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Portugal’s most restless singing star moves far beyond fado
She could have been a dancer, had the dance school board not thought that, at fourteen years of age, she was too old to start a great career. She could have been just a pretty voice in commercials, if someone had not discovered very early on that her voice did a greater service to music than it did to advertising.
Dulce Pontes (pronounced “Doolz Pont-ch”), born in Montijo, Portugal, in 1969, might have never gone farther than a career within the borders and compatible to the size of this small country located in the westernmost part of Europe. In 1991 she won the Portuguese National Song Festival and in the same year, representing Portugal at the Eurovision Song Contest, she achieved the 8th place out of 22 contestants, and the prize for the best singer, with the song “Lusitana Paixão”.
Since then she has carved a trajectory unlike any other Portuguese singer – one that has seen her perform with Andrea Bocelli, Jose Carreras, Cesaria Evora, George Dalaras (Greece’s biggest star) and establish herself as an international star, not simply a fado singer.
Following her first break at Eurovision, Pontes immersed herself in the roots of Portuguese popular music, including the traditional “fado” - at that time classified as defunct - and managed to reinvent something that seemed to be dead. But she quickly secured a reputation beyond fado with explorations into African music, religious music, and a series of projects with the Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Her brilliant voice cannot be categorized within any style that limits her; it knows no national boundaries that can stop her. Her voice and singing are her very own style and, for that reason, it doesn't matter whether she is singing folk, fado, or a song from Angola: it is a style that is unique and unmistakable.
In 1992 she released her first album, “Lusitana”, and from the following year - when she released her second album “Lágrimas” - onwards, Dulce Pontes became a citizen of the world. Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Dulce Pontes was everywhere, proving that great music is a universal language. She sang at the “Yes for Europe” televised concert, in the World Food Day concert organized by the FAO in Rome, at the United Nations 52nd Anniversary Concert in New York, at the Amnesty International Concert in 1997, in Madrid, and in the 1st Solidarity Festival in Barcelona.
The album, “Lágrimas”, became one of the best-selling records of all time in Portugal, and one of its tracks, “A Canção do Mar”, reached Hollywood, in the film “Primal Fear”, starring Richard Gere. She also recorded the song “A Brisa do Coração” with Ennio Morricone during this period.
This was followed by the albums “A Brisa do Coração” (1995), a double album recorded live, “Caminhos”, in 1996, and “O Primeiro Canto”, in 1999. There are also a series of experiments in singing duets, joining by artists including José Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, Cesária Évora, the Brazilians Simone, Caetano Veloso and Daniela Mercury.
Since 1998, Dulce Pontes performs regularly as guest soloist next to Maestro Ennio Morricone and released a recording with him in 2003. Morricone, a great admirer of Dulce’s versatile vocal style, says he wanted her to be able to express her vocal range, but also to keep the connotations of the Portuguese fado. “In that way she keeps her personality. However, she has qualities on this record which are so chameleon-like, so complete, so incredibly varied, that I have to say she touches all the aspects of singing, all ways of singing.”
In the last eleven years, her life has been one non-stop digression, from concert to concert, city to city, around the whole world. But she is not one of those who complain: “Concerts are the most happy and intense moments of my life… It is the sensation of having a gift. I have a reason for living my life.”
And her gift never runs dry, neither in terms of her voice nor in her search for new ways of interpreting traditional songs. Always a perfectionist, she has learned to accompany popular songs on the piano, to recreate them, and she has begun to compose some of her own songs. She is constantly searching for new tones, the sound of new instruments, however strange they may appear or however much they have fallen into disuse - even when they only exist in museums. She experiments with other voices next to her own, other tongues, other popular song traditions, and if we ask her to, she can even sing in Berber.
To accompany herself in her recordings she goes to the most diverse of places to find musicians that she admires and who she once heard play and has never forgotten. With the tape recorder in hand, she traveled all over Portugal, to gather sources for her album, “O Primeiro Canto”. For her, singing is a form of freedom, which does not fit within countries or frontiers of any type.
Davide Zaccaria – cello
Paulo Feiteira – guitar
Amadeu Magalhães – “braguesa” guitar
Fernando Silva – fado guitar