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.

Notes

(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.

5 comments:

MLeiria said...

Nada tem que agradecer, meu amigo! É sempre um prazer ler os seus artigos e muito agradeço pela divulgação que faz do Fado, dos fadistas e da Cultura Portuguesa.
OP

Anonymous said...

Muitos Parabéns e obrigado pelo seu amor pelo Fado, espero que os filhos dos nossos compatriotas em todo mundo, gerações que de alguma forma tenham perdido o saber da "lingua portuguesa" vejam neste trabalho em inglês uma forma de saberem mais sobre as suas raízes.
Um abraço fadista
Vítor Marceneiro

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...

Meus caros Ofélia e Vítor,

Muito obrigado pelas palavras elogiosas sobre o artigo. Para mim o fado é uma paixão, e o Marceneiro é o meu fadista favorito. Por essa razão levou-me muito tempo escrever este artigo: desejava escrever algo que estivesse à altura do grande mestre do fado. Se vocês gostaram, fico recompensado.

A minha intenção com este blog é dar a conhecer esta música maravilhosa que é o fado àquelas pessoas anglófonas que não falam português. Quero que seja uma página na que encontrar informação sobre os diferentes estilos e intérpretes de fado para que a gente conheça a grande variedade que existe no fado. E se as novas gerações de portugueses que nasceram longe de Portugal e não falam português podem conhecer assim o fado, ficarei duplamente recompensado.

Ainda bem que gostaram. Muito obrigado mais uma vez por ter lido o artigo, e se têm alguma recomendação ou correcção, façam-me saber! :)

Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Chela said...

Estupendo post, muy cuidado y apropiado para conocer la figura de Alfredo Marceneiro.

Para mi, sin Marceneiro no hay historia del fado. El está en las más bellas letras, dando soporte a todos los grandes artistas e interpretes...¡Cuántos no han interpretado, entre otros fados, el famoso "A casa da Mariquinhas", que yo escucho con mucha frecuencia por estar entre mis preferidos!

Me ha gustado mucho tu homenaje a este autor e interprete, a este EXTRAORDINARIO fadista que lo merece todo. La historia del fado no puede prescindir de él porque es una de sus estrellas más brillantes.

Marceneiro es Fado.

Un saludo desde esta otra orilla.

Anton Garcia-Fernandez said...

Estimada Chela:

Muchas gracias por tu comentario elogioso sobre el artículo que le he dedicado al gran Alfredo Marceneiro. Coincido contigo en que no hay historia del fado sin la figura de Marceneiro. Sin duda, ha habido grandes intérpretes a lo largo de la historia del fado (Amália, Fernando Farinha, Maria Teresa de Noronha, etc.), pero Marceneiro no solamente era un estilista excepcional, sino que además brilló como compositor, lo cual lo coloca como uno de los nombres más influyentes que ha dado el fado. Para mí no cabe duda de que el fado sería totalmente diferente si él no hubiese ayudado a renovarlo a principios del siglo XX.

Un saludo desde Estados Unidos,

Antón García-Fernández.