Tribute for a singing legend

Among the various styles of music whose popularity has stretched beyond local confines for wider international exposure as a result of the world music circuit of more recent times, fado, the melancholy song form hailing from Portugal, ranks as one of the scene’s bigger beneficiaries. Nowadays popular at home and abroad, fado, which emerged early last century, has bred a new wave of artists who are keeping the form alive and, moreover, injecting contemporary touches into the seasoned style. Whatever the preferences, younger fado artists tend – with little or no exception – to base their efforts on the style’s grandest exponent, the late Amalia Rodriguez. Over two nights, tomorrow and Thursday, two new-generation acts, a more seasoned one, as well as Rodriguez’s sister, will pay homage to the legendary performer with tribute shows at the Lycabettus Theater in Athens. On the tribute’s bill are Cristina Branco, a 32-year-old vocalist that has so far managed to both sustain and expand the range of fado, Joana Amendoeira, who at 22 is the tribute’s youngest performer, Maria Amelia Proenca, a veteran on the fado circuit with five decades of experience behind her, and Rodriguez’s sister, Celeste. «I don’t sing the fados. They sing inside me,» Rodriguez would often remark. Over a six-decade career based on the fado, a forlorn style that addresses topics such as fate, love, longing, and poverty, Rodriguez established herself as the «queen of fados,» as she was often referred to. She also grew into her country’s most significant musical ambassador. Her artistic worth has often been likened to that of female vocalists of the caliber of France’s Edith Piaf, Argentina’s Mercedes Sosa, and Billy Holiday. Born on July 1, 1920, Rodriguez began singing early. As a young girl, her penetrating voice was a familiar – and welcome – sound in Lisbon’s neighborhoods. She wandered about singing popular songs of the era, or cantigas populares, and usually returned home with candy as her reward from listeners. Finances were tight at home, forcing young Amalia and her sister Celeste to help their mother as vendors at the local market. The youngster’s capabilities as a singer gradually spread, and in 1936 it was suggested to Rodriguez that she represent her region at a national fado competition. Her singing was so impressive at rehearsals staged to determine the region’s representative that other candidates withdrew out of spite. Local organizers responded by banning Rodriguez. But there was no stopping the young lady’s talent. Three years later, the owner of a renowned club in central Lisbon booked Rodriguez for nightly shows at his venue. Her engagements there quickly fanned the singer’s fame both locally and beyond the country’s frontiers to neighboring Spain. In 1943, Rodriguez’s career started turning international. She was invited to Madrid for performances and recordings beyond the field of fados. The uniquely gifted singer also turned to flamenco, and also applied her voice to songs in various other languages. By this stage, her vocal delivery had broken language barriers. Performances followed in Brazil in 1945. Several years later, a landmark performance in Paris in 1956 cemented her place as an international star and established her fame as fado’s greatest ambassador. She never looked back. Branco, the tribute’s headline act, has been credited with adding new creative zeal to the established fado form. The lyrics of her songs go beyond customary subjects such as poverty and misfortune. Branco sings about less common thoughts and feelings in fados such as joy and envy. Musically, Branco has allowed other styles, including jazz and Brazilian, into her version of fado, and, subsequently, is considered part of the «nuevo fado,» or new fado, circuit in Portugal. Branco believes that the urban character of fado should keep driving the style toward further evolution, both in terms of lyrics and arrangements. «Artists must express their era, otherwise they end up being echoes of the past,» says Branco. Amendoeira, the tribute’s youngest performer, ranks as one of the most promising new fado acts. At the age of 22, she has already managed to put out three albums. In 1995, when just 13 years old, she won a top prize at the country’s most important amateur song competition. Her debut album, «Olhos Garotos,» emerged three years later and established her as a seminal fado act. A second album, «Aquela Rua,» followed in 2000, and was backed by international touring that covered various parts of Europe, as well as Brazil and the USA. Last year, Amendoeira released her third and most recent album, «Fado Antologia.» Proenca, the tribute’s veteran fado act whose career spans five decades, continues to perform regularly at the «Sr. Vinho» venue in Portugal, commonly known as the «house of fado.» Hers is an appropriate inclusion on the tribute bill, considering collaborations with Rodriguez.

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