audience for the bittersweet emotional palette of fado.
Three of the new generation of fadistas have recently released albums stateside: Mísia's "Ritual" (Erato), Mariza's "Fado Em Mim" (Times Square) and Cristina Branco's "Corpo Illuminado" (Decca). A fourth, Dulce Pontes, has taken time off to have a child, but released the ambitious "O Primeiro Canto" (Polydor) last year, which explored fado and other types of traditional Portuguese music.
Someone unfamiliar with fado would probably have trouble hearing any difference between the three fadista's recent releases. While similar, they have some subtle differences: Mísia's is a bit grittier, Mariza's shows some influence of jazz and Branco's is a bit prettier and less dramatic.
Mísia has been singing fado professionally since 1990. She said she had planned to make a more intellectual fado album, but changed her mind just as she was about to begin recording. She said a visit to a small fado house inspired her to recreate the intimacy of a small performance space. Her new goal, she said, was to express "physical emotions" rather than cerebral ones.
She recorded on older recording equipment, she said, that "can capture the beautiful parts of a vocal and also the imperfections." She recruited veteran musicians, some of whom had recorded with Amália Rodrigues, and they recorded songs from start to finish instead of patching together the technically perfect parts of different takes. Finally, she said, she included songs from popular fado lyricists instead of the contemporary poets that she had tapped for her prior work.
Mariza was born in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique, but immigrated to Portugal when she was five years old. Although she started singing fado as a child, hearing it first at her parents' restaurant in Lisbon, she gave it up when she was a teenager. She said her friends told her, "don't sing fado, it's for old people," so she began singing bossa nova, blues and jazz.
Five years ago, she realized that she needed to be true to herself and take up fado professionally. "It's like breathing, it's me," she said of fado.
Branco fell for fado on her 18th birthday in 1990 when her grandfather gave her a Rodrigues album. Her career took off after she first gained fame outside her homeland, in the Netherlands.
The wizard behind Branco's success is Custódio Castelo, who is her guitarist, arranger, producer, songwriter and husband. Still, Branco has a gorgeous voice and mesmerized a Manhattan audience last fall when she performed.
Pontes began as a rock singer, but eventually found her way to fado. She said that fado is "very special music to express myself, almost like a prayer, with great respect. It's not necessarily sadness...it's putting yourself naked in a very deep sense."
Mísia pointed out that fados are about everything from bullfights to anarchic politics. "But," she said, "the fados that travel better, and that foreigners like better, are the sad ones."
The singers also do not chafe at being compared to Rodrigues. "It's a big compliment," said Mariza, saying it would be akin to a jazz singer being compared favorably to Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald.
"Amália doesn't need a successor or a daughter," said Mísia, "because her music is still alive."
Article by Marty Lipp
Amalia Rodrigues has literally hundreds of recordings available, so just seek her out at any good record store. If you are a complete novice with her music, you might try the collection, "The Art Of Amalia" - CF
Many other recordings of music from Portugal are available at cdRoots
Read Marty Lipp's full interview with Dulce Pontes
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