Piano, her characteristic elegance, and melodic voice — all three combine to transport you into a world of bliss. You find yourself walking the streets of old Lisbon and wandering with country folk all along the coast of the Portuguese capital.
And Maria Ana Bobone’s voice singing Fado, the traditional songs of Portugal, is still reverberating in the background. Indeed, she is that amazing.
The Portuguese Fado singer literally, mesmerised the audiences in Doha on what was her first ever trip to Qatar and the GCC. She first sang for an audience comprising diplomats and their spouses on Portugal’s National Day in Doha.
At the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) two days later, it was a bigger house. She sang Fado with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO). And she loved both audiences.
“Both compact and bigger audiences are interesting. In Portugal, we have places that we call ‘Fado Houses.’ There are no microphones and we sing Fado for just 50-60 people. It is very spontaneous and genuine. It has its own magic,” Maria Ana Bobone tells Community.
Attired in an elegant all black ensemble and carrying her signature smell, she is gladly taking requests from ladies and gentlemen at the reception hosted by Portuguese ambassador Antonio Tanger at Ritz-Carlton. “In big audiences, you can make it like a show and bring it up to a new level,” says the Fado singer, after her concert.
She is one of the most recognised singers and pianists in Portugal, taking this unique genre to places around the world. What exactly is Fado, then?
“It is a way of singing of emotion and destiny. It is expressing feelings through very simple music and very deep lyrics. It is all about communicating and moving people,” explains Maria, who has come especially to perform this Portuguese tradition with QPO.
There are various theories about the origin of Fado. There is a romantic one. It is linked to 15th or 16th century when the Portuguese started exploring the world in their boats and left the women behind.
And this sentiment of homesickness and missing the loved ones besides all the emotion and adventure was the inspiration for Fado.
But this is the romantic version of it, says Maria. Historically, what they know is that it started in 1840 or around that time and it has got influences from lots of music in the peninsula. People the Portuguese explorers brought back with them from different cultures also influenced it.
“It was sung in the streets and it was the music of people. Of course everything that has a little bit of success among the people is used by the elites. It was used for various purposes. And then it changed a lot through the years,” says Maria, narrating Fado’s history and evolution.
On the first night, she presented the version of Fado which is called “Fado of Big Rooms” where the aristocratic ladies would play it on piano and sing these songs. However, the Portuguese guitar that usually accompanies Fado apart from the piano was missing.
“Now, people mix it with everything, but originally, it has a very simple structure. Musically, it is very simple. We have two, three chords and it is an instrument of telling a story,” Maria elaborates.
She believes that to understand Fado, you have to be a little bit mature to identify the messages it contains. She was the one chosen by one of the veteran singers in Portugal to sing Fado.
“He said you should sing Fado and he taught me a lot. Gradually, I just got into this genre and then living with the people and the artiste, I just synced into it and now, I really love this part of my life,” says the singer.
It is something that is genuinely Portuguese and they have exported it a lot. There are some great singers who have done concerts all around the world. Maria says she tries to be one of those singers. She has travelled all over the world and takes Fado wherever she goes.
There is a certain singing technique that is identifiable with Fado. If you listen to it, it becomes apparent that vocally, there is a particular way of approaching this music which is different from any other.
Besides the emotions involved in it, what makes Fado identifiable is the singing approach and the instruments it is composed on. It is a musical, a way of telling stories.
“In very short songs, you can actually tell stories. It can be love stories and it can be daily life stories. For instance, the fishermen and the children and how when their mother was not happy and yelling at them and they had to hide,” Maria laughs, explaining.
When she started, she did it with the veteran singers. She was introduced to the public very early and was very well received. There was no-one in the younger generation singing Fado at that time. It was like old people’s songs.
Since then and now, which is about two decades, a lot of young people have developed an interest in this kind of music and are developing the genre a lot. Singers, musicians, composers; everyone is making new songs. Fado is very much alive, says Maria.
This Portuguese traditional music has its own place in festivals across the world because it is unique from Portugal. “It is like there is this small country there, but it has its own music which is different from everybody else’s. It is very different and it has its own personality,” says one of the finest exponents of this genre of music.
“We singers feel like the ambassadors of our country when we go around the world showing them this is our country’s music and we are proud of it,” Maria elaborates.
She has never sung in this part of the world before and it was her first time coming here. She was ecstatic on finding a very attentive and involved audience in Doha.
“They sang with me in Portuguese. There were people in the audience that I could perfectly recognise as not Portuguese, singing in Portuguese. I think it was really amazing that we could communicate so well,” observes Maria.
All her career is in singing Fado. However, she, too, has done experimentation where she would mix it with other genres and compose music in different categories like jazz, country and even pop-rock. Leaving her Fado aside for a moment, she sings in English through the words of Rodrigo Serrao, a producer and musician who wrote most of the lyrics for her album Smooth. It includes a song, My Wings, that was chosen to be the soundtrack for the fight against leukaemia.
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