An interview with Teresa Brum, a true fadista!
Following the interview we made to one of Portugal’s emerging artist Lígia Fernandes, we now take this opportunity to share with you an interview with yet another emerging artist, this time a fado singer – fadista. Teresa Brum gently conceded an interview and let us film her performing an “A Cappella” fado song. We’ve met Teresa at her place near the bullfighting arena for a short conversation and interview. We sincerely hope this will be helpful for all, we had a lovely time with Teresa!
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m 30 years old and besides being a fado singer, I have a degree in Clinical Psychology and I’m finishing my Masters in Music Therapy.
I was born in Leiria but I have always lived in Lisbon. The music followed me from an early age. Around the age of 5 I started playing the piano until I was about 12 years old. As a child I used to sing in the school choir and during my piano lessons, there was always a moment where my teacher played and I sang. I remember that what I loved to sing the most were songs from the Disney movie “Pocahontas”.
As I entered adolescence, I decided to learn to play “viola” (classical guitar). I learned the basic chords with a great friend of mine and then went exploring the instrument. I had some classes but primarily I was an autodidact. Not being an expert, the little I know about “viola” has served to accompany my voice and to have some fun. Still, one day I would like to learn a little more so I can play some more complex songs. For me the “viola” was a more fun instrument. I could take it with me everywhere, play and sing with friends.
How did you become a fado singer?
In addition to playing and singing with friends, during my teenage years I began singing in choirs and doing small performances in bars. My repertoire was vast and included very different styles and interpreters (eg Mafalda Veiga, Rui Veloso, Amália Rodrigues, John Mayer, Avril Lavigne, etc …). Although I really liked fado, during this phase I used to go to fado venues only sporadically, just listening to it in audio recordings, fairs and singing among friends.
Later, around the age of 20, I started to attend more fados shows. Every time I heard fado, together with the surrounding environment, it made me feel good and my curiosity about it increased. These were good times, especially when someone came, sang a fado and I shivered from the singing not knowing why. During these visits, there was always a friend who invariably asked if I could sing a fado. I knew a few fados but I sang what I knew nervously. That being said, when I sang it felt good, and the sensations were very different from the ones I had experienced in bars. I cannot explain why, but I felt frankly better at singing there in a fado venue
With knowledge and curiosity increasing, I started to attend more and more fado venues. Also, I began to hear different “fadistas” and “fados”, especially older pieces.
About 8 years ago, when trying to find my true identity, I realized that it was fado that filled the void. I began to do what people advised me, and started to train myself – that is, I started to go to fado venues more often in order to learn more about it, since fado is not learned by reading books. The language of fado is learned in fado venues with the people who know it best, by listening to it and singing it.
With my presence in such venues, some proposals began to appear for singing on “fado dinners” and over time, I have diversified my experience in many different places. I can say that by now I sang not only in fado houses, but also in private events, social solidarity and in places such as the Fado Museum, São Luiz Theater (João Braga Concert “Saudade, Heritage of Fado”), Olga Cadaval Center (Tribute to Maria Teresa de Noronha), Casa da Música in Porto, Radio Amália (“Estrela da tarde” Program), Teatro Independente de Oeiras, Estoril crafts Fair, among others.
I hope to continue having new experiences in fado, to learn more and more, and above all, I hope I can continue to sing it!
Teresa singing at local fado venue
How important is fado in your life?
Fado is undoubtedly a great passion. It transports me to the emotional side of life, helps me to feel, think, express and live emotions like sadness, longing, love, lack of love, fear, jealousy, joy, etc. It’s the way I found to share feelings, life stories and stories from other times. Besides that, the most satisfying feeling actually happens when we realize that we have also made others feel something through fado.
The musicality of fado, the instruments, the voices I hear and the sensations it induces in me are mesmerizing. But its greatest value is in the lyrics. For instance, one of the things that has given me great pleasure, is to look for poems that share everything I want to tell. It’s a difficult job and far from being finished, but it’s in this search for lyrics that I feel that I begin to define myself as a fadista, to build my true identity.
Another aspect that fascinates me in fado is the spontaneity both in the relational and individual aspects. On one hand, its relatively simple structure allows musicians and fadistas to create a connection musically, even if they do not know each other. This allows for completely different musical experiences to occur because each musician has his or her identity, suggests different musical ideas and the dynamics between all tend to be very different. On the other hand, I feel great freedom when I sing fado since although I can sing the same fado over and over, I can sing it in a totally different way – “styling it” – because of what I feel and what I cannot explain myself.
So many things could be said to answer this question, but in fact not everything is easily transmitted in words. To like someone or something, is a matter of feelings. I would summarize my answer with a few verses in the poem of Maria Lavinia, which, in spite of speaking of another love, has expressions that fit perfectly in this answer :
“I like you because I like you
Why, I cannot say
In love there are no whys,
there are no whys to love (…) “.
For the ones that have no clue what’s fado, what’s the best way to describe it?
It’s very difficult to define what Fado really is. With its evolution, the opinions on the definition have diverged a lot. Considering its origin, Fado is a typical Portuguese folk song that approaches feelings and histories of the past and present quotidian, and that traditionally is interpreted by a fadista, viola de fado, Portuguese guitar and even viola-bass. As I have often heard, Fado is the “poem that narrates life” or “assisted poetry.”
Fado is an oral transmission song that has a specific musical, poetic and interactive language and, as a popular song, should be accessible to everyone. Thus, musicians and fadistas will learn and create their identity based on their teachers and the older reference fadistas, becoming more or less traditional/classical.
Fado by José Malhoa
How’s it structured? What are the main elements in fado that make it unique?
Musically, we can distinguish two types of fado: Traditional Fado and Fado canção.
Traditional Fado is repetitive, can be simpler or more complex, can be played in a major and/or minor tone with a faster tempo or slower depending on the message that is it intends to transmit. It serves as the basis for different poetic structures. This means that for the same traditional fado there can be many poems. Traditional Fado works like a kind of musical bed where the fadistas “style”, that is, they make small improvisations, according to their feel and the words that sing. It can also serve as a basis for jams (improvisation of lyrics between fadistas) and for verses sung among several fadistas.
The Fado canção is composed of two parts – the copla and the chorus – and each melody corresponds to a specific letter. However, as in Traditional Fado, the musicians support the voice and, although in a narrower way, the fadista can “style” according to its feel and its interpretation. It is precisely in the Fado canção that the greatest differences in the definition of Fado arise.
I take this opportunity to highlight the role of the musicians. Although the great majority of people value the role of the Portuguese guitar as a sort of fado brand image, both the classical guitar (viola) and the Portuguese guitar have specific and essential roles. The viola is the one who supports rhythmically and harmonically the fadista and the Portuguese guitar. The Portuguese guitar in turn, is responsible for the ornaments and melodic complements of the voice. When used, without overlapping the viola, the bass guitar also has the function of marking the tempo and the bass.
As for the poems of fado, these should be simple and easily apprehensible by everyone, whether they are more popular or more erudite, more descriptive or more sentimental, more or less metaphorical. They talk mainly about feelings (love, jealousy, nostalgia, joy, etc), guitars, Lisbon, life, the past, binges, bullfights, sailor life and religion.
The simple and direct language of Fado, almost universal among Portuguese, allows spontaneous interaction between people. For example, since it doesn’t require rehearsals as we know it, a fadista can sing with musicians that he doesn’t know, asking only for the tone and the melody (name of the fado) that he or she wants to sing, even without the musicians needing to know the poem. Of course, this interaction becomes easier when musicians and fadistas meet more regularly.
What’s your favorite fado singer and why?
It’s difficult for me to identify a favorite fado singer. You may consider that my two great references are Amália Rodrigues and Maria Teresa de Noronha. Amália Rodrigues was a fadista that probably we won’t see again, she had an unbelievable and unmistakable voice, interpretation, an endless repertoire, and a beautiful presence on stage that showed fado to the world. I believe she’s an almost universal reference for any fado singer. Maria Teresa de Noronha is perhaps the fadista with whom I most identify with her voice, her timbre, her soft way of singing, the soul she puts in the words sung and the repertoire that I admire so much .
However, my influences will certainly go far beyond these two great fado singers. I emphasize for example Teresa Tarouca, Maria do Rosário Bettencourt, Carlos Zel, Carlos Ramos, Manuel de Almeida, among many others.
Of the most recent fadistas, I emphasize Camané, Carminho, Ana Moura and Ricardo Ribeiro. Many good fadistas remain to be mentioned. Although they may not be so well-known because they’re at an early career stage, or because they don’t have such media produced careers yet, these unknown figures are very good fado singers, with very beautiful voices and interpretations.
If you were someone looking to travel in Portugal, where would you go for a fado venue?
There are many fado houses in Lisbon and my recommendation varies greatly according to the people’s objective. In my opinion, the Mesa de Frades (Alfama) is a very interesting place for those who would like to listen to quality fado, in a beautiful, intimate space, with story, with a serious but not very formal environment and where the old tradition of starting a fado night late in the night still remains. It’s a place where one can hear fado vadio and where several fadistas meet often to listen and to sing fado.
Senhor Vinho and Clube de Fado are places that I recommend for their cast of musicians, for the possibility of listening to fado in later hours, for the quality of the meals and especially for its more formal atmosphere.
There are obviously many other houses in Lisbon, some more touristy than others. I can add some more names like “A Bela”, “Tasca do Chico”, “Maria da Mouraria”, “Fado ao Carmo”, “Associação do Fado Casto” but in reality there are many other options.
One experience that I think might be worth is to go to a fado “meeting”. For me, perhaps because it’s more familiar, I highlight the meeting that takes place on Thursday nights at the Restaurant “A Muralha” in Alfama. It’s a night where several generations of friends and fado lovers meet to listen and sing fados, to live together, to share experiences and stories with each other. From professionals to amateurs, with more or less musical quality, you can hear many voices and different interpretations in an atmosphere of great respect for Fado. For me, it’s perhaps the experience that best portrays the origins of Fado, where simplicity and feelings predominate.
What are your main goals for the future?
Looking forward, I would like to record my first album in order to signal my journey until now and to make another step in my career. I would like to sing more regularly in fado houses and try out new stages in Portugal and elsewhere. Maybe a desire too ambitious, but in reality what I really would like is to keep on singing Fado. I have been taking my time but I’m not in a hurry, I hope one day to achieve at least part of my goals without losing what I really care for.
If you had to pick one of our tours, which one would you pick and why?
This is a very difficult question! It’s a decision I couldn’t take alone. I consider all tours very attractive but since I live in Lisbon I’m especially undecided among three of the six presented.
Mafra and its Convent, Ericeira and its beaches, the plains of the Alentejo, the craftsmanship and true Portuguese gastronomy are all experiences that attract me, leading me to be undecided between the tours “Gastronomy and Heritage“, “A day in Alentejo’s countryside” and the” Philosophy of Portuguese cuisine“.
Do you recommend Rootfarers?
For sure. Nowadays, with the massification of tourism, it becomes difficult to know the most authentic and genuine corners and nooks of Portugal. Without taking away any merit and recognizing its importance, many of our services had to adapt to the tourist volume and eventually lost the Portuguese essence a bit or completely. Gastronomic and cultural recommendations have become more restricted to so-called “tourist” places which, while deserving our full attention, limit the possibility of genuinely knowing Portugal and the Portuguese people.
However, Portugal has other lovely and less touristy experiences that are not easily accessible without the presence of the so-called “local”. It is in this aspect that I consider that Rootfarers is an excellent option for those who have curiosity to know Portugal and its culture in a less massified, more individualized and authentic way.
Authentic tours for authentic tr