Ana Moura / Buika
April 26, 2016
Isaac Stern Auditorium / Ronald O. Perelman Stage
Fado is music of hard-earned wisdom and longing. It’s a grown person’s art. And yet, after the passing in 1999 of Amalia Rodrigues, the most important singer in fado’s history, a generation of young fadistas came into view, re-energizing the genre. Ana Moura once told an interviewer she knew she would be a fadista by age seven. At 36, she is one of fado’s leading figures. She debuted on record in 2003 with Guarda-me a vida na mão (Keep My Life in Your Hand). On the centerpiece of the album, “Sou do Fado, Sou Fadista,” she declared: “I belong to fado, I am a fadista.” Fittingly, she claimed her place in the tradition with a song written by Jorge Fernando, eminent fadista, songwriter, producer and one-time accompanist of Rodrigues. He has since become Moura’s regular collaborator.
She has a strong, smoky, dark-hued voice and a finely controlled phrasing. Working within the well-defined emotional range of fado, she has mastered the subtle art of stressing of a word or using a hesitation to add meaning to a lyric or heighten the drama. Intriguingly, as she continued to grow as a performer, Moura seemed to remain close to Rodrigues’s classic fado sound while also probing its limits.
Perhaps inevitably, soon tradition met rock and pop. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards heard her at a club in Lisbon in 2007, while on a stop on their tour, and her performance earned her an invitation to perform with The Rolling Stones. She ended up joining the band on stage for a memorable reading of “No Expectations.” Moura later recorded “No Expectations” and “Brown Sugar,” for Stones saxophonist Tim Ries’ album of World Music versions of Rolling Stones compositions. She also added the songs to her own repertoire. Then Prince discovered her and became a fan. He invited Moura to appear with him at a rock festival in Lisbon in 2010 and accompanied her on two fados. Since, she has joined Prince at his studio in Minneapolis. Reluctant to discuss specifics, she called it “an experiment.”
“What this means for me is the high regard that musicians from completely different [genres] have for our fado,” said Moura when asked about these experiences by the Brazilian digital publication Saraiva Conteudo. “And in my career, it has translated in the influences that brought [to my music] and in making that an audience not very concerned with fado now knows me and follows me a bit closer.”
Cause or effect, it led Moura to Desfado (2012), which as the title slyly suggests it’s her first full attempt at a sort of de-construction of fado. Recorded in the United States with musicians who were not necessarily familiar with fado (such as pianist Herbie Hancock) and it included a version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” The recording became a monster hit in Portugal. Having earned five platinum records (about 100,000 copies), Desfado is the all-time best-charting album in Portugal. In last year’s Moura, her sixth recording, she acknowledges the tradition revisiting two classic melodies with new lyrics (a time-honored practice in fado), while she also presses forward with stylistic innovations, including tweaks to the instrumentation, drawing from other music genres and featuring songs in English.
“I didn’t want to do a Desfado II,” she said in a recent interview with the Portuguese press. “I wanted to do something different again. I feel the need to surprise, take risks. To always do the same thing makes me anxious; doing things that are always different is what gives me strength. That’s what works for me.”
Her emotions in open view, like the texts etched on her skin; singer, songwriter, producer, poet, photographer Buika seems fearless — and breathtakingly so — on and off stage.
She laughs at the notion. “Well, I have to admit that I’ve been always a bit of an enfant terrible,” she says, almost coquettishly, whispering in Spanish. Then the tone hardens subtly. “When you start out by being a cero a la izquierda (literally, zero to the left, an expression in Spanish meaning worthless) you have nothing to lose, so you live with less fears.”
“When you start out by constantly hearing ‘This girl is good for nothing,’ ‘She can’t win at anything,’ ‘She’s a mess,’ then every little thing you achieve is a great success.”
Kicked out of a singing class at church as a child (“Someone is singing like a dog,” she once recalled the teacher saying), Buika has one of the most distinctive and expressive voices in popular music, textured and sensual, strong even while suggesting utter vulnerability. It is also a remarkably malleable instrument, as forceful belting an R&B song as it is seductive and nuanced interpreting a bolero.
“I never knew I couldn’t write a song. I never knew I couldn’t write a poem. I never knew that I couldn’t play a bass line or the piano. I just never knew,” she said. “When I wanted to check if I could, I was already doing it. I haven’t had time to wonder about not knowing how to do this or that.”
Born Maria Concepción Balboa Buika in the Spanish island of Palma de Mallorca, she grew up in a Chinese neighborhood, “among junkies and prostitutes,” but found a home away from home among the gypsy community. It was also her introduction to flamenco and copla, a song style that, over the years, has become both a point of reference and port of refuge between bold excursions into soul, jazz, hip hop, rancheras, boleros and more. Now and again she has revisited copla standards such as “Ojos Verdes,” and “La Niña de Fuego,” which gave title to one of her albums. But her most recent recording, Vivir Sin Miedo (Living Without Fear), for which she wrote nine of the 10 songs, includes nods to reggae, R&B, Afrobeat and gospel. More than half of the material is in English.
“Give me everything,” she said. “Give me copla, give me jazz, give me flamenco, give me bolero, give me the blues. At the end, each one of them will prove small because, at the end, every style carry its own limits — and I’m a free [musical] note and don’t have limits. Those styles are wonderful, but they are just worlds in a vast, vast universe.”
“It’s not that I’m fearless,” she said. “I do have fears and will always be there, but I don’t allow them to determine my life. I prefer to play with them rather than accept being their victim.”