Antonio Zambujo gives unique voice to fado
BY LAURA EMERICK email@example.com October 5, 2011 5:42PM
† 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13
† Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall, 78 E. Washington
† (312) 744-663;
After the death of Amalia Rodrigues, the undisputed queen of fado and revered as “The Voice of Portugal,” many contenders, almost all of them female, vied to inherit her mantle: Mariza, Cristina Branco, Misia, Ana Moura, Dulce Ponce.
Fado, an urban folk style often called Portuguese blues, dates back centuries, and its most famous exponents have been women. It’s almost a disadvantage to be a male in this field, as rising fado singer Antonio Zambujo confirms.
“It’s mainly women, definitely,” he said, speaking from his home in Lisbon. “People around the world know Amalia Rodrigues, so they associate women with this music. If you came to Portugal, you would see that there are men in fado, but it’s harder to break through.” Laughing, he added, “I’m lucky. I’m a man in the middle of a lot of women.”
And strictly speaking, Zambujo, 36, now on his debut U.S. tour, with a stop Oct. 13 at the Chicago Cultural Center, is not a pure fadista (a singer of fado). His music incorporates elements of jazz, samba/bossa nova, morna (the music of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony) and cante alentejano, male choral music from his homeland of Alentejo, a region in southern Portugal.
Though its acoustic instrumentation evokes the countryside, fado largely developed in the cities of Lisbon and Coimbra.
“Fado is urban. My music is rural,” said Zambujo, who plays guitar and started out on the clarinet. “Though my oldest influences come from fado and the folk music from my region, it’s like when you’re cooking something. You have the base, and then you can add whatever you want. In my case, it’s jazz. My all-time favorite singer is Chet Baker,” he said, referring to the American jazz icon. “I prefer male singers, especially what I call the dirty-sounding ones like [American troubadour] Tom Waits and [Brazilian legend] Caetano Veloso, but also American crooners like Sinatra and Crosby.”
Surprisingly, Zambujo does not regard the great Amalia as one of his primary influences, even though he has a special bond to her; for four years, he performed in a musical based on her life, and in 2004 received the Amalia Rodrigues Foundation award for best male fado singer.
“I recognize her as one of the biggest divas of all time, not just in Portugal but in the history of music,” he said. “There is Maria Callas, Amalia Rodrigues and Ella Fitzgerald. But I did not have a great knowledge of her career. Then when I performed in the musical, I got to know better her music and her life. She was a Portuguese diva to the world.”
Though Zambujo has released four discs, with his latest being “Guia” (2010), only two have been distributed internationally. “So I think it’s the right time to be making my first U.S. tour. But I don’t have a strategy. The U.S. is an important place to perform, it’s a huge market. If people here enjoy my music, then I hope we will be returning for a long time. But really, I just want to play for everybody and just have fun.”