António Zambujo's broad-minded fado | Bleader

António Zambujo's broad-minded fado


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Antonio Zambujo
  • Antonio Zambujo
Chicagoans could be forgiven for thinking that fado, the poetic, deeply emotional music of Portugal, is a style reserved for female singers. A new generation of female singers including Mariza, Ana Moura, and Christina Branco have had a regular presence here over the last decade, and if World Music Festival: Chicago hadn’t presented the male singer Helder Moutinho back in 2007 there would have been a total gender monopoly on the form in local venues. The truth is that men have been singing fado for as long as the music has existed—since the early 19th century—but the tradition’s greatest practitioner and star, Amalia Rodrigues, so towered above every other singer as to define the genre completely. But there are many great male singers and António Zambujo, one of the best and most ascendant contemporary artists, makes his Chicago debut tonight in a free concert at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Unlike Mariza and Moura, who don’t tinker with tradition much other than adding new songs into the fado repertoire, Zambujo isn’t too concerned with purity. On his fantastic fourth album Guia (World Village, 2010) he demonstrates a mastery of the style’s fundamental sound—a demonstrative delivery dripping with pathos amid a sweet weave of guitars (a standard acoustic guitar and the higher-pitched, chiming Portuguese guitar)—but he also freely moves outside of it. On some tunes he employs instruments rarely encountered in fado—tuba, dobro, clarinet, trombone, trumpet (Zambujo’s singing owes a noticeable debt to the soft focus croon of Chet Baker), and, on “A Tua Frieza Gela,” sound sculptures—and he artfully blends in elements of Brazilian pop music and even Cape Verdean mornas.

Zambujo grew up in Beja, in the country’s south, where he absorbed one of Portugal’s lesser-known traditions—Cante Alentejano, a polyphonic vocal style that bears similarities to traditions in Sardinia, Corsica, and Albania. On the singer’s excellent 2004 album Por Meu Cante (recently reissued by World Village) he concludes with a couple of excursions into this gripping a cappella form. All of his recordings, including Guia, find him reaching out beyond the strictures of fado like this; on the new record he sings a couple of tunes written by the great young Brazilian artist Rodrigo Maranhäo, who’s provided songs for Maria Rita and made a couple of terrific albums of his own, while a piece like “Zorro” sounds like a misty samba. And as you can hear in “Barroco Tropical,” below, he serves up his own fado-tinged morna—the ballad style made famous by Cesaria Evora—rippling with figures played on the sweet-toned cavaquinho.

Zambujo performs tonight with bassist Ricardo Cruz (who also serves as the singer’s musical director), Portuguese guitarist Luís Guerreiro, and cavaquinho player Jon Luz. The singer accompanies himself on a conventional acoustic guitar.

António Zambujo, "Barroco Tropical":

Today’s playlist:

Various artists, Quantic Presents Tropical Funk Experience (Nascente)
John Anderson, Countrified (Collector’s Choice Music/Warner Bros.)
Jimmy Holiday, How Can I Forget?: The Everest Sessions (Acrobat Music)
Tommy Babin’s Benzene, Your Body is Your Poison (Drip Audio)
Various artists, Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque (Strut)

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