Madredeus and the Fado tradition

Madredeus singer and composer
Singer Teresa Salgueiro and composer and guitarist Pedro Ayres Magalhães
Madredeus "Não muito distante"

1. Madredeus "Não muito distante" (Not much longer)

Voice: Teresa Salgueiro
Words and music: Pedro Ayres Magalhães
from 1997 album "O Paraíso" (Paradise)

This song has emotional Fado-like lyrics, and the singing does quickly attain a Fado-like intensity and sense of desperation. But the backing is played in a more modern musical style, with an even tempo. The singer Teresa Salgueiro is as dominant as any fadista, but she is accompanied not by the high-pitched Portuguese guitar but an altogether different line-up - here two classical guitars, an acoustic bass and a keyboard synthesiser.

This is Madredeus. Since its first album in 1987 Madredeus has introduced into Portuguese music a parallel track to Fado that resembles it, but that is capable of appealing to wider audiences both in Portugal and abroad. Madredeus also deals with an overlapping but somewhat greater range of subject matter. So Fado 2.0 - not the same as the domesticated Fado tradition handed over from the dictatorship period, nor the new Fado of the later 1990s Fado revival, but not in any way a less intense music or less Portuguese either.

What this song is about: The title "Não muito distante" means "Not too distant" or "Not far off", in other words when they will next see each other. But the singer feels she is now being fobbed off with a promise. In reality she has lost her lover. And she feels it's her own fault. She wasn't satisfied with the relationship, demanded more time with her lover, and ended up pushing him away. Now she doesn't believe his promise to return soon - Não muito distante - not much later.

I had wanted more joy,
That is what I had wanted,
Joy to last all year long.
That is all I had wanted, more joy
It's just that I already knew,
I already knew,
knew what had been my mistake.

Eu queria mais alegria,
isso é que eu queria,
alegria a correr todo o ano
era só isso que eu queria, mais alegria
É que eu também já sabia,
eu já sabia,
já sabia qual era o engano

This song is dealing with a very similar theme to Ana Moura's "Ninharia" (a trifling matter), which is unquestionably located in the Fado tradition. They are both songs of self-reproach and regret.

What is the relationship between Madredeus and Fado?

And does it really matter? Surely the important thing is the effect the music has on us, not the categories it should be filed under. But since the issue is bound to arise, I will go into it here. First though an example - in fact a whole lot of examples as you can keep this YouTube playlist running and judge for yourself. It starts with what seems like one of their most Fado-like songs - Vem.

You can also select tracks to play. Move your cursor into the video window and click on the three lines symbol at the top right to see the list. Or you can use the left and right arrows at bottom left to click through the songs.

Madredeus "Vem" playlist

2. Madredeus "Vem - além de toda a solidão" (Come to me - beyond all the loneliness)

Voice: Teresa Salgueiro
Words: Pedro Ayres Magalhães
Music: Pedro Ayres Magalhães, Rodrigo Leão, Gabriel Gomes
from 1994 album O Espírito Da Paz (the Spirit of peace)

Here Teresa's voice is accompanied by the classic early line up of the group - two classical guitars, cello, accordion and keyboard synthesiser. Madredeus has never included the high-pitched Portuguese Fado guitar in its own line up.

What it's about:
The singer is saying "Come to me, I want to comfort you". But she soon realises they won't, and are going away. She then switches to saying she will love them wherever life takes them. "I will love you to the end of the sea". It is probably directed to a lover, but it could be a parent talking to a child. There is the same certainty that they are going. This is Fado-like, at least in its resigned sentiment. But musically it's pretty different.

Is it Fado?

Manuel Halpern sums up Madredeus's relationship to Fado thus. It's not Fado, but at the same time it is not possible to say that there is nothing of Fado in their songs. (I'm paraphrasing from Halpern's 2004 book about the Fado revival O Futuro da Saudade – O Novo Fado e os Novos Fadistas, p215.)

He singles out explicity as showing the legacy of Fado these songs Não Muito Distante and Vem, and also Céu da Mouraria (Sky of Mouraria) and a few others. I would add some from the later period his 2004 book obviously missed. But I would accept that even when the theme and some aspects of the vocal is very Fado-like - Fado das Dúvidas (Fado of doubts), or O Cais Distante (The distant quay), the structure of a Madredeus song is typically very different.

Madredeus tends to stay in the mood rather than resolve it. By comparison a classic Fado story arc is: (1) state problem, (2) emote about it obsessively, (3) become reconciled to fate. There are many examples of this pattern in the Fado repertoire - elsewhere on this site Triste Sina, Ninharia and even the laid back Amigo Aprendiz all follow it.

Many Madredeus songs are nothing like this. In the case of Ainda, which I include in the playlist above, it is almost the opposite.

Madredeus "Ainda"

3. Madredeus "Ainda" (Still)

Voice: Teresa Salgueiro
Words and music: Pedro Ayres Magalhães
from 1995 album "Ainda" (Soundtrack to the film Lisbon Story))

The singer starts by glumly giving all the reasons the relationship is over and how she is reconciled to this. But it's all a build up to about six minutes in, when the word Ainda is used for the first time - and it turns into a song of desperate unrequited love. Ainda means still - despite everything still in love.

Above all, with Madredeus it's the feeling that is Fado-like, not the structure, instrumentation or even vocal style. And that may be something they share from the wider Portuguese culture rather than via a direct line of musical descent. Madredeus is a Lisbon band, with the key members all from there, so they know Fado. But they also know Portugueseness, whatever that is, so maybe it's that that we are hearing.

Madredeus "O pomar das laranjeiras"

4. Madredeus "O pomar das laranjeiras" (the orange grove) Azores version

Voice: Teresa Salgueiro
Words and music: Pedro Ayres Magalhães
from 1990 album "Existir" (To exist)

What is startling about Madredeus is that they got there first. These songs emerged a few years into their project. But they were performing this kind of newly-composed, Fado-like material before the Fado revival got properly underway in the early 1990s. For example, in O Pomar das Laranjeiras (1990), the singer mopes tunefully in the orange grove in which she was last with her now absent lover.

In the version above Pedro Ayres and Teresa are rehearsing in the Azores. Teresa sings some of the other instruments' parts. On the playlist the track is immediately followed by the album version, where the accordion and cello make themselves heard. This makes it even less like traditional Fado in sound, but there's similarity in the feeling.

The range and diversity of Madredeus

Here's another Madredeus playlist, this time a general playlist taking in the first 20 years of Madredeus when Teresa Salgueiro was the lead singer. What's quickly apparent is the range and diversity of their music. Yes, they overlap a bit with Fado. But their project was to develop a new Portuguese music relevant to the times they were living through, taking inspiration from the full breadth of Portugal's musical heritage, not just Fado.

Madredeus "O Sonho" playlist

5. Madredeus "O Sonho" (The dream)

Voice: Teresa Salgueiro
Words and Music: Pedro Ayres Magalhães
from 1997 album O Paraíso (Paradise)

During this whole time the group was also exploring what Teresa's voice could do, taking in a range of styles sometimes close to - but sometimes far away from, Fado. But always with original compositions, with Pedro Ayres Magalhães the main composer, but with others in the group especially Rodrigo Leão writing too. Madredeus very rarely performed existing songs, either from within the Fado tradition or elsewhere. There are a few notable Zeca Afonso covers, but these are exceptions.

Teresa after Madredeus

After leaving the group after 20 years in 2007 Teresa Salgueiro ranged even more widely stylistically, with collaborators from around the world. She recorded religious music with the Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, a Bossa Nova album in Brazil, and other styles including French chanson. She then returned to Portugal to explore and record her own country's music with renewed vigour. Eventually she arrived at her own style and began composing her own songs, working with her own group.

It's during this long musical journey outside Madredeus that Teresa Salgueiro performed some more Fado songs. But this was part of her wider project of exploring Portuguese traditions and composers more generally. This work can be found particularly on two albums. Obrigado (Thanks), 2005, is a solo Salgueiro project with various collaborators outside Madredeus before she left the group. Matriz ("Matrix"), 2009 ranges over several centuries of Portuguese music. The album title Matriz also has some connotations in the language of "mother" or "womb".

Madredeus without Teresa meanwhile at first embarked on more complex orchestral arrangements of its existing repertoire with various singers, taking it further away from Fado. Eventually the group developed new material for the high soprano voice of Beatriz Nunes, who joined Madredeus in 2011 as the band's new singer. Her approach ranges between classical and jazz, but is studied and professionally musical. It has little of the raw emotional intensity characteristic of Fado.

So in summary Madredeus isn't and never has been a Fado band, but there is something of the spirit of Fado in them. But there's also much more.

See also on this site

For contrast, here's what some leading singers firmly in the Fado tradition sound like.

Who are some of the greatest interpreters of Portuguese Fado?

Ana Moura sings a bold feminist fado

Further information

Madredeus discography on music collectors' site Discogs

Teresa Salgueiro's discography on the same site.

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