By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.
She is the younger sister of fado icon Amália Rodrigues and one of the oldest fadistas still active in Lisbon fado houses. Yet Celeste Rodrigues is much more than that: she is a woman who knows and understands fado, and The Art of the Portuguese Fado (Collectables Records, 2007) is a good example of that. The CD features twelve great performances in which Celeste's voice shines and her special sensibility for fado makes for a very enjoyable listening experience.
Born in Lisbon in 1923, Celeste Rodrigues's professional singing career did not start until 1951. As good a singer as she was, her name always stood in the larger-than-life shadow of her older sister Amália, with whom she remained very close through the years. Although she did have a few hits ("Fado Celeste," "Lenda das algas"), she did not record very extensively, preferring the warmth and intimacy of live performances. She spent some time in Canada in the 1970s, and throughout her career, she appeared at important concert halls in places like Paris and Rome. Unlike Amália, whose singing style was more commercial, Celeste will always be associated with a more traditional kind of fado, the so-called fado castiço: "It was [in Lisbon] that Portuguese ships set out in the fifteenth century to navigate the world," she says, "and it was in the heart of a sailor that fado was born." Ascribing to the typical dress code of the fadista, Celeste always wears her black shawl (the xaile) when she appears at a Lisbon fado house: "[I do so] because fado is folk music," she reflects, "and because, being shy, I need to cover every part of my body."
That shyness is apparent in her singing style, somewhat more subdued than that of Amália's. Celeste's voice is not as powerful, yet it is just as effective when it comes to transmitting all the feelings of yearning, longing, and sadness, all the saudade of fado. Although too short at merely twelve tracks, The Art of the Portuguese Fado is a good introduction to the artistry of Celeste Rodrigues and her very lyrical way of approaching fado. Perhaps in an effort to dissociate herself from Amália, Celeste always insisted on singing her own repertoire, and most of her best tunes were written by the songwriting team of Varela Silva and Santos Moreira. However, one of the tracks on this compilation, "Barco negro" ("Black Ship"), is closely associated with Amália. Celeste's reading of its beautiful, sad lyrics is sparse and soulful, a mixture of grief and resignation: "I know, my love / That you never really left / For everything around me / Tells me that you are always with me." Unfortunately, the liner notes do not provide any information about recording dates or session personnel, but overall, we must congratulate Collectables on this release. Hopefully they will see it fit to issue similar fado records in the near future.
Link: For more information on Celeste Rodrigues in Portuguese go to Fado Celeste, and to view a video of one of her songs, click on Fadocravo - Celeste Rodrigues: As Ruas.