“Many melodies can be transformed in fado.” When Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura said this in our studio last year, she was referring specifically to the Rolling Stones’ song “No Expectations” -- a song that she’s covered many times, including on stage with the Rolling Stones themselves. But she just as easily could have been speaking about parts of her new album, Desfado, including her cover of Joni Mitchell’s 1971 song “A Case of You.”
“What makes a melody fado -- it’s the interpretation," she said. "We are a very emotional people."
The idea of “fado” can be difficult to pin down. It’s a Portuguese music genre, it’s a feeling, it’s a song form. Dating back to at least the early 1800s, fado temporarily became unpopular in the mid-20th century due to its perceived ties to the ruling “New State” dictatorship. However, since the regime was overthrown in the 1970s, the genre has been revitalized -- and in 2011, it was added to UNESCO’s “Intangible Cultural Heritage List.”
Moura has been instrumental in carrying fado forward, and in branching out to include interpretations of music from outside of the genre. On Desfado, she includes the aforementioned Joni Mitchell cover -- which, upon listening, made me realize that “A Case of You” was never all that far from fado to begin with -- and two other English-language originals: “Dreams of Fire,” recorded with Herbie Hancock on electric piano, and a song called “Thank You.”
But Moura shines most brightly in her native Portuguese, on tracks like “Desfado” and “Até Ao Verão.” The latter, with its stripped down instrumentation, puts her voice front and center -- and what a voice it is. Husky and powerful, Moura's voice is one that tells you a story -- even when you don't speak the language.
Audio for this feature is no longer available, but you can watch the video for Ana Moura's song "Até Ao Verão."
Katie Bishop joined the Death, Sex & Money team in November 2014, after a three-and-a-half year stint producing WNYC's Soundcheck. She's also worked for Marketplace, Jazz at Lincoln Center Radio, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and The State of Things with Frank Stasio on North Carolina Public Radio. Katie is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and a native of Rochester, New York, where she grew up playing the cello and dressing warmly.