By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.
Tony de Matos was more than a fado singer. Although it is true that, as Vítor Marceneiro has stated, he “had the soul of a fadista,” his figure as an artist transcends the realm of fado. With his charming voice and his very passionate, versatile singing style, Tony de Matos will always be remembered as one of Portugal’s foremost pop singers, the closest thing to a Portuguese crooner, a man who, throughout his long career, was able to conjure up an effective mixture of pop music and the dramatic nuances of traditional fado. Known for his romantic persona, his voice and stage presence captivated audiences throughout the Portuguese-speaking world, and his name is synonymous with class, gusto, and a very personal, intimate approach to the vocal art.
Born António Maria de Matos in 1924 into a family of traveling artists in Porto, he showed signs of an eagerness to entertain from a very early age, something of which his parents disapproved. Despite that fact, he relocated to Lisbon when he was 21 and, under the stage name of Tony de Matos, started to make a name for himself singing on radio and in fado houses. His first breakthrough came in 1950, when his record of “Cartas de amor” (“Love Letters”) became a big hit. Recorded in Madrid, Spain, the disc shows de Matos straying away from traditional fado and already adopting the very personal pop style for which he would become known. Similar records such as “Ao menos uma vez” (“At Least Once”) and “Trovador” (“Troubadour”) cemented his popularity and his image as a romantic crooner, and his success soon transcended the frontiers of his homeland, taking him to Africa and Brazil.
It was precisely in Brazil that he cut one of the most important records of his career, a four-song EP that included the hits “Só nós dois” (“Only the Two of Us”), “Procuro e não te encontro” (“I Search and I Can’t Find You”), “Vendaval” (“Storm”), and “Lado a lado” (“Side by Side”). The arrangements on these selections conjugate orchestral pop and traditional fado, showcasing de Matos’s powerful, intensely romantic voice. When the sides were released in Portugal in 1962, their success was unprecedented, and it prompted de Matos to return home and begin a triumphant run of live appearances and film roles. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, de Matos favored a more decidedly pop-oriented singing style perfectly suited to his voice, becoming associated with the nacional-cançonetismo, the mainstream pop music that found success during the dictatorial regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. However, he never forgot his fado roots, occasionally recording great fado tunes such as Fernando Farinha’s “Lugar vazio” (“Empty Spot”), Amália Rodrigues’s “Gaivota” (“Seagull”), and Alfredo Duarte’s “Estranha forma de vida” (“Strange Way of Life”).
Perhaps because of this association with the nacional-cançonetismo, de Matos’s career took a downturn after the Carnation Revolution of 1974. He came to the United States, where he resided for over eight years, and did not return to Portugal until 1985, when he made a comeback appearance at Lisbon’s Coliseu dos Recreios and went back into the studio to record new material. A mere four years later, in 1989, cancer took his life, leaving Portuguese music without a one-of-a-kind performer whose artistic legacy cannot be underestimated inasmuch as he contributed to the internationalization of Portuguese music.
Links: For more information on Tony de Matos in Portuguese and to listen to sound clips and view videos of his music, click on Fadocravo - Tony de Matos: Fica Comigo Saudade and Lisboa No Guinness: Tony de Matos.