Sunday, February 22, 2009

Natalino Duarte: The Subtlety of a Master Stylist

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Although he has fallen into some neglect lately, which makes it rather difficult to find reliable information about him, Natalino Duarte was one of the most important singers to hit the fado scene in the 1950s. In spite of his eternally young looks, Duarte had a very powerful stage presence, and his voice possessed a wide range and a depth that made it perfect to sing different kinds of songs. Duarte was equally at ease with energetic uptempo numbers and with more pensive, slower fados, and he was able to inflect his performances with a very subtle, restrained emotion that turned them into extremely expressive works of art.

Born in Lisbon’s Bairro da Liberdade in 1935, Duarte showed an inclination to fado from a very early age and started singing at fairs and parties when he was only nine. In fact, fado was an important activity in his family: his brother, Carlos Duarte, also made a name for himself as a guitarist. His big break came in 1957, when he landed first place in a fado contest held at the Café Luso. Duarte’s gigs at fado houses were not extremely numerous, but in the 1960s, television appearances brought him a great deal of exposure and popularity that lasted well into the following decade, when he turned to the artistic management of the Páteo Alfacinha, one of the foremost fado houses of its time. Throughout his career, Duarte was backed by accomplished musicians such as Portuguese guitarists António Parreira and Manuel Mendes and guitarists Raul Silva and Carlos Duarte, and he also shared billing with great names like Maria Teresa de Noronha, Filipe Duarte, and Maria Valejo.

Despite his popularity, Natalino Duarte’s recorded legacy is scarce: he only cut fourteen extended-play records, all of which are of a consistently high quality although not easy to find on CD. As a matter of fact, the only one currently available is a volume in the Fados do Fado series (Movieplay, 1998) that features a fine selection of his late-1960s sides, including classics such as “Eu Gosto Daquela Feia,” his beautiful, rather subdued version of the perennial “Coimbra,” the atmospheric “Degraus da Vida,” and Domingos Silva's “Lenda da Fonte,” the song for which he will always be remembered.

After a long association with the Páteo Alfacinha that lasted until his retirement, Natalino Duarte passed away in Lisbon in February 2002. Duarte was a fadista that, despite his very obvious qualities for fado singing, did not seem to take his career too seriously, much preferring to diversify his activities. However, his excellent recordings and his very personal sensibility for fado will always grant him a place among the greatest names of the genre.

Links: For more information on Natalino Duarte in Portuguese, as well as for sound clips and videos of his music, go to Fadocravo - Natalino Duarte: Porque Gosto do Fado and Lisboa No Guinness: Natalino Duarte.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maria Teresa de Noronha's Fado Antigo: Fado Meets Aristocracy

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

One of the records to which I come back time and again is Fado Antigo (Valentim de Carvalho, 1972), a magnificent compilation of Maria Teresa de Noronha’s most memorable fados with accompaniment provided by legendary musicians such as Raul Nery and António Chainho (Portuguese guitar), Joaquim do Vale (guitar), and Joel Pina (bass guitar). The disc is rather short, at merely twelve tracks, but it offers a perfect portrait of de Noronha’s artistry and inimitable style of fado singing. Her voice is a perfectly tuned instrument, utterly expressive and filled with emotion, and her performances always come across as intelligent, well-crafted works of art.

De Noronha was extremely concerned with the poetic quality of her song lyrics, which needed to suit her mood and personality, and therefore, she not only selected compositions from great fado poets like António de Bragança and Fernando Caldeira, but she also penned some of her own. And Fado Antigo contains beautiful examples of this. In her voice, fado may become a suitable way to escape pain and melancholy: “When sometimes I feel overwhelmed / By the thorn of saudade / Pinned on the past / I sing, and though not on purpose, / My life I entwine / On the strings of a guitar” (“Choro Cantando”). Or her voice may express the paradoxes of unrequited love: “I like you when you lie / And say that you love me / For what you truly feel / Is scorn, and that is much worse” (“Gosto de Ti Quando Mentes”). And sometimes her voice teaches us lessons in life, enticing us to scratch the surface of mere appearance and take a look at the complexity of human feelings: “Let laughter not be the measure / Of people’s happiness / For sometimes laughter hides / The sadness that people feel” (“Nosso Fado”).

Maria Teresa de Noronha is a twentieth-century example of fado’s breach of social class, which can be traced back to the story of the illicit love affair between the Count of Vimioso and Maria Severa in the 1840s. Born Maria Teresa do Carmo de Noronha into an aristocratic family in Lisbon in 1918, she became Countess of Sabrosa through her marriage to Count José António Barbosa de Guimarães Serôdio in 1947. Fado ran in the family: some of her ancestors were notable fado performers, and her husband was an accomplished guitarist and songwriter. She began singing for family and friends at a very tender age, but her first professional appearance did not occur until the late 1930s, when she started a weekly live radio show that stayed on the air for 23 years. Luís Pepe very accurately describes the experience of attending one of her performances: “Listening to Maria Teresa is just like being transported to a region pervaded by spirituality . . . because she does not actually sing; she feels and gives us a glimpse of her soul the way it really is” (1).

In spite of her success in Portugal and abroad, by the early 1960s, de Noronha had gone into retirement, perhaps because of her duties as an aristocrat, which prevented her from having as much public exposure as a singer as other fadistas. However, she still performed at home for family and friends and made some great recordings, and in 1964, she agreed to sing at a party hosted by the Anglo-Portuguese Society in London. Her short trip to England also yielded a historical appearance on the BBC, which gives us an idea of the extent of her popularity.

Maria Teresa de Noronha passed away in 1993, but her invaluable legacy lives on in the outstanding recordings that she made and in the many lyrics that she wrote. She remains the foremost exponent of the so-called aristocratic fado, a style deeply rooted in classic, traditional sounds, and her very personal approach to fado singing oozes class and elegance. She treated fados as lyric poems written in a simple, profoundly expressive language. Alfredo Marceneiro once stated that the ability to speak out the words of a fado song was far more important than the singer’s voice. De Noronha certainly had that ability, and her voice was rich and versatile: she understood the most hidden meanings of the lyrics she sang, and with perfect diction, she always knew how to accentuate those words that were essential to emphasize the multi-layered emotions that are present in fado. Fortunately, records such as Fado Antigo, reissued on CD in 2007, enable us to enjoy the art of one of the best fadistas of the twentieth century.

Link: For more information on Maria Teresa de Noronha in Portuguese and to view a video of one of her recordings, click on Fadocravo - Maria Teresa de Noronha: Mataram A Mouraria.


(1) Luís Pepe. Fado, Mulheres e Toiros. Lisbon: Livraria Francisco Franco, 1945: 44-45.


A few months back, one of our readers asked me to translate the lyrics of the "Fado das horas" ("Fado of the hours"), written by D. António de Bragança, into English. I apologize for the delay in answering this request, but at long last here is the translation:

"Fado of the Hours"

I used to cry because I didn't see you
Now I cry because I see you
But I actually cry because I want
To see you all the time.

Time goes by in a flash
When you speak I listen
All through the hours of our lives
Each hour lasts but a minute.

When you are near me
I feel that I am the ruler of the world
But time is so terrible
Each hour lasts but a second.

Stay by my side
And don't ever leave me again
That way my poor heart
Will live at least for an hour.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Alfredo Marceneiro, the Essence of Fado

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Saying that Alfredo Marceneiro is one of the most important figures in the history of fado is a vast understatement. His grandson, Vítor Duarte, comes much closer to the truth when he describes him as “the essence of fado” (1). Indeed, Marceneiro was one of the first performers to appear in theaters and concert halls, paying special attention to his clothing and stage persona, thereby contributing to the incipient professionalization of fadistas in the 1920s and bringing the style into the modern age. He was also an accomplished songwriter who wrote the music for most of his fados, creating a repertoire all his own that suited his extremely personal style and that has become a blueprint for classic fado.

Always looking for a trademark that would make him stand out, Marceneiro was the first fadista to stand up in front of his musicians while singing and to perform by candlelight, creating a very intimate, almost mystic atmosphere. His singing style was quickly recognizable, and his husky voice always shone on slow numbers drenched with sadness and saudade. “The most important thing in fado is not one’s voice,” he once said, “but rather the ability to speak out the words” (2). And that was something at which Marceneiro clearly excelled.

He was born Alfredo Rodrigo Duarte in 1891 in the parish of Santa Isabel in Lisbon, where his parents had arrived in the hope of achieving the economic prosperity that had hitherto proved elusive. The young Alfredo was interested in acting from a very early age, but very soon he began to concentrate on singing, an activity that he conjugated with his job as a carpenter. As was very common among fadistas around the turn of the twentieth century, his profession would earn him the nickname “Marceneiro” (meaning carpenter in Portuguese), which stuck throughout his extensive career. Very adept at improvising lyrics, during these early years he built a solid reputation both as a very original performer and as a songwriter. His success would earn him a recording contract, and in 1930, he cut his first records for Valentim de Carvalho, which have now become historical items highly coveted by fado collectors. Despite the fact that his records were always very well received by fans and critics alike, Marceneiro was more of a live performer and much preferred to stand up and perform in front of an audience.

Although carpentry remained a lifelong passion, Marceneiro quit his job as a carpenter in 1950 in order to become a professional fadista. Over the years he had built a vast repertoire of self-penned tunes whose lyrics had been provided by great fado lyricists such as Silva Tavares, Armando Neves, João Linhares Barbosa, and Gabriel de Oliveira. Always concerned with the sound of his music, Marceneiro required professionality of his musicians, and he was usually accompanied by some of the best guitarists in Portugal, legendary names like Armandinho, Jaime Santos, Fontes Rocha, and Raul Nery.

His popularity transcended his home country, and throughout his life he constantly received booking offers coming from abroad, especially from Brazil. All of these he turned down, choosing to sing at Lisbon fado houses for his friends and his countless admirers. Though he did appear in many different parts of Portugal, it was in Lisbon that he really felt at home, and there, among his people, whenever he was coaxed to stand up and sing a few songs, he always obliged happily and with an air of seriousness on his face. It was a ritual held regularly almost up until his death, a ritual that he enjoyed to such an extent that he could not conceive life without singing fado.

Alfredo Marceneiro passed away in Lisbon in 1982, surrounded by his wife Judite, his family, and his friends. He was 91, and despite the fact that he hardly ever left his beloved homeland, he had lived a very full life, a life entirely devoted to fado. He was undoubtedly the greatest songwriter in classic fado, and his recorded legacy includes unforgettable gems such as “Senhora do Monte,” “Eu Lembro-me de Ti,” “Há Festa na Mouraria,” “A Minha Freguesia,” and “A Casa da Mariquinhas,” among dozens of others. Marceneiro is an inescapable figure in the history of fado: his name will forever be synonymous with the style, and fadistas everywhere will always be indebted to him for his unparalleled contributions to fado.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my friends Ofélia Pereira and Vítor Duarte, the grandson of Alfredo Marceneiro, for all their help in the preparation of this article.

Links: For more on Alfredo Marceneiro in Portuguese, visit Fadocravo - Alfredo Marceneiro: A Viela, where you will find pictures, lyrics, and a video. The blog Lisboa No Guinness, published by Marceneiro's grandson, also features a great deal of information on this great fadista.


(1) In a letter to the author, February 4, 2009.
(2) Quoted in Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Lisbon: Edições Vega, 1992: 240.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Joaquim Cordeiro — Fados do Fado

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Joaquim Cordeiro is a singer of the so-called velha guarda, that is, fado’s “old guard,” those legendary singers that brought widespread recognition to the style in the early years of the twentieth century. Eduardo Sucena lists him among the most important fadistas of the 1940s, noting that he was known as a comedian (1), and it is precisely on that side of Cordeiro’s artistry that this excellent volume of the Fados do Fado series (Movieplay, 1998) concentrates.

Cordeiro began his professional career in the southern Portuguese region of Algarve as a serious singer who favored songs charged with sentimentality. Upon his arrival in Lisbon in the 1940s, though, he switched gears and became one of the most successful representatives of humorous fado (fado jocoso or humorístico) and a regular at prestigious fado houses such as the “Retiro dos Marialvas” and the “Café Latino.” As a subgenre of fado, this fado jocoso never aims at debasing the musical quality of the style and its interpreters; rather, it uses fado as a vehicle for comedy and occasional social satire and criticism.

As this compilation of his records from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s clearly shows, Cordeiro is a master of the answer song, that is, a humorous version of a fado classic whose lyrics have been rewritten in order to create a satirical or downright funny effect. In this sense, Cordeiro is to fado something similar to what Homer & Jethro are to country music. By the 1960s, Cordeiro seems to have specialized in making this kind of records, and this CD offers a variety of outstanding examples of this practice. For instance, “Casa Bera” is a comic revision of Amália Rodrigues’s unforgettable “Uma Casa Portuguesa”; “Estranha Vida do Diabo” is a reworking of “Estranha Forma de Vida,” a fado classic written by Fernando Farinha and Alfredo Marceneiro; and “Zé Caloteiro” is a humorous reading of Carlos Dias’s popular “Fado do Cacilheiro.” The repertoire of Tony de Matos is also given the personal Cordeiro treatment in “Trabalho Vai-te Embora,” a particularly funny version of “Saudade Vai-te Embora,” and “Ó Rita Volta p’ra Casa,” a hilarious take on “O Tempo Volta para Trás,” one of de Matos’s biggest hits.

As evidenced by these recordings, Cordeiro’s voice, noisy and unpolished, sounds tailor-made for humorous fado, and he clearly knows how to infuse these funny lyrics with irony and satire. He proves to be a master of uptempo numbers, and his voice is always a pleasure to hear, coming loud and clear atop the rippling sounds of the Portuguese guitar, played in these sessions by such big names as António Chainho and Carlos Gonçalves. This compilation presents Cordeiro at his best, showing that he was an outstanding fadista with a very personal style and an unmistakable grin in his voice.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my friend Ofélia Pereira for her invaluable help with the research for this article. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of information available on Joaquim Cordeiro, yet Ofélia graciously agreed to share some of her old newspaper clippings about him, providing me with data to which I would never have access otherwise. Muito obrigado pela sua ajuda, minha cara amiga!


(1) Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Lisbon: Edições Vega, 1992: 195.