Portuguese songs of life hold sorrow in every noteLong after Misia left her hometown in Oporto, Portugal, the country’s bittersweet songs of love and yearning, known as fado, called to her.
The songs, heartwrenching and full of nostalgia, had been heard for more than a century in roadside taverns and cafes. But instead of these cafes and small clubs, Misia has been able to take the melodies to the rest of the world, filling halls like the LG Arts Center, where she is performing tonight.
Born into a family of performers, her grandmother a music-hall dancer and her mother a ballerina, Misia was first called to her native country’s songs when her family emigrated to Spain. In fact, she would spend the greater part of her young life traveling, finally returning to Portugal at long last.
She took on the name Misia after being inspired by a biography of Misia Sert, who was muse to Proust, Picasso and Mallarme. She debuted in 1991 with a self-titled album.
Traditionally, fado singers drape themselves in black capes and, using dramatic pauses and impassioned crescendos, shape music of the heart’s yearning. The songs have been likened to flamenco and, particularly, to American blues; like blues, fado originated as an expression of longing and perseverance among those looked down on by society. But both fado and blues can be understood not so much as laments as a means of understanding life’s quirks.
A fado singer traditionally gives melody to verse by Portugal’s classic poets. But as a young emigre, Misia took her ability to express fado and applied it to modern lyrics instead. She interprets more contemporary poetry, such as Jose Saramago, a Nobel prize-winner, Lidia Jorge and Agustina Bessa-Luis.
Along with fellow singer Cristina Branco, Misia is credited with revitalizing fado. The New York Times calls her singing “so expressive that you don’t need to understand the Portuguese words to comprehend the bitter experience and pain.” She has been dubbed the new “Queen of Fado.” The previously reigning queen, Amalia Rodrigues, died in 1999; Portugal noted her passing with three days of official mourning.
For Misia’s performance here, she will be accompanied by Jose Manuel Neto on Portuguese 12-string guitar, Carlos Proenca on acoustic guitar, Daniel Pinto on acoustic bass, Manuel Rocha on violin and Nelson Ferreira on cello.
In an interview in The Straits Times, she said, “A fado singer ― she needs to have in her voice the experience of life. That’s much more important than to have a beautiful voice. If you have a a young voice, how can you talk about emotion, about feelings? It’s like the blues in America. You have to live before you can sing.”
by Joe Yong-hee
LG Arts Center is in Yeoksam-dong, southern Seoul. Tickets are 30,000 ($26) to 60,000 won. Call (02) 2005-0114, or visit the Web site at www.lgart.com.