Posts Tagged ‘fado’

Ricardo Ribeiro – A Curious Fadista

Posted on May 18th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

ricardo ribeiro

Ricardo Ribeiro sings fado enriched by his flamenco and Arabic leanings. Gonçalo Frota speaks to the singer prior to his UK solo concert debut

Ricardo Ribeiro will perform at Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 1. Click here to buy tickets.

There is something about Ricardo Ribeiro that makes you feel convinced he’s channelling several lives through the words he sings. You don’t have to dig deep into his biography to get the sense that his fado is much older than he actually is (he’s 35). Ribeiro’s fado seems to feed off the voracious curiosity he has for the world. But even before he turned professional, Ribeiro made several different life choices and pushed away various different fates. “Singing was not a choice,” he says. “It was almost a compulsion. Every day I believe more in destiny.”

Born in Lisbon, Ribeiro was a young boy when he was sent to a church school in Torres Novas where Father Manuel Alves became his first master. For a time he considered entering the seminary and becoming a priest. Now, looking back on that period, he realises he wasn’t really drawn to the priesthood but rather to the theological set of rules that helped him make some sense of the world. Financial reasons prevented him from continuing along this path. The fundamental seed, however, had already been planted by Father Manuel Alves: a profound love for poetry and for everything that breathed life.

After leaving school, Ribeiro relocated to Pinhal Novo, a town on the outskirts of Lisbon. Aged 16, he spent his nights learning his trade singing with his elders, while his days were spent on the south bank of the Tejo river. At night he devoured every bit of wisdom these older singers shared with him. Then he would take the last train or the first boat out of Lisbon to work as a builder, a butcher or a herdsman. “During summertime,” he acknowledges, “it was easier because I’d be up all night and after taking out the cattle, the heat would make them go back inside and I could get some rest.”

Ribeiro realises it sounds as if he is romanticising his past life. But he confesses he adored this period, having animals as company that made him cherish silence and enabled him to spend his days at a slower pace. “It’s a life I really enjoy, a life of wisdom that people often don’t appreciate.” During the less busy hours he read, listened to music and prepared his own fados. It also gave him space to develop one of his core characteristics: curiosity. “I am a very curious individual,” he confesses. “If someone tells me about a subject I know nothing about, I sit quietly, listen, then go home and do my research.” Curiosity, he believes, helps him deal with anxiety, makes him feel he has control and gives him a sense of clarity when he feels isolated “inside a bubble of disbelief.” This is usually when Ribeiro finds solace and inspiration in discovering something new from his newfound knowledge.

There are two men who have had a remarkable influence on Ribeiro’s career path and to who he is profoundly grateful. Firstly, the late fadista Fernando Maurício, albeit not well known outside of Portugal, but extremely influential. Maurício cared little for public recognition and was a faithful guardian of the purest form of traditional fado. He sang in fado houses and at local clubs instead of on bigger stages. He was a prodigy of intuition with little or no musical education. As a teenager Ribeiro held him in such high regard he even followed him around and started imitating his hero’s walk. But the most important lesson, Ribeiro stresses, was teaching the young boy to master his fear of making the wrong fado choices.

“It was strange,” Ribeiro recalls, “Maurício taught me how to overcome fear, but at the same time he also used to instigate some fear. He told me I couldn’t do this and that, that I had to sing a certain fado in a whispered manner or how do divide the verses, but he wouldn’t let me repeat myself.” He gave Ribeiro an indispensable set of rules to flourish as a fadista, while also challenging him to bend those same rules.

The other fundamental encounter in his life came some years later. In 2004 Ribeiro recorded his eponymous album, the one he considers officially launched his career. Following this, in 2006 theatre director Ricardo Pais introduced him to Lebanese oud virtuoso Rabih Abou-Khalil. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” says the fadista. “Rabih showed me things I did not know about myself. He saw them in me when I never suspected to have them, and I am forever grateful for that. Whenever I’m going through hard times in my life now, it’s Rabih that I talk to. He always has a wise and helpful word. And you can also hear that insight in his music.”

Em Português (2008), the astonishing record Ribeiro made with Abou-Khalil and his musicians, was a game changer. Forcing the singer into the technically demanding world of jazz and Arabic music, it freed him up to explore the different musical languages he always felt close to but did not know how to make compatible with his primary fado source. After Rabih Abou-Khalil, it made complete sense whenever Ribeiro quoted a triangle of references comprising Amália Rodrigues, Alfredo Marceneiro and Fernando Maurício (fado), Camarón de la Isla and Paco de Lucia (flamenco), Abou-Khalil and Oum Kalthoum (Arabic music). Suddenly, the Gypsy traces in Ribeiro’s voice became evident; the Arabic heritage in Alentejo music didn’t sound intrusive and the typical fado neighbourhoods in Lisbon no longer shied away from their Moorish and Jewish-steeped history.

The albums Largo da Memória and Hoje é Assim, Amanhã Não Sei – both nominated for Songlines Music Awards in 2015 and 2017 respectively – benefitted from this new-found broad musicality. They’re unquestionably rooted in fado, but yet they transcend it. And they come from a similar place: Ribeiro’s intense reaction to poetry. “Every once in a while,” he explains, “there is a poem that gets a sigh out of me and, even though I didn’t write it, I claim it as mine. I am a thief. I steal all the time, but I only do it because it sweeps me off my feet. I steal from poetry, from cinema, from photography, obviously from music. It’s like picking up a beautiful flower from the garden. I didn’t create it, but it’s so beautiful I must make it mine.”

Toada de Portalegre (Song of Portalegre) and Orfeu Rebelde (Rebel Orpheo), two poems by José Régio and Miguel Torga respectively, are the key elements to each of these albums. Ribeiro confesses to liking records built around a central idea. When such a poem takes hold of his thoughts, he starts to spot little bits of it in everything he reads, so he ends up making a personal map of words to tell the story he wants to sing, collecting poems that serve as branches, sprouting out of that fundamental text. Hoje é Assim, Amanhã Não Sei translates as ‘Today’s Like This, Tomorrow I Don’t Know,’ a title he uses to assert his right to change and to challenge expectations. As a constantly curious man he believes in moving on, explaining that “a snake changes its skin in order to live,” and “poor are the spirits that do not change, for they can’t be reborn.”

“Living is being open to everything that happens and I try to purge myself every once in a while. It is a hard exercise. But I’m 35 and still have a lot ahead of me, I should not be imprisoned by prejudice and preconceived ideas. I’m always changing my opinion. I don’t care for being discredited, for it’s a matter of sensibility. The moment I find something new, I’m prepared to confront it with my opinion and change if I have to.”

Having been brought up in fado among older and often more conservative singers, Ribeiro was for quite a while a radical opponent to any form of fado that welcomed modernity and did not invest all its energy interpreting the traditional songbook. But little by little he started to concede that in order to stay relevant, as with any other musical form, it should not resist innovation. “Fado does not exist outside of society,” he says. “It never did, it has always adapted to each particular time.” As long as it’s honest, Ribeiro has nothing against it. That is also what he is pursuing for himself. Rather than being understood, he’d like people to believe in him. Believing, as an act of faith, as something spiritual and beyond reason.

Ricardo Ribeiro will perform at Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 1

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Spotlight: António Zambujo

Posted on April 12th, 2017 in Features by .


Michael Macaroon speaks to the Portuguese singer and guitarist who will make a welcome return to London in April for La Linea

The title of António Zambujo’s latest album, Até Pensei que Fosse Minha (Until I Thought it was Mine), could stand as the tag line for his whole musical career. His extraordinary popularity as a singer and guitarist, both in his native Portugal and abroad is founded on a seemingly effortless absorption of musical influences ranging from fado to bossa nova, taking in Chet Baker, Serge Gainsbourg and Bulgarian folk choirs on the way.

This latest outing is a tribute disc to Chico Buarque, the Brazilian singer whose 50-year career has encompassed dozens of albums, as well as plays, poems and novels, not to mention political protest. Buarque’s samba and tropicália roots may not seem obvious material for a fado singer, though the points of cultural connection are there, and in any case, Zambujo is not exactly a fadista from central casting.

Zambujo’s own roots are in the Alentejo region in the south of Portugal, and he’s steeped in the social and musical traditions of cante alentejano – choirs of men and women who sing of the land they work, local saints and lost love. Cante has an austere harmony built up in parallel thirds, pregnant with Arab influence from centuries back. By his teens, however, Zambujo had discovered the fado of Amália Rodrigues and before long made the move to Lisbon. Mentored by guitarist and composer Mário Pacheco, it was four successful years in the role of Amália’s husband in the eponymous musical that gave him his big commercial break. The recording and touring career that’s followed has charted an individual’s cultural coming of age – a transition from local to international fame, yielding in the process some wonderful tunes, poetry and albums.

His early discs are noted for bridging cante and fado – notably 2004’s Por Meu Cante – though wider interests soon emerge, and a passion for Brazilian music in particular receives the full Zambujo treatment in albums such as Outro Sentido (2007) and Guia (2010).

Now on his eighth disc, Zambujo is established enough to follow his personal enthusiasms without compromise. This is a fan’s tribute: “Chico Buarque is one of the biggest poets of the Portuguese language and I love him,” says Zambujo. Unlike an ordinary fan, though, he has drawn on his idol’s help in whittling down a long list of a hundred songs to create this personal playlist of 16.

What’s more, Buarque, together with the likes of Carminho and Roberta Sá, perform alongside Zambujo on some of the tracks. This dynamic of collaboration is no doubt important morally as well as musically. If you are reinterpreting a classic protest song such as ‘Cálice’ – written in the face of government censorship following the Brazilian military coup of 1964 (cálice or ‘goblet’ is a near homophone for cale-se or ‘shut up’) – then direct engagement with its author helps reconcile a 21st-century perspective with the authenticity of the original (not to mention avoiding the pitfalls of cultural appropriation).

For future projects, Zambujo claims not to have any plans: “I just want to sing and play my guitar… I know that we will tour this year with this album, then we’ll have a live album being released around September, and after that we’ll see…” It doesn’t take much probing, however, to get him to admit there are other enthusiasms he’d like to explore further: “Tom Waits, Caetano Veloso, Agustín Lara, Chavela Vargas, so many…”

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Video | Introducing… Lula Pena

Posted on December 13th, 2016 in Recent posts by .


The Portuguese singer first emerged in the 90s and now makes a welcome return with the release of her first album in six years, Archivo Pittoresco (on Crammed).

Read more about Pena and her own, unique interpretation of fado in the current issue (January/February 2017, #124). Archivo Pittoresco will be reviewed in the next issue, out January 27.

Lula Pena will perform at Celtic Connections in Glasgow on January 21 and at London’s Cafe OTO on March 11 & 12. Click here for more details.

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Mariza: Mariza’s World

Posted on May 11th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


Mariza (photo by Carlos Ramos)

Mariza won the Best Artist category in the Songlines Music Awards 2016. Following the release of her first album in five years, Mariza makes sure fado is not a limitation. Mundo, she tells Gonçalo Frota, is her way of saying these are happy times.

Click here to discover all the winners in this year’s Songlines Music Awards

Mariza was born prematurely. Her mother was six months into her pregnancy when on a fine Sunday afternoon in 1973 she interrupted a family gathering, demanding to be taken to the hospital as she was feeling her first contractions. Mariza’s father didn’t take his wife seriously and dismissed her appeal as a false alarm, an occasional anxiety symptom – due to previous miscarriages – and kept on preparing the feijoada everyone was waiting for. But she knew better than that and came back with her maternity bag ready to leave. He then took her to the hospital in Lourenço Marques (Mozambique) but had so little faith in an untimely birth, he returned to eat the feijoada and have a drink with the rest of the family. When he finally got back to the hospital the baby had already been born, although in such a fragile condition that after first laying eyes on his still unnamed daughter, he headed to the hospital chapel. And there he made a promise: if the tiny girl was to survive, she would be named after the Brazilian singer Marisa Gata Mansa, and she too would be a singer. “Up to this day,” Mariza confides to me, “I’m still keeping my father’s promise. It’s his promise but it’s my job to carry my luggage all around the world.” She may look serious for a couple of seconds, but we all know she’s not really complaining about her life. There’s no suffering or sacrifice involved in this decision of choosing music as her daily commitment.

Mundo (World), her new album, is Mariza singing as a woman overcome by happiness. And so we head back to motherhood. A lot has changed in Mariza’s life since she released Fado Tradicional in 2010. She gave birth to her son four years ago, got married and drastically changed her lifestyle. Farewell those fado nights stretching from dinnertime to dawn – now she’s welcomed a new wellbeing into her life and her music. Music stopped being an obsession and became more of a pleasure. “Before all this,” she says, “all I had was my music. But that has changed now.” This new state of mind first started to come forth in the comeback tour where Mariza revisited the Terra (2008) repertoire. Instead of staying on the stage, she suddenly felt the need to get closer and share her happiness with the audience. The concerts turned into “something more intimate” and she started to shorten the distance between the stage in big halls and the spectators: stepping down, talking to them, getting them to answer her questions, seeing their faces, being totally aware of their presence. “I feel that it’s important to do this, because when one likes an artist and they keep his or her distance, it feels impersonal. And music doesn’t have to be impersonal. It’s a give and take.”


Mariza (photo by Roger Thomas)

This wish for intimacy is spread all over Mundo. When Spanish producer Javier Limón, with whom Mariza had previously worked on Terra, sent her the first mixes, she felt the record didn’t match the sound she had envisioned. When she called him up saying it wasn’t quite right, Limón prompted her to take the next plane so they could work together on the album’s ultimate shape. And so it happened, but it still took some time for them to work out an understanding. Limón proposed various solutions, yet Mariza declined them all. “That’s not it,” she maintained. “What is it then?” Limón asked. “I don’t want any effects on my voice; I want people to feel I’m singing just next to their ear, like I am right beside them, having each listener as my solo audience.” The producer was so astonished with the no-effects ruling he even asked Mariza if she really wanted to go back to the ‘pre-history’ of studio work. But she was so sure of what she was after, he finally gave in and assisted her in achieving this intimate and enveloping music.

It now seems inevitable that Mariza should look for a new direction in her comeback. She recorded Fado Tradicional in 2010, as a tribute to her fado favourites and a celebration of the tenth anniversary of her career, which placed her in a kind of bubble in relation to her previous discography. From the very beginning, although fado will always have a special place in her musical universe, she was never the type of fadista to refrain from experimenting with more daring approaches or to abide to the restraints of the tradition. “Lyrics and songs have a time of their own,” Mariza claims. “There are songs that used to be really important to me and every time I sang them it meant something rather painful for me; but when I sing them nowadays, in spite of obviously connecting to that time in my life, I no longer feel the same. That moment is gone.”

“I want people to feel like I am right beside them, having each listener as my solo audience”

Mariza acknowledges that the sheer fact of singing these songs built on her suffering helped ease the pain and acted as an emotional catharsis, a cleansing of sorts. Mundo, on the other hand, called for a different backdrop. It could not mirror a sadness or melancholy she didn’t feel in tune with. And that is why, not being a songwriter, she had doubts about a lot of the material other musicians were sending. “Everyone who was offering me songs and poems was thinking of fado.” She felt they were responding to a particular idea of her and limiting her to what she had already proven to be capable of. “It was all too heavy and dramatic,” she confesses. “Of course drama, melancholy and saudade will always be present in my music, but I was – and still am – living a period in my life that is so happy, relaxed and romantic those songs didn’t make sense to me. So I started to talk to these songwriters and told them about where I am right now. This way, Mundo turned out to be a tailor-made record, a perfect fit. Mundo is my world.” Among other things, this meant that when Jorge Fernando – producer of her 2001 debut album, Fado em Mim, prolific songwriter and a fadista himself – called her up and asked Mariza to hurry to the computer and open a file he had just sent with a new track, the singer was startled with the verse ‘como é que eu hei-de matar esta paixão’ (how can I kill this passion). “I don’t want to kill anything or anyone,” she responded. But Fernando insisted and convinced Mariza to show the track to Limón. Still she wasn’t sure of the song, and it would be the last of more than two dozen of compositions Limón was shown. The producer’s enthusiasm was so contagious, Mariza called Fernando back to work out a little detail: would he agree that instead of matar (kill) she’d sing instead apagar (erase)? With his approval they started to work on the album’s first single ‘Paixão’.


Mariza (photo by Carlos Ramos)

Known for his sharp eye for new talent, Jorge Fernando played a major part in Fado em Mim, Mariza’s stunning debut appearance before the world. ‘Chuva’, along with ‘Ó Gente da Minha Terra’, were two of the key tracks that made Mariza an instant star in Portugal and boldly opened the doors for fado to a new international generation, after the genius of globetrotting Amália Rodrigues. The immediate recognition of Mariza’s singularity quickly led to working with Carlos Maria Trindade (from Madredeus) on Fado Curvo, Jaques Morelenbaum (Brazilian collaborator who has also worked with Caetano Veloso and Ryuichi Sakamoto) on Transparente, and Limón (who is known for his work with Buika, Paco de Lucía and Estrella Morente) on Terra.

Little by little, Mariza absorbed all the music cultures she came into contact with on her extensive travels, meeting with musicians from all over the planet and acknowledging that her nature was that of mixture. When still a child she left Mozambique and moved with her parents to Lisbon, Portugal, where they settled in Mouraria, one of the city’s most traditional neighbourhoods. There could probably not be a more appropriate setting for her musicality to flourish. She recalls “everyone singing in the street, listening to records through the neighbours’ windows,” in such a cheerful, popular environment that different singing voices came from each building, transforming the streets into a competition for the loudest recording. “The women were often doing their house work while battling with songs by Fernando Maurício and Artur Batalha,” she remembers. At home Mariza’s father was the big fado fan and he soon started to take the little girl to weekend musical get-togethers.

Although it was her dad who led to the discovery of Argentinian tango singer Carlos Gardel (his repertoire makes it onto Mundo through her rendition of ‘Caprichosa’), Mariza often says that it was her mother who was absolutely pivotal to her broad musical scope. Back then she already listened to Cape Verdean singers such as Cesaria Evora or Bana, but also to music from Brazil, Guinea and the Antilles. And so it should come as no surprise that she feels closer to the sounds of her African roots than to any other music. During the 90s there was an intense Cape Verdean live music scene in Lisbon that Mariza witnessed firsthand and ‘Padoce de Céu Azul,’ a morna she fell in love with while listening to Tito Paris, stands for that lineage on the new album. It was one of the surviving tracks after Mariza and Limón put them to the infallible test of voice and guitar.

Accompanied by the skilful classical guitarist Pedro Jóia, Mariza sang each of the potential songs to feature on Mundo, and she and Limón only let through the ones that left no doubts as to whether it fitted wholly into her singing style and her voice. It was a cruel process; Mariza had to let go of a couple of compositions she absolutely loved but had to concede were not a perfect match. “We spent three whole days just choosing,” she says. “But every time I came back to the studio I had second thoughts about some of the songs that I was eliminating. Javier finally told me I had to make up my mind because we weren’t working on a double album. I almost cried then, because it was so hard parting ways with some of that stuff.” When Mariza first started to have conversations about a new album with her label, a bunch of names was suggested, trying to entice her into taking a different musical approach. But each and every time she always went back to Limón. They had kept in touch since the recording of Terra, and communication was easy with him. She knew it would be tiring trying to explain the sound in her head to anyone else who probably did not share the same musical language. The way Terra was done, allowing for any unconventional ideas to be included, had instilled a trust in Mariza that she felt she absolutely needed for Mundo – this was not the time to start anew.

What Mariza had not anticipated was that in the heat of the moment, while already in studio with Limón, a sudden urge to record two fados would sneak up on her. Mundo had already secured a Brazilian flavour and a Latin and African twist, but Mariza’s world could not be completed without a small display of her worth as a fadista. ‘Maldição’ and ‘Anda o Sol na Minha Rua’ came along at the last minute but they still managed to make a strong and lasting impression. This flexibility is an acute example of how things have changed in Mariza’s life since she embraced motherhood. “I feel like I have a different and lighter way of dealing with everything in my life,” she says. “I used to be highly competitive – with myself and other fadistas. I felt I had to be the best. I wanted to be on top because I had nothing else, music was all my life. Of course I still need music now, but that situation has changed.” And that is exactly what Mundo sounds like. Mariza is not chasing the stars anymore. She’s looking at them from afar and peacefully enjoying it.

This article originally appeared in Songlines #113. Mariza’s album Mundo is out now on Parlophone.

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