_ Not fado


In a certain small. dark bar in Lisbon you may find yourself in the midst of a strange and uniquely Portuguese ritual. Without any warning. someone at the next table may rise to his feet. and with great solemnity cry ‘Silencio!’ Instantly. the assembled company will respectfully bow their heads. their eyes beginning to water in anticipation. A pair of guitars will strike up. and said dramatic individual will break into song a ballad. a haunting lamentation - afar/o.

The fado is Lisbon’s most distinctive musical style. and it is a mark ofits standing in the city that a major research project has been set tip as part of the Lisboa 94 programme. From July, there will be a large scale exhibition dedicated to the fado. and during the year. material collected by a team of ethnomusicologists will appear as digital re-recordings of early fados. musical histories and biographies of celebrated fadistas.

A key figure in the research project is Jose Manuel ()sorio. himself a musician and fadista. As he explains. producing the definitive fado history is a tall order. ‘Nobody knows where it came from.‘ ()sorio says. ‘We suppose that it was bom in Africa or Brazil. but


I mn.£

there are Arabian influences. and it is strongly associated with the sea-faring tradition of our country. Very little has been written down. and everything that is written is wrong. It‘s a popular form. an urban folk song. and so often people have sung particular traditional songs and then claimed it was them who wrote it!‘

So it has a wide range of influences. but does the fado most resemble Eastern or Western musical forms'.’ ‘11 resembles nothing.‘ ()sorio states bluntly. ‘lt is indescribable. You must hear it for yourself. One thing I can say though is that one of the greatest

Curious collaboration

The international status of American theatre director Robert Wilson takes some beating. His work has been seen in the States, Europe, even Iran, and as I write, he is travelling back from Japan to attend one of his own exhibition openings in New York. In Germany, meanwhile, llamburg’s Thalia Theatre is gearing up for his next theatre production, teaturing music by Tom Waits, which will go on to be one of the early highlights of Lisboa 94’s international programme. It’s perhaps not surprising that Wilson should turn to Lewis Carroll tor the text of his new show, Alice. Those who saw his remarkable production ot Gertrude Stein’s Dr Faustus Lights The lights in last year’s Edinburgh International Festival will know that making literal sense is not Wilson’s strong point.

It is significant that Wilson originally trained as a painter and architect, because his work can be easier to understand it approached from a visual, painterly perspective, rather than the more literary approach common to Western theatre. The man behind me in the audience for Dr Faustus lights The Lights, a technically superb display of hypnotic lighting etiects and dream-like repetitions, muttered throughout that it was a load at rubbish. Viewed in conventional narrative terms, maybe it was, but seen as a piece of 90-minute

Tom Waits

visual modern art it was as exceptional as it was stunning.

In Alice, Wilson renews his partnership with the gravel-throated Waits with whom he first worked, also at the Thalia Theatre, on Rat’s The Black Rider along with Willian S.

i Burroughs. the soundtrack or which ; was released last year. Waits, at the

time, recalled the effect at seeing

Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach. ‘I had been pulled into a dream of such

impact and beauty,’ he said, ‘I was unable to fully return to waking tor weeks. Wilson’s stage images had allowed me to look through windows

into a dusting beauty that changed my eyes and my ears pennanently.’ The combination 0! Carroll’s upside-down

imagination, Waits’ elusive lyrics and

Wilson’s disorientating landscapes

1 should be a potent one. (Mark Fisher)

E Alice, Centre Cultural de Belem,

Lisbon, 12-14 March.

Live Fado, .‘ speciality of lisbon fadistas. Alfredo Marceneiro. did not

have a great voice ~ it was a very little

voice but he used to modulate it in such an original way.‘

In the way that its quality depends upon the invention and improvisation

ofthe singer fado is like jazz. 11 has

also been compared to the blues: many of the older fado poems are full of longing. of dreams of utopia or

' impossible love. The word fado comes

from the Latin jatum. meaning fate. and fatalism is a strong feature of the Portuguese character.

The fado is by no means always negative. though. Modern exponents

such as the celebrated Amalia Rodn’gues have used it to express a gamut ofemotions. and. building on its existing popularity. others. including ()sorio himself. have incorporated more upbeat contemporary rhythms.

But there remains a very protective nostalgia amongst the people of Lisbon, almost a reluctance to clear the mists that shroud the fado. ‘We have been talking to old fadistas. and to the sons and daughters of those who are no longer alive. so that we can reconstruct from their stories.‘ ()sorio says. ‘Many people have old books. old songs. old records. but one of the big problems is to convince those who have these unique and precious things to show them to us. For them this is sacred. it belongs to their family. their tradition. They forget that it really belongs to us all. it is our cultural patrimony.‘

And that is what this is all about. ‘If we didn‘t do this research. most of these things would be lost forever.’ says ()sorio. ‘and how can you explain what you are doing in this world if you don‘t know what your mother was doing? Nothing happens by chance you know. You have your roots and you have your destiny . . .' (Catherine Fellows)

A couple ofreeordings of jados front the 20s and 30s are available in tltis country on the Heritage label. If you have trouble tracking them down. ('onuu‘t Swift Reeords mail order dept. 3 Wilton Rd. Ifeslti/l-ort-Sea. East .S'ussex ( 0424 220028).

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The List 28 January—l0 February I994 89