|Acknowledging the applause at Kings Place: |
L-R: Luis Guerreiro Ricardo Ribeiro, Carlos Manuel Proença, Daniel Pinto
Kings Place Hall Two. Songlines Encounters Festival. 1 June 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
The seventh Songlines Encounters Festival got under way last night with the UK debut of 35-year old fado singer Ricardo Ribeiro and his highly accomplished trio of Luis Guerreiro on portuguese guitar, Carlos Manuel Proença on rhythm guitar and Daniel Pinto on bass guitar.
The guiding spirit of this music is the respect for, and the upholding of the fado tradition. One gets a very sense of strong continuity, of all the musicians’ intense familiarity with the quite extensive canon of fado songs. Among Ribeiro’s influences on his Facebook page (it is a fascinating list also including Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and the visionary writer Fernando António Pessoa!) Ribeiro names fado singers Fernando Maurício and Amália Rodrigues. It has been fascinating to listen back to their old recordings and to think about what – if anything has changed in this very specific national tradition of – as one wag put it to me – ‘nectar for the gloomy gods’. Certainly, instrumental standards have risen. Some of the waywardness in the playing/ tuning from that era – but also, arguably, some of the rhythmic recklessness and insouciance have gone.
However, what surprised me was that the new songs of Ribeiro’s most recent album, such as the charming Fadinho Alentejano about a man singing outside the house of a woman he still may – or may not- hold a candle for, sound as if they could have been written at any time in the past 60 years.
That sense of unvarying constancy which is true for the music also appears – I think – to be true of the poetry. Taking a look at the lyrics of Fadinho Alentejano (there is a set of them in the comments to the YouTube below), and I will surmise that the subtle, allusive and poetic use of the language which developed during the forty years of dictatorship, and where flowery romantic language could express dissent and awkward truth – the best example is the poet-then-politician Manuel Alegre – is still in the culture.
But the more one has these kind of thoughts, the more – as a listener who does not understand the native language – I felt frustration. I would really have liked to know what he was actually singing about, song by song. Maybe that is too trainspotter-ish by half. Maybe it should be possible to just suspend disbelief, to let those cycling harmonic four-bar spans, which keep returning like ineluctable fate back to the tonic chord, just waft over me like a summer breeze… but there is clearly more subtelty and more meaning in there. The saving grace is that Ribeiro does have a fascinating range of vocal timbre, and ability to flag up different emotions. There was plenty to enjoy, but I wanted more.
LINK: Songlines Encounters Festival