The last time, in fact the first time, I saw Magda Mendes was in tiny theatre hidden away in a hard-to-get to part of The Hague. While not quite dark and smoky, the small, intimate space was ideal for the performance, accompanied only by guitar, or Portuguese guitarra, of her own personal version of fado, the traditional Portuguese music.
But Ms Mendes also works with other musicians, presenting the more sophisticated, what she calls, Portuguese chamber music. It was this line-up which took the stage of the Eduard Flipse Zaal in Rotterdam’s huge but elegant de Doelen concert hall complex as part of the Club Doelen strand.
The theme of the evening was olives and we were left in no doubt of this by the projections, above the stage, demonstrating the tree’s life cycle from sprouting seedlings to hundreds-of-years-old magnificent, knurled and twisted monuments to nature. The concert marked the launch, prior to a nationwide tour, of Magda’s new album Oliveiras.
She has lived in Rotterdam for the past fourteen years, or so, and the songs describe longing and homesickness and are a sentimental journey back to her homeland and her father’s olive farm. The seven piece, largely woodwind, band provided the perfect counterpoint to Magda’s fine voice and wistful, reflective songs. The arrangements by guitarist, her accompanist and partner Ward Veenstra, were excellent and showed a deep understanding of not only of the harmonies of which the instruments were capable but also of the songs themselves and the emotions behind them.
In addition to Mr Veenstra, the backbone of the accompaniment was provided by percussionist Udo Demandt who sat behind an eccentric array of drums, cymbals and other strange objects, seemingly never hitting the same one twice. His rhythms were always there binding things together, always just right but never intrusive. The rest of the line-up consisted of Remko de Landmeter on flute, Bart de Kater on clarinet, Maripepa Contreras Gámez on oboe, Daniel Garrido Iglesias on bassoon and Brandt Attema with a couple of bass trombones that looked more like components of a central heating system than musical instruments. Ms Mendes joined in on a couple of numbers playing electric guitar or ukulele.
Magda Mendes’ self-penned songs are all beautiful, melodic and flawlessly performed. They complement each other so as to make Oliveiras a fine, cohesive album. If I had to choose a favourite number it would be, by a very long way, Oliveira a melancholy song with outstanding guitar and arrangement by Ward Veenstra. If there were still such things as hit singles from albums, this would be it. Check it out below.
A sell-out, hugely enjoyable concert of a superb album by an outstanding artist. The tour continues until the end of May and I would recommend you see it if you can. Michael Hasted 6th April 2019
Click here to listen to ArtsTalk Radio’s exclusive interview with Magda Mendes
Click here for tour dates