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The Passionate Story of Fado

Fado star Mariza

Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul. It is one of the oldest urban folk music styles in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs created by homesick sailors and fishermen.

Whatever its origins, fado’s themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. A typical lyric goes: “Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you’re not there.” It’s a sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.

All fado is dominated by the sentiment known as saudade. While there is no precise English definition for this word, it may be translated roughly as ‘yearning.’ Essentially it describes the soul of the music and is the measure of understanding that passes between performer and audience.


Cover of A Origem do Fado by José Alberto Sardinha

Fado History

By the early twentieth century, fado had become popular in the everyday life of Lisbon’s working class. It was played for pleasure but also to relieve the pain of life. Skilled singers known as fadistas performed at the end of the day and long into the night. Fado was the earthy music of taverns and brothels and street corners in Alfama and Mouraria, the old poor sections of Lisbon. (Another strain of fado, Coimbra fado, was favored among university students and professors.)

The fado is normally sung by men or women and accompanied by one Portuguese guitar and one classical guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. This song reached its golden era in the first half of the 20th century, when the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar (1926-1968) forced the fado performers to become professional and confined them to sing in the fado houses and the so called “revistas”, a popular genre of “vaudeville”.

The main names of that period were: Alfredo Marceneiro, Amalia Rodrigues, Maria Teresa de Noronha and guitar players Armandinho and Jaime Santos.


The Queen of Fado Amalia Rodrigues

From the 1940s until her death in 1999, the towering figure of Portuguese fado was Amalia Rodrigues. She was the diva of fado, worshiped at home and celebrated abroad as the most famous representative of Portuguese culture. When she died the country’s prime minister called for three-days of national mourning. Such is the hold of fado over the people of Portugal.

Saudade

The essential element of fado music is saudade, a Portuguese word that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Fado flowers from this fatalistic world-view. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. For Portuguese emigrants fado is an expression of homesickness for the place they left behind.

Like other forms of deeply moving folk music such as flamenco, American blues, Argentine tango or Greek rembetiko, fado cannot be explained; it must be felt and experienced. One must have the soul to transmit that feeling; a fadista who does not possess saudade is thought of as inauthentic. Audiences are very knowledgeable and very demanding. If they do not feel the fadista is up to form they will stop a performance.

Duarte at EXIB 2016 in Evora – Photo by Angel Romero

Fado can be performed by men or women, although many aficionados prefer the raw emotion of the female fadista. Dressed in black with a shawl draped over her shoulders, a fadista stands in front of the musicians and communicates through gesture and facial expressions. The hands move, the body is stationary. When it is done correctly, it is a solemn and majestic performance.

Carminho

Aside from the Lisbon fado there is another completely different form of this song, sung by the students of Coimbra University whose ancient roots can be found in the medieval songs called trovas. Here the subjects are mainly love, friendship and nostalgia. This form of fado reached its most famous period in the 1950s and 1960s when names like Edmundo Bettencourt, Luis Gois, José Afonso and the musicians Artur Paredes, Carlos Paredes and Antonio Portugal among others, combined new forms and lyrics to a song which was limited to student circles.

Fado guitarist Antonio Chainho playing the Portuguese guitar – Photo by Alexandre Nobre

The traditional accompaniment for the fadista is a Portuguese guitar, or guitarra, a 12-stringed instrument, and a bass guitar, or viola. Sometimes a second acoustic guitar is added. In recent years, fado recordings have added piano, violin and accordion, instruments which sometimes accompany the music on the streets of Lisbon.

Fado Today


Cover of the album New Queens of Fado (Arc Music, 2016), featuring Joana Amendoeira, Ana Moura, Carminho, Mariza, Cristina Branco, Katia Guerreiro, Mafalda Arnauth, Misia

Today the younger generation in Portugal is respectful but not dedicated to fado. However, a new generation of young musicians have contributed to the social and political revival of fado music, adapting and blending it with new trends.

Contemporary fado musicians like Misia have introduced the music to performers such as Sting. Misia and fadistas like Cristina Branco and Mariza, Amelia Muge, Antonio Zambujo, Ana Lains, Ana Moura, Joana Amendoeira, Katia Guerreiro, Mafalda Arnauth, walk the fine line between carrying on the tradition and trying to bring in a new audience.

Cover of the album Queens Of Fado – The Next Generation (Arc Music, 2017) featuring Cuca Roseta, Yolanda Soares, Carminho, Raquel Tavares, Gisela João, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires and Joana Rios

One of the biggest names in the new generation of male fado singers is award-winning Marco Rodrigues.

2018 saw the rise of a new fado revelation, Sara Correia, who released her debut album Sara Correia.

(Sources: World Music Central, World Music Institute, World Music Network)

Coimbra Fado

Coimbra Fado is a genre of fado originating in the city of Coimbra, Portugal. This fado is closely linked to the academic traditions of the University of Coimbra and is exclusively sung by men; both the singers and musicians wear black capes during performances, the remaining part of the students outfit. It is sung at night, almost in the dark, in city squares, streets, or fado houses. (source: Fado group Verdes Anos)

Recommended Fado Recordings

Portugal: The Story of Fado
Fado: Exquisite Passion
The Rough Guide to Fado
Queens of Fado
Fados from Portugal
Great Voices of Fado
Queen of the Fado by Amalia Rodrigues
Rough Guide: The Music of Portugal
Queens Of Fado – The Next Generation

Fado Artists:

The following artists perform fado or fado-influenced music: Ala Dos Namorados, Almaplana, Amélia Muge, Ana Laíns, Ana Marina, Ana Moura, Antonio Chainho, Antonio Zambujo, Armenio de
Melo, Bicho de 7 cabeças, Camané, Catarina Cardeal, Cristina Branco, Custodio Castelo, Duarte, Grupo Cancao de Coimbra, Joana Amendoeira, Jorge Fernando, Katia Guerreiro, Lula Pena, Mario Pacheco, Madredeus, Mafalda Arnauth, Maria Amelia Proen, Mariza, Melian, Mike Siracusa, Misia, Nem Truz Nem Muz), Ramana Vieira, Sonia Tavares, Teresa Salgueiro, Verdes Anos – Fado group, Cuca Roseta, Yolanda Soares, Raquel Tavares, Gisela João, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires, Marco Rodrigues, Joana Rios, and Sara Correia.

Fado Books:

A History of the Portuguese Fado by Paul Vernon (Routledge, 1998)
Fado Portugues – Songs from the Soul of Portugal by Donald Cohen (2004)
Fado and the Place of Longing, Loss, Memory and the City by Richard Elliott (Routledge, 2010)
A Origem do Fado [includes 4 CDs] by José Alberto Sardinha (Tradisom, 2010)
Fado Resounding: Affective Politics and Urban Life by Lila Ellen Gray (Duke University Press, 2013)
Fado and the Urban Poor in Portuguese Cinema of the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Colvin (Boydell & Brewer, 2016)

Fado sites:

Portal do Fado, Portuguese portal dedicated to fado.

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Artist Profiles: Custodio Castelo

Custodio Castelo

Custódio Castelo, was born in Almeirim on the 23rd of December 1996. At the age of seven he built his first musical instrument from which came his first sounds and at thirteen he was given his first real instrument, an acoustic guitar. He joined some popular Portuguese music groups and rock bands.

At sixteen, after listening to recordings of Amalia Rodrigues, he discovered the sound of the Portuguese guitar and since then it has been his preferred instrument.

From a young age Castelo was considered a prodigy for his audacious ans different approach to the Portuguese guitar and his talent has been recognized by the most demanding fadistas, invited to accompany many of the grate names in traditional fado such as D. Vicente da Camara, Manuel de Almeida, Fernando Farinha, Cidalia Moreira among others.

At 18 he wrote his first composition and at 20 was invited by Jorge Fernando to make his first studio recording. This was the beginning of a musical partnership which continues today. (Custodio Castelo has recorded all his fado records with Jorge Fernando and together they have recorded and produced numerous works by other artists such as Mariza, Camane, Maria da Fe, Goncalo Salgueiro, Fernando Mauricio, Argentina Santos, Antologia do Mais Triste Fado among many others.)

He accompanied Nuno da Camara Pereira for four years and recorded with the Lithuanian Symphony Orchestra.

An invitation arose to record  Garras dos Sentidos with Misia. Custodio became her principle accompanist for 2 years. A further invitation followed to record with Camane, Na linha da Vida, and then a tour with Camane and Carlos Do Carmo.

He accompanied Amalia Rodrigues on her last American tour and presented his solo project at the invitation of Pedro Caldeira Cabral at Expo 98. Also in 1998, Castelo became mentor to the Cristina Branco project, exposing his genius as a composer, producer, arranger and instrumentalist to international audiences.

This project resulted in seven recordings and numerous tours throughout the world. The first of these recordings is Live (1997) followed by Murmurios (1998) that was distinguished in France with the prize, Choc de L’Annee du Monde de la Musique, in the World Music category. The following year, Post-Scriptum was awarded the same prize.

In 2000,  O Descobridor was released; his most important and daring work as a composer. The record is wholly dedicated to the work of the Dutch Poet Jan Jacob Slauerhoff and composed entirely by Custodio Castelo, rising to prominence with first place in the top composers for that year. O Descobridor went platinum in Holland and its themes were later orchestrated by Bob Zimerman.

In 2001 Corpo Iluminado arrived on the market, a gold record in Holland and Belgium, followed by Sensus (2003), a gold record in Holland, and Ulisses (2005).

Castelo accompanied Mafalda Arnauth at The Royal Hope Charity Gala with Sarah Brightman, the Royal Ballet Placido Domingo and Joaquin Cortes.

His versatility has never allowed him to be solely a fado accompanist, he has never been chained to the forms of fado, having been exposed to diverse influences as an adolescent and bringing to the Portuguese guitar his personal tastes for other musical genres, primarily the tango (Piazolla).

With the Cristina Branco Project, Castelo has achieved world renown for his innovative and daring  music. He is recognized for a certain irreverence in his approach to the themes and the creation of a new environment for the traditional fados and by the fusion of the Portuguese Guitar with other sounds, having shared the stage with numerous musicians and singers from other areas. Richard Galliano (accordion), Arrigo Cappelletti (piano), Andre Dequech (piano), Daniele di Bonaventura (bandoneon), David Zacaria (cello), Ben Wolf (double bass), Leonardo Amuedo (classical guitar), Olga Pratz (piano), Carmen Linares, Ana Salazar…

As a soloist, Castelo has taken his sound and his brilliant compositions to the most highly regarded music festivals in the world: Festival de Belo Horizonte (Brazil), World Music Festival of Philadelphia (USA), International Festival de Rabat (Morocco), North Sea Jazz Festival (Dan Hag, Haia), Festival du Sud (France)…

In 2004, Castelo underwent unexpected surgery for a rupture to the ligaments in his right shoulder. Due the seriousness of this injury he appeared to be facing a premature end to a brilliant career. At this very difficult time, for someone to whom their music is their life, Castelo reunited various musicians and friends who had always accompanied him, Jorge Fernando, Alexandre Silva, Fernando Maia, Marino de Freitas, Miguel Carvalhinho, Carlos Manuel Proenca, Carlos Velez, Carlos Garcia, Filipe Larsen, and went into the studio with the purpose of recording his work of many years, achieving this with great physical difficult, in a tense climate, as a farewell to his guitar.

Thus was born Tempus, a marvelous record full of sentiments and of an irreproachable quality, which has never been available in Portugal.

However, destiny did not wish Castelo to be separated from the great love of his life, the Portuguese Guitar, and after some months away and a difficult and remarkable recovery he returned to the stage at the beginning of 2005 to record works by Jorge Fernando, Goncalo Salgueiro, Raquel Tavares, Joao Chora, Ana Moura…

With Ana Moura and Jorge Fernando, Castelo was been invited by Tim Ries to record two tracks (Brown Sugar and No Expectation) for the second volume of The Rolling Stones project.

Custodio Castelo divides his time between his careers as a soloist, a composer and producer; he is mentor to the project Encores Fado, where the Portuguese Guitar invited the voice of Margarida Guerreiro to sing unreleased pieces by Cecilia Meireles, Amalia Rodrigues, Fernando Pessoa, David Mourao Ferreira, Pedro Homem de Mello, in a journey between the traditional and contemporary, where the dance of free expression is prominent.

Discography:

Tempus Guitarra Portuguesa (Ovacao, 2007)
The Art of the Portuguese Fado Guitar (ARC Music, 2011)
Inventus (ARC Music, 2012)

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