Interview

 

Pedro Ayres Magalhaes has shadowy crescents under his eyes and a slightly greying mop of curly dark hair. His band, Madredeus, seems to have been touring their modern take on traditional Portuguese Fado music nonstop for the last ten years and he admits that sometimes it gets tiring.
Nevertheless, spirits are high in their Paris hotel lounge, and there's an air of Portuguese family celebration as Teresa Salgueiro, the hauntingly beautiful voice of Madredeus shows off her newborn baby to a friend. Back in 1992 when the invites started pouring in from Europe's major concert venues, the band were a little reluctant to leave behind their faithful Portuguese fans. Pedro now spends far more time representing Portugal's new music scene abroad than actually hanging out there and he talks animatedly between cigarettes about his home city of Lisbon and its music. "Lisbon is always my point of return. It's there that I have my memories, and my family. It's a place I will always want to be," he says wistfully. Wim Wenders, the German film director, must have picked up on this natural attachment to Lisbon when he chose Madredeus to be the heart and soul of his movie Lisbon Story. When Wenders approached Magalhaes with one of his typically vague ideas for a film, he asked if the band had any songs about Lisbon itself. "All the songs are about Lisbon!" Magalhaes replied, and went away to write the soundtrack, Ainda, in just two weeks. Wenders was so inspired by the sound of acoustic guitars with the incredible natural strength and beauty of Teresa's voice, not to mention her physical beauty and screen presence, that Madredeus became central to the atmosphere of Lisbon Story. The songs, in Portuguese, are poems about parts of the city that may go unnoticed in the rush of modern life. The spiritual nature of the river Tagus that runs through Lisbon, the dawn sky above Mouraria, one of the seven old neighbourhoods of the capital, and old Fado legends of love and loss. Some of the subjects may seem a little morbid to foreigners, but the Fado spirit is truly Portuguese and difficult to translate. One traditional Fado verse, put to music by Magalhaes for Wenders, goes:

Eu quero que o meu caixao /
Tenha uma forma bizarra
A forma de um coracao /
A forma de uma guitarra"

"I want my coffin to have a strange shape/
The shape of a heart/
The shape of a guitar.

What we might find morbid is actually a typical expression of the bitter-sweet emotion that the Portuguese call saudade.
Much of Fado (literally meaning 'fate') springs from this feeling, which has been best defined through the poetry and soulful singing of the fadista (or Fado player) accompanied by his heart-shaped guitar. Saudade is usually described as a kind of homesickness originally suffered by the 19th century colony-building Portuguese when far from their native land, in the depths of Brazil. It's easy to see how this emotion came to be expressed through music and poetry, because pinning it down in plain English proves difficult. I asked Pedro to have a go.
No one could be better qualified to explain saudade, than an itinerant, modern-day fadista...how would you define it?
-The cult of saudade is about expressing certain feelings through poetry. It's an acceptance of being sad when you are far from your beloved, when you are away from the ones you love and the things you want. And you accept your suffering. Your roots are based on the past, yet your disposition is to protect your future. You remember and you want to remember, to keep those memories very much alive. It's the ability to be strongly rooted in your past impressions, even if these memories make you suffer. This keeps you young enough and fresh enough to wait for the future that you desire so much. It is not to be fixed rigidly in the past but is a way of seeing your future in relation to that past." So it's a kind of optimistic longing. Like a tour-weary Lisbon band abroad, excited about their next album, new tours and the baby in their midst.
Where could I go to hear these expressions of saudade in Fado music?
- Fado has its roots in Lisbon night life. All the old neighbourhoods have Fado players, but mainly the hill neighborhoods of Bairro Alto and Alfama. Bairro Alto is a very old part of town with narrow streets, it was a bohemian place. It's a very closed milieu...an artistic life, passed down within separate families. This music is associated with nightclubs and restaurants, where Fado players have contracts from house to house and they distinguish themselves with their ability and dedication. Generally Fado houses have their ups and downs, but there are a few that should always be good. One is 'Parreirinha de Alfama,' then there's the 'Taverna do Embucado' and 'Senhor Vinho.' There's also 'Cafe Luso', which was once very famous, but I don't know how it is today. All these Fado houses live on people coming to listen and see, and to eat at the same time...

from the site Madredeus - O Porto - http://go.to/madredeus