FROM BLOGCRITICS MAGAZINE
Published March 23, 2009
Listening to Ramana Vieira’s album Lágrimas De Rainha (Tears of A Queen) provides an instant education in fado, a form of Portuguese folk music. Perhaps Vieira summarizes it best on “Amália,” a tribute to the late “Rainha do Fado,” or “Queen of Fado,” Amália Rodrigues. “We longed to hide in all your sorrows/This is life, this is love/This is fado,” Vieira croons.
Put simply, fado evokes intense emotion, namely heartache, disappointment, and melancholy. According to Fado.com’s history of the genre, “fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.” Fado’s origins date from the 19th century, possibly from an African dance. In the 20th century Lisbon’s working class adopted the music, chiefly as a tool for expressing their frustrations and sadness. Singers called fadistas performed the songs in brothels, saloons, street corners, and in poor Lisbon areas. In order to communicate feelings of heartbreak, singers crooned over a Portugese guitar and one classical guitar; current fado incorporates other instruments such as piano, violin, and accordion (see World Music Central’s excellent history of fado).
As Vieira emphasizes on her album, the undisputed fado legend is Rodrigues; from the 1940s until her 1999 death, her name became synonymous with the music. According to World Music Central, Portugal’s prime minister called for a three-day period of mourning after Rodrigues’s death. This event demonstrates the music’s importance in the country.
Vieira continues Rodrigues’s legacy by introducing wider audiences to fado. “United in Love,” which she composed and performed at the 2006 Winter Olympics, best exemplifies her attempt to appeal to a modern audience. Piano and soaring electric guitar accompany her English language lyrics. The aforementioned tribute to Rodrigues, “Amália,” is sung primarily in English. A standout track, Vieira pours her soul into the words, letting listeners experience the depth of her admiration for the legendary singer.
Other highlights include “Coimbra,” a lovely 1939 song (and Rodrigues standard) made more accessible through heightened percussion and cello. “Fado Marujo (Fado of the Sailor)” features intricate classic guitar picking and swaying beat that contrast with the lyrics’s sadness. “Povo Que Lavas No Rio (People That Wash in the River)” also speeds the tempo of the original ballad, but Vieira’s mournful voice retains the song’s melancholy. The Spanish guitar dominates, with Jeffrey Luiz’s rapid strumming and picking astounding the listener.
Fans of world music should enjoy “Maria Lisboa,” with a beat and guitar work reminiscent of the Buena Vista Social Club. An original tune, “My Country Portugal,” provides a rest from the album’s sad tone. Sung in English, the song celebrates Portuguese culture, particularly from Vieira’s Portuguese-American perspective. The samba beat, along with Vieira’s joyful vocals, invite audiences to dance.
The remaining ballads represent more traditional fado; according to Tears of A Queen’s liner notes, the album gets its title from a Portuguese Romeo and Juliet-type story. In 1355, a maid and her employer, the son of the king of Portugal, fell in love. Their love was forbidden, leading to the maid’s execution by public stoning. The son never recovered from her death, even after ascending to the throne. The tale inspires various star-crossed fado songs, including the album’s title cut and “Lágrimas Caladas (Silent Tears),” another original composition. The bottom line: fado fans should enjoy the melodramatic tone of these tracks.
For those unfamiliar with fado, Tears of A Queen provides an interesting lesson in Portuguese culture. Vieira obviously remains committed to the musical form and wishes to update it for modern listeners. Traditional fado fans may not appreciate the introduction of electric guitar and bass, but Vieira never neglects the genre’s origins. To visit Portugal without leaving home, pick up Vieira’s new album and be transported.