Carrying the Fado Torch

Various Artists – Fado: Exquisite Passion
Various Artists

Fado: Exquisite Passion (Narada World, 2003)

Narada World presents this 13-track compilation of four female Fado singers: Amália Rodrigues and three of her modern-day followers. This is Lisbon-style fado, and Mariza, Cristina Branco and Mafalda Arnauth are very faithful to the tradition left by Amália Rodrigues.

There is no fusion with other musical styles here, nor is there any attempt to modernize the received tradition. This compilation is traditional fado, plain and simple. The voices of the three contemporary singers are very similar in sound: all possess virtually the same pitch, timber and color. Unless you look at the track listing, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them.

The three tracks by the fado superstar, Amália Rodrigues, give the listener a wonderful taste of the pinnacle of fado interpretation. Her voice and timing are exquisite, she makes extremely effective use of dynamics and truly savors the lyrics. Rodrigues’ approach to music is to let the words of the songs dictate her vocal delivery, requiring the musical accompaniment to follow her rather than the other way around. This creates a marvelous tension between the lyrics and the music. The younger singers, who all sound like reduced copies of the great Rodrigues, are not able to recreate this magic, however.

No Portuguese lyrics are included, nor are there any translations or summaries of the songs featured. This is disappointing, since fado is a ballad tradition where each song tells a story. The words, just as much as the vocal delivery and musical accompaniment communicate the tragedy recounted in each song.

In the end one wonders if this is all that fado has to offer its followers today. Should contemporary fado so closely follow the established models as to be virtually indistinguishable from recordings made 50 years ago? Surely there is room for some evolution without denaturing or destroying the tradition. It would have been nice to hear at least one example of a singer attempting to modernize traditional fado to give a more complete picture of this music today.

Buy Fado: a Exquisite Passion in North America.

Buy Fado: a Exquisite Passion in Europe.

Author: Marie Jost

Marie Jost received her doctorate in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a flamenco and world music aficionado, a Hong Kong film enthusiast, and an ardent Leslie Cheung fan. Ms. Jost currently resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.A.