While we are all familiar with flamenco, its Portugese cousin, fado, is perhaps less known. Native to the alleys and working class bairro of Lisbon, this soulful music can be heard in the tourist hotels of the Algarve, but in its purist form you need to visit one of the backstreet bars in the Portuguese capital. Alternatively, you can listen to Magda Mendes, a singer/songwriter from Lisbon, now living in Rotterdam.
While the tiny, hard-to-get-to Pianino Theatre in The Hague is a far cry from the smoky clubs and dives of Lisbon, its cramped space, with a sell-out audience squeezed into every corner of the warm room, came close to creating the same atmosphere.
Ms Mendes writes her own material and has a beautiful voice and an engaging personality. Last night she was singing pure fado, accompanied by Ward Veenstra. Between the two of them they played guitar, ukulele, an adufe – a sort of square bodhran and the exquisite sounding 12-string Portuguese guitar. But the couple also perform with a mainly woodwind eight-piece band, playing what Magda describes as Portuguese chamber music.
Although I don’t understand the lyrics, fado always comes across as a sad, melancholy sort of music but what it lacks in upbeat, catchy tunes it makes up for in raw emotion. When I spoke to Magda after the gig she said that when she writes and performs fado it enables her to express extreme emotions and feelings in a way she is unable to do when writing or performing in other forms. She feels she is allowed to reveal herself in fado much more.
I have to admit to being a bit of a fado fan and was lucky enough to have seen it first hand when there were still smoke-filled clubs in Lisbon, so I really enjoyed last night’s concert. Magda Mendes seems to have a very full diary and she regularly plays venues all around Holland, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find somewhere to hear her sing. She has a major concert with the band, scheduled at de Doelen in Rotterdam on 5th April. If you haven’t managed to hear her by then, that would be the ideal opportunity. If you like, or want to discover, fado you will be sure to hear the genuine article from Magda Mendes. Excellent concert.
Michael Hasted 6th October 2016
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