CD REVIEW: Carminho – Maria


Carminho – Maria
(Warner Music Portugal 0190295509873. CD review by Peter Bacon)

A confession: I come to fado music with no understanding of Portuguese, wandering clueless, an ignoramus in a foreign and fascinating land. But somehow not understanding the words impinges little upon my enjoyment. I get the emotion, the mood, the art, the beauty, etc. In short, I bloody love it.

Carminho – well, you'd probably choose to shorten a name like Maria do Carmo Carvalho Rebelo de Andrade – is possibly the brightest young star in the firmament above Alfama. The daughter of a fadista, she established her place in the music at an early age. Her last album was Canta Tom Jobim, a brilliantly realised exercise of fado method upon Brazilian bossa nova content. On Maria she returns to base with 12 tracks of contemporary fado, half of which she had a hand in composing, either solo or in partnership.

The album opens with Carminho alone, the microphone close enough to pick up an inhalation. She sings with that full-blooded voice, vitally necessary if, back against a stone pillar in a hushed and expectant club of aficionados, one wishes to reach into the darkest corners of the room and the deepest recesses of a song’s emotions. It is a masterclass (mistressclass?) of tonal nuance, phrasing and timing. A hugely impressive calling card.

The songs that follow have all those hallmarks of classic fado: the saudades, the heightening intensity of feeling, the ever-so-subtly slowing big finish. But there is a modern extension in the accompaniment, the Portuguese guitar – or viola de fado, as it is called in the all-Portuguese booklet – augmented here and there by electric guitar, piano and even pedal steel.

One particular highpoint is O Meninho e a Cidade, by Joanna Espadinha, which sets Carminho in full-throated form against guitars which seem to ebb and flow like the Tagus slapping the marble steps of the cais do colunas.

On her own composition Estrela the singer adopts a gentler, more breathy tone of great control and  more restrained intimacy.

Like bluegrass, like classic rock ’n’ roll, the art of fado is to set one’s own stamp on its fairly rigid – and rigidly-policed by its most ardent fans – rules, to extend its possibilities while remaining true to its spirit and strictures. Carminho achieves that feat with great style.

A beautifully realised, remarkably varied yet uniformly gorgeous album.


Carminho is appearing at Ronnie Scott's on 26 and 27 February but, alas, both dates are sold out.

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