Amid all the depressing economic news emanating day after day in Portugal, even melancholic fado music can provide welcome light relief, especially when sung by Ana Moura. It is also giving solace of sorts to Portuguese emigrants who have sought a better life abroad.
There can be no greater compliment to a female fado singer than to be likened to the iconic Amália Rodrigues. Although bordering on the heretical to some older fado aficionados, this is the kind of reputation Ana Moura is garnering on her current tour of Europe and North America.
So far this month she has performed to full houses in San Francisco, Boston, New York, Washington and Cleveland. This weekend it’s Chicago and Minneapolis, then on to North Carolina and Ontario.
A correspondent for the Boston Globe described Moura as “one of the latest singers to come out of the Lisbon taverns, where fado’s essence resides, and become one of its global ambassadors. She embodies, at a high level, modern fado’s duality: her potent contralto and her traditional fado treatments have earned her Amália comparisons at home – the ultimate connoisseur’s praise.”
As a fado “ambassador,” Moura is rivalling Mozambique-born Mariza who in the past decade has reportedly sold a million records and played more than a thousand concerts worldwide.
Moura has been singing fado since the age of six. Her interpretations of the form of music unique to the Portuguese have moved on from the purely traditional songs she learned from her fado-singing parents in Santarém.
“I started to grow up and listen to all kinds of styles, and I always sang many styles, but I always felt as a fado singer. It’s a way to express your feelings, your soul,” says Moura, now 33.
Rather shy off-stage, she has resisted being ‘programmed’ as a performer and cherished individual freedom of expression. “We are authentic if we sing with our souls. It should come from inside. I want the spontaneity that my parents taught me when I was young,” she says.
It helps, but you don’t have to understand Portuguese to appreciate fado. “If you have the emotion, the message can be felt by the audience even if they don’t understand the lyrics,” she told the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. In her recently released album, Desfado, three of the 14 songs are in English. One is called “Thank You, and the lyrics include the lines “Thank you for making me cry” and “Thank you for breaking my heart.”
Said a music critic in the New York Daily News, “The point, it seems, is to savour emotion itself, to celebrate the frisson of feeling beyond consequence. It takes a singer of rare passion to articulate the nuances of such risks and, right now, the Lisbon-based Moura stands at the forefront of them.”
Her innovative fado renditions sometimes incorporate elements of modern popular music. Some of her melodies are even downright jaunty, but much of what she sings is still plaintive. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones put his finger on it by describing fado as “Portuguese blues.”
On meeting her for the first time, Richards also succinctly summed up another of Moura’s attributes: “She’s very, very pretty.”
The mutual admiration between the Rolling Stones and the beguilingly demure Miss Moura was (and still is) obvious from YouTube videos of them rehearsing and performing together in Lisbon back in 2007 (click on link below).
Today in Portugal, Moura's 'blues' could not be more in tune with this time of deep pessimism over debt, austerity, unemployment and the future for the nation’s youth.
While her current concert tour is attracting admirers of various nationalities, many in her audiences are Portuguese emigrants. Over the past two years, since the country entered its worst recession in decades, some 240,000 people have left to join the millions of other Portuguese already living abroad. Moura’s music nicely satisfies feelings of homesickness, nostalgia, fate - saudades.
* Ana Moura is performing in the Barbican Centre in London on 20th April.