Fado In Australia

Camelot Lounge, December 14

Monia Costa, Manuel Iria and Antonio Goncalves. Photo: JS.

As much as a concert this was like gatecrashing a gathering of the Portuguese community and eavesdropping on the music that binds it: fado. While the sublime Amalia Rodrigues brought fado to the world’s concert halls in the 1950s (and the ravishing Mariza keeps it there today), the natural habitat of this music has been Lisbon’s dock-side bars, and perhaps something of that atmosphere (minus the smoke) was conjured up in Marrickville’s enchanting Camelot, not far from the Portuguese hub of Petersham.

As with Spain’s flamenco the essence of fado is voice and guitar. The former must belong to a singer prepared to bare his or her soul, and the guitars must include the Portuguese 12-string variety, with its distinctively bright timbre. But where flamenco thrives on melodic and rhythmic complexity, fado uses simple song forms overlaid with sumptuously lyrical melodies and poetry usually telling of loss and heartache.

Perhaps it is the world’s most operatic folk music, with many songs testing a voice’s strength and range. In this regard Ricardo da Silva was king. He also had the suppleness of phrasing to make the music lilt, and engaged the audience by strolling among the tables with a radio microphone and, in the second set, doing it Lisbon-style with no mike at all, his voice still clawing at the four corners of the room.

As one must with this music, Leonor Pedro teetered on the edge of melodrama, and she tipped over once or twice. By contrast Monia Costa’s voice was not only robust, accurate and attractive, it was also lighter, which actually deepened the impact of her songs. Nonetheless she held herself back from hitting the ultimate intensity of which she would seem capable

Manuel Iria inserted the glistening improvised lines on Portuguese guitar that gives this music so much of its flavour, without approaching the virtuosity of the great masters of the art. Antonio Goncalves underpinned the songs with acoustic guitar and also sang engagingly.