MUSIC REVIEW: By Fred Cummings
April 11, 2018 - Spanning from 1820s Lisbon, the working class Portuguese music of Fado is often seen as raw, intimate and soulful, laying bare sentiments of grief and regret in its wake. But the genre’s greatest protagonist today, Ana Moura, sees things just a bit differently. Moura rests easily among the brightest stars of the Portuguese tradition with crossover appeal that has led to collaborations with the likes of no less than The Rolling Stones.
Moura took center stage at City Winery Tuesday evening in its popular Fado Series and firmly made the case for her own brand of Fado. And she did it in such convincing fashion that even the staunchest purist in attendance ended the night on their feet.
Moura respects the tradition, to be sure, yet she sees all the possibilities of the Fado art form, and that opens her music to a broader selection of influences and audiences to boot. Her band bucks the thinly layered instrumentation of the acoustic tradition, adding electric bass, keyboard and drums to the standard Portuguese guitar of Fado past.
And she deftly infuses pop styles into her songs as with the popular “Fado Dançado,” which she performed Tuesday evening, along with others from her acclaimed 2016 album, Moura. The project is comprised of a charming mix of Fado styles, including a nod to the purist tradition.
That nod is a powerful one. In strict Fado form, Moura is a study in submission to her art form. Songs like the mournful “Moura Encantada” appeared to entrance the artist on stage. Eyes closed, Moura seemed spellbound by the music, slipping into the world of her song and dancing to the rhythm about the stage as if no one else was in the room. She possesses a gorgeous, velvety voice with just a hint of breathiness, which only adds to the sultry nature of her tone.
The pop-infused “Fado Dançado” turned Moura’s mournful introspection into exuberant ferver, with her call for the audience to dance and clap along becoming infectious. Her performance of “Dia de Folga” was ebullient, presenting strong evidence of the level of the enthusiasm she elicits from the stage. Hips swaying to the music and with gorgeous rich vibrato, Moura sang the lively melodies, extending her mic to the audience to sing along in true Fado fashion.
But for me, the showstopper of the night showcased Moura’s enduring strength, one that speaks volumes for the future of Fado in the mainstream realm. She sang “No Expectations” from her Rolling Stones collaboration. Her soulful, bluesy voice drifted seamlessly from English to Portuguese, in doleful tones wrapping the Stones classic in touching, sentimental Fado treatment. That performance was one of the most powerful I've witnessed all season.
If I had one disappointment in the evening, it was in not hearing Moura’s lovely, contemplative “Lilac Wine” from the album. But, alas, it was not to be.
One of the night’s biggest highlights, however, was the fleet fingered instrumentalist on Portuguese guitar, Angelo Freire. Freire’s crisp melodies and accompaniment brought stunning lyricism to every song in Moura’s set. His rapid-fire picking and intimate phrasing served as striking counterpoint to the singer’s vocals from start to finish.
Cultural traditions like Fado sometimes have the misfortune of becoming quite insular--even dying off, in some cases, with the generations who keep them so closely guarded. Ana Moura certainly makes the case that the Fado genre be heard by larger and larger audiences. And as that happens, a broader scope of listeners will come to enjoy its considerable merits, along with those who have cherished them all along.
Acclaimed Fado singer Ana Moura (photo by Paulo Segadaes).
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