On Her U.S. Debut 'Maria', Fado Singer Carminho Finds Beauty in Melancholy

Photo courtesy of Nonesuch Records

Maria finds Carminho at her most intimate and personal, a collection of original tunes that honor the past while still defining her own voice as a trailblazing vocalist.



27 September 2019

With fado music, it's all about the voice. Not just how beautiful a singer's voice can be, but how much conviction and truth stands behind their words. It's a musical style built on sorrow and longing that emanates melancholy as much as it does beauty. While fado is inherently dramatic, it necessitates sincerity, a style that backs up its theatricality with experience, suffering, and transcendence. When Carminho opens her latest album with a startling and heart-wrenching a capella track, the unflinching "A Tecedeira", it's almost too stunning and beautiful to bear.

Her fifth album to date but her first released on U.S. shores, Maria could well be Carminho's most personal recording. The daughter of renown fado singer Teresa Siqueira, Carminho explores themes both personal and cultural through the lens of Portugal's deep musical roots. Taking a far more intimate approach to the record–writing most of the songs and lyrics and producing the album herself–she succeeds by making Maria a testament to the power of fado as well as a stunning examination of her musical prowess.

More than anything, Carminho reflects the inescapable beauty of fado's melodies and stories. When she sings over the one-two rhythm of "O Começo", she takes the command of a dramatic narrator, giving life to the song as much with her phrasing and cadence as with her tone color. Despite effusing deeply emotive lines throughout "O Menino E A Cidade" the track never gets bogged down, nor does it neglect the inherent dance of its 3/4 lilt.

What's most impressive about Maria is the way Carminho honors tradition without sacrificing personal sound. Working primarily with a standard fado rhythm section of six-string and Portuguese guitars (a unique instrument similar in tone to a mandolin), she respects traditional song structures and time-honored fado aesthetics while still sounding modern. When the delicate electric guitar arpeggios open "Estrela", it doesn't seem radical or bombastic, a testament to Carmino's skilled songwriting and sensibilities. The reverb-laced picking on "Pop Fado" would sound overly-commercial and far-reaching if it wasn't mixed with such a trained ear for the minor/major key structure of traditional fado.

"Poeta" is a buoyant and exuberant waltz, a bright dancing number that contrasts with the slow two-step hiccups of "Se Vieres". On a completely different emotive spectrum, "Quero um Cavalo de Várias Cores" finds beauty in longing, minor chords, and passionate pleas about fate and love. All three tracks would give listeners new to fado a valuable primer to the nuances and shades of the music. Closing track "As Rosas" is a stark piano-accompanied ballad, seemingly conservative yet led by a no-less restrained Carminho.

It would not be a stretch to say fado isn't the most popular strand of global music. Its unbridled emoting may be too heavy for some audiences, but Carminho may be the ideal voice to spread its sound across the continent. Maria may be her most personal work, but her story and sound will undoubtedly resonate with discerning audiences worldwide.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.