The Ambassadors of Saudade


When the guitarist Pedro Ayres Magalhães and the bass player Rodrigo Leão decided to create a musical group, the fado was in an open crisis. We are in the 1985 and, in Portugal, rock (and all the music coming from United States and Britain) dominates; the popular expressions became obsolete and disliked by young people. In four words: out of the trend. But Leão and Magalhães were very determined. What they have in mind is not an exclusively musical project; it is a true artistic path that starts from the work of the great portuguese poets to link to the tradition of fado. The two musicians were not beginners, but real celebrities of the rock establishment and this fact could give to their project the attention of the young public. At the beginning of the Eighties, Leão was the bass player of the rock band Setima Legiao and Magalhães was part of Corpo Diplomatico, a punk group; he passed then to the Herois do Mar, rock and saudade, the look to the ocean and to the ancient glory of the past colonies. The ex-punk confesses monarchic ideas. He does also some vigils on the sites of ancient battles of portuguese kings. But, at the top of the success, the Herois do Mar separated. When Leão and Magalhães decided to make a new group rock and politics have disappeared and the interest for the portuguese poetry is present in their life. They start to compose in a frenzied way, on loose papers, without a precise project and destination. The poetic visions of Magalhães became words able to describe the portuguese land, the yellow of the burnt country of the south, the wet of the Estremadura's plains, the solemn corners of the north and also the feelings of fado: love, memories, nostalgia, saudade. Leão, that in the meantime has passed to the keyboards, creates a popular and at the same time modern music, full of lyricism, sometimes folkloric and some others slow and harrowing. The violoncellist Francisco Ribeiro and the accordionist Gabriel Gomes joined the group. But something is missing: the voice of a woman. The legend tells that one night, in a street of Bairro Alto, where the night life is spreading, Magalhães and company (they were Rodrigo and Gabriel, n.o.C) has been attracted in a bar by the magic sound of a voice: that voice was the one of Teresa Salgueiro. In reality several trials had to be made in the home of the mother of Magalhães. In a photo of that occasion Teresa is a seventeen years girl, a bit fat, well far from the glamour that she has today. Even if very young, she had an incredible voice. It is the 1986 and Madredeus born. The group rehearsed in a theatre, the Iberian Theatre, near an ancient church of the Xabregas convent, in the Madre de Deus quarter. The name came from that, and it has nothing to do with the faith of the single musicians; even if Magalhães has said several times that you can't talk about Portugal without talking of its religion, and that the mother of God is the essence of the woman. The interest for the femininity will remain one of the main sources of inspiration for the leader of the group. "We are four musicians around the spirit of a woman, not around her body" will say Magalhães to explain the role of Teresa in the group. In the 1987 was released Os Dias da Madredeus, the days of Madredeus. It is a double album (it will be a single CD), an ambitious issue for a first album. It contains the marvelous "A Vaca de Fogo", narration of a popular feast, which will become one of the most famous songs of Madredeus. In the '88 they participated to the "Biennale dei Giovani Artisti del Mediterraneo", in Boulogne, and Leão composed there "Tardes de Bolonha", afternoons of Boulogne, an instrumental: two years later it would have been contained in the album Existir, the first great success of Madredeus. In the '92 "Lisboa" was released, a double CD with 22 songs recorded live during a concert in the Coliseu dos Recreios in Lisbon with the participation of Carlos Paredes, great master of the portuguese guitar. The authority of the group rose with its fame. Fame that crossed the borders of Portugal and arrived in Germany, in the home of Wim Wenders. The director was already thinking about a film on Lisbon and he discovered that the music of Madredeus have the poetic narration, the spirit of the city. In the meantime, Magalhães and company were in a recording studio near London and they recorded a great quantity of material. There was enough material for a double album, but it would be the third double album of a group which had some difficulties to export their music. The music of Madredeus is not a commercial one and such a rigour could be also a flop. These were obviously cautions of discographers, but Magalhães did not care and made his own proposal: two albums at the registration price of one. In the 1994 "O Espírito da Paz" is released, the spirit of peace, and after a few time also "Ainda", again, that Magalhães reveals to be one of his favorite words. It is in fact the great curiosity of the leader that, together with the magic of the voice of Teresa, makes this group something really special. The story of Madredeus is also the story of six travelers (in the meantime José Peixoto joined the group), with the greatest respect of the tradition of the portuguese people. "Lisbon Story" is released, "Ainda" became its music and the film of Wenders became a great publicity. Their fame explode: as the main character of the film Winter-Rudiger Vogler, all the spectators fell in love a bit for Teresa Salgueiro, for the first (and, until now, the last) time in the role of actress. "Ainda" is a great commercial success. Wenders wrote some notes on the booklet, defining the music of the group "strong and calm and passionate and peaceful". For the portuguese musicians starts a voyage without any end, that will bring them to play in front of the entire world. In the meantime, though, Rodrigo Leão decided to leave - a so nomadic life is not for him - to try a soloist project. Carlos Maria Trindade, one of the best names of the portuguese musical vanguard, substituted him. The formation changed completely in 1996: Gomes and Ribeiro left and Fernando Júdice, a bass player, joined the group. In august they close themselves at the Condulmer studios, near Venice, and also this time they recorded a lot of songs with Matt Butler, sound technic of great rockstar like Paul McCartney. There was material for a double album, but it will be only a long single CD with 14 songs, entitled "O Paraíso". The change is light, but "O Paraíso" is a true album of songs, each one with its own completeness, and no more part of a single concept (I have already seen that opinion, hehe n.o.C.). The voice of Teresa is less solemn, much popular, it flies like the Andorinha da Primavera, one of the best songs of the album. This album had a tepid reaction from the public, maybe because are not accepted great changings from Madredeus, symbol of a country divided between modernity and tradition. But the group, object of devotion all over the world (oh yes n.o.C.), goes on its path that now has stopped for a while to allow Teresa to have her baby.

Laura Putti

article from "Madredeus - O Porto" -