Posts Tagged ‘fado’
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…”
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.
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.
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.”
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’.
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.
Words by Nigel Williamson
Classic fado, gorgeous pop ballads: showstoppers galore
Mariza’s last album, 2010’s Fado Tradicional, was, as its title implied, a relatively conservative affair that lovingly restated a firm commitment to her heritage. After a five-year hiatus, to return with another trad-oriented album might have implied a lack of progression. But there’s no chance of that here: this is a set of bold and expansive ambition, brilliantly produced by serial world music collaborator Javier Limón (Buika, Yasmin Levy, Eleftheria Arvanitaki and Anoushka Shankar among others). It combines deep fado roots with sparkling pop ballads and subtle washes of electronica.
The heartbreaking ‘Sombra’ and the upbeat ‘Missangas’ are both reassuring examples of Mariza’s status as the queen of traditional fado. But the gorgeous pop balladry of ‘Melhor de Mim’ and ‘Adeus’, the ethereal ‘Sem Ti’ and the stunning, shimmering ‘Saudade Solta’, composed by brothers Pedro da Silva Martins and Luís José Martins from the Portuguese award-winning group Deolinda, find her dramatically spreading her wings. There’s a newly expressive maturity that lends her voice greater nuance than ever before. Given that she occasionally sings Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ in concert, perhaps the pop-fado fusions of Mundo should come as no surprise. But she’s pulled it off with a poise, artistry and self-assurance that is simply breathtaking.