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.