Last year, when I reviewed Ana Moura’s fourth studio album, Leva-me Aos Fados, I noted the Portuguese fado singer’s connections to the Rolling Stones and Prince. At the time, Moura had performed with the Stones and collaborated with saxophonist Tim Reis on recordings of two Stones numbers. Since then, Moura has incorporated one of those tracks, “No Expectations”, into her live set, which she presented in the UK and US for the first time following the international success of Leva-me Aos Fados. The rumors of a Prince collaboration also materialized when the Artist invited Moura onstage and played the part of guitarrista as Moura beguiled the audience with some fado. Leva-me Aos Fados, meanwhile, was reviewed widely in the Anglophone music press and Moura was the focus of a recent feature on “new fado” in the New York Times. Heady success indeed for an artist who, a few years ago, was little known outside of her homeland and the fado-loving communities of France and the Netherlands.
On the back of all this comes Coliseu, a live album recorded and released nationally (i.e. in Portugal) back in 2008. The album is being given international distribution due to the aforementioned successes, though it captures an earlier moment, between national and international fame. Moura had recently released her critically-acclaimed third album Para Além da Saudade and the concert in Lisbon’s beautiful and prestigious Coliseu dos Recreios mixed songs from that album with others from her first two releases, as well as fados as yet unrecorded by the fadista.
Proceedings open with an a capella version of “Lavava no Rio Lavava”, with verses written by the queen of 20th century fado, Amália Rodrigues. It’s an excellent (re)introduction to Moura’s voice, and the audio recording captures something of what must have been a spine-tingling thrill of an opening. As a genre, fado loves to fetishize moments such as this, when the lights go down, the audience falls silent, the singer appears and, following an intake of breath, launches into a performative mixture of voice, gesture, and lyric. Moura signifies on multiple levels here: recognition of the past (the gestures to Amália and to tradition), assertion of her place in the present (continuing the tradition while dressing it in glamorous new clothes), and evidence of her skills (the courage to sing alone, the power of her voice).
Following the audacious opening, the next three songs provide a good example of the basic Moura template, a mixture of time-honored material (a slow fado menor, an uptempo fado corrido) and numbers with their hearts in fado but their eyes and ears on pop and soul. Moura has maintained a close working relationship with the guitarist and songwriter Jorge Fernando throughout her career, and it is Fernando as much as anyone who provides the connections between her various styles. A former guitarist for Amália Rodrigues, Fernando has written some of the most well-known fados of recent years, including many on Mariza’s first album (which he also produced and arranged). He is the writer of the fado corrido included here (”Ó Meu Amigo João”) and the assertive, soulful “Sou do Fado, Sou Fadista” (“I Belong to Fado, I’m a Fadista”), the emotive centerpiece of Moura’s debut album.
More Fernando songs follow, including the lovely “Fado das Horas Incertas” (“Fado of the Uncertain Hours”), complemented by other contemporary pop-fados by Tozé Brito and Amélia Muge. The familiar fado themes are all hymned: love, loss, uncertainty, grief, pain, disquiet, the city. Lisbon, as so often in fado, acts as the bedrock to fado‘s concerns, as the place in which their action unfolds (the lyrics of Muge’s “Fado da Procura” visit a number of Lisbon locations as they detail a quest for an elusive lover), as the place to which fado bears witness, and, ultimately, as a metaphor for other cities of the heart.
Throughout, Moura is guided and supported by the excellent musicianship of José Manuel Neto (Portuguese guitar), José Elmiro Nunes (Spanish guitar), and Filipe Larsen (acoustic bass) and by Fernando’s musical direction. The album closes with Fernando’s “Os Búzios”, one of the standout tracks of Moura’s third album. The song is built around the metaphor of the “búzios” (shellfish) whose shells are used to predict the future, thus allowing for a simultaneous hymning of tradition, ritual, and speculation. Destiny and the power to change destiny clash at the song’s culmination: “See how the shells fell / Facing North / But I will fix your destiny / I will change your luck”.
The words of a lover to a lover? Of a singer to an audience? Of an impresario to a young performer? As the lights faded, a new destiny lay in wait for this particular fadista.