How Fado got its groove back

Ana Moura is a Portugese Fado singer who has performed with artists such as Prince and The Rolling Stones.

FADO 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of PR)
FADO 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of PR)
When the Portuguese want to lament something they often turn to Fado, the national musical genre that tells stories of longing for faraway people and places and, naturally, of a broken heart or two. While that may sound thematically similar to the blues, the common ground begins and ends there. The music is far less rhythmic than the American musical art form, but pulls just as insistently on the heartstrings.
This Friday, Ana Moura, one of the up-and-coming artists of the Fado domain, will be on stage at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv, as the first item in Idan Raichel’s world music series there.
According to Moura, Fado is breaking new market sector ground.
“It is becoming very popular now in Portugal,” she notes. “It used to be the music of our grandparents’ generation, but now young people are getting into it.”
Moura’s first release, 2003’s Guarda-me a vida na mão (Keep my life in your hand) covers surprisingly extensive stylist ground through the fado fabric, but then again, Moura did feed off an eclectic musical diet in her youth.
“I listened to a lot of soul music, because that’s what my parents listened to,” says the 32-year-old singer. “I also heard Portuguese folk music, and Fado of course, and some African music too, from Angola and from Cape Verde.”
The latter is a perfectly natural place for Moura to seek artistic inspiration.
“Some of the music from Cape Verde is similar to Fado,” she explains.
As world music has increasingly made its presence felt in all corners of the globe many areas of roots music have become colored by styles from other cultures. While purists may cringe at the resultant hybrids there are plenty of people who go with the crossover flow and delight in the multi-hued musical tapestries that have evolved. Moura says she is all for the mix-and-match approach, although she shies away from wanton mindsets.
“I think everything in the world should be mixed, but also the traditional things should be kept. I think we should do experiments, it’s very important for people to move outside their own cultures and experience other things musically. It makes us grow and meet new sonorities. It is very important for us musicians, to be creative.”
The latter attribute, she says, is the fundamental element in the process.
“It is not a matter of saying, ‘hey, let’s change this or this.’ The intention is to do it for our own development.”
Moura’s career has been developing nicely in recent years. In 2009 she won the Portuguese Golden Globe Award for Best Individual Artist, for her album Leva-me aos Fados, and last year she realized a childhood dream when she shared a stage with none other than Mick Jagger.
“That was amazing for me,” she says. “I never thought I’d get the opportunity to sing with him.”
The truth is, though, that Moura has been honing her vocal skills for quite some time.
“I started when I was very young,” she notes. “My parents told me that they realized I could sing when I was four years old. When I was very very small my weekends were spent in clubs. My father used to play guitar and he sings very well, and my mother also sings well. My weekends were spent with them and their friends, jamming and singing. It was mostly fado, but also a little bit of everything.”
Moura also confesses to a fondness for jazz and cites pianist Herbie Hancock as one of her major influences. Interestingly, in 2007 Hancock teamed up with another of Moura’s favorites, Joni Mitchell.
“They worked very well together on that,” she notes of The Joni Letters, which also featured Hancock’s cohort from legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’s stellar mid-1960s quintet, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, adding that she wouldn’t mind fusing fado with some more improvisational elements.
“I see myself, maybe, singing Joni Mitchell songs. I see myself doing something like Fado jazz. Why not?”
Some of that fondness for playing around with the core material came in handy for Moura’s duet with Jagger.
“I sang for him the day before at a fado music venue. The Stones were doing their world music project on which they performed with singers from all different places, and they wanted a Fado singer too.”
But it was still a surprise when Moura eventually got the call to do her thing with the Stones frontman.
“I was invited to have dinner with them before their concert at the stadium [in Lisbon], and then the saxophone player, Tim Ries, told me I was being asked to sing with the band that night. It was really crazy. But Jagger said he wanted to sing with me but said he sings the song [Stones ballad “Great Expectations”] six keys higher than me, so I had to improvise a new melody to be able to sing with him.”
Moura has another admirer from the stellar stratosphere of the rock idiom – Prince.
“Someone gave him a CD of mine and then he contacted my agent because he wanted to see me live,” she says. That led to a jam session in Prince’s studio in the US, and a duet with Prince at his concert in Lisbon.
“That was a very interesting experience, and different from the one with the Stones, because I brought Prince into my [musical] universe. He played Fado.”
It is odds on that Moura will also bring Raichel and her audience into her universe this Friday in Tel Aviv.
For more information about Ana Moura’s concert at the Performing Arts Center: and (03) 692-7777.