Lisbon’s DEOLINDA releases Cancao ao Lado (The Song Next Door) on July 28th;
Platinum-selling Portuguese Group Debuts on Four Quarters Label;
Concept Album Reaches from Fado to the Future
DEOLINDA debuts with an irresistible concept album that captures the tension between old and new Lisbon, between traditional fado and the future. In the short time since its Portuguese release at the end of 2008, Canção ao Lado (The Song Next Door) has shot from nowhere into the Portuguese charts and achieved Platinum status. The quartet’s CD will be released July 28th on Four Quarters Entertainment.
An intriguing concept album, Canção ao Lado (pronounced Can-SOW ow LAH-doe) is delivered ‘live’ in a series of wildly flamboyant concerts that have drawn audiences in Portugal that range from the 30-something age group of the musicians to grandparents and small children. The secret to their popularity comes in equal parts from their exuberant, often comic performances, the sweet and catchy melodies, and lyrics loaded with emotive references to fado and other lesser-known Portuguese musical traditions.
The album’s 14 songs of Deolinda, the band, are built around the character of Deolinda, the fictional character, a young woman who lives with her cats and goldfish in a Lisbon apartment and watches through her window as the world go by. The songs are delivered by a dynamic, charismatic singer who goes by the name Ana Bacalhau (literally, Ana Salted Cod).Deolinda and the passing characters she intoduces us to are the creations of the project’s songwriter and guitarist, Pedro da Silva Martins, and are performed with the other musicians: conservatoire-trained Luis José Martins on guitar, ukulele, viola and Portuguese cavaco and guitarlele, and double bass player Zé Pedro Leitão (meaning Suckling Pig), who brings a classical and jazz background.
The Deolinda project began in 2006, pulling together musicians previously involved in diverse Portuguese musical adventures – Ana, for example, was working as a jazz singer. Pedro da Silva Martins initially wrote two songs about Deolinda and her world, but when fans demanded more, he expanded them to the 14 musical vignettes on this album. And as they rehearsed and refined the music, Ana recalls, the character of Deolinda came to life: “She stands for days listening to records her grandmother left her, watching through the lace curtains all the details of her neighbours’ lives. She writes about characters she sees in the streets and adds her own thoughts. For example, Toninho [in the song “Fado Toninho”] is one of the guys that walks around like they own the street, thinking they’re so hot. She tames him – through love.” Deolinda sings about love affairs between strong women and the tough guys who “don’t love them but don’t defeat them.”
The group’s desire to travel with minimal baggage led to a pared-down touring line-up of two guitars, a double bass, and vocals, which they took to the road, spreading the Deolinda story, chapter by chapter. Building a reputation by word of mouth, by 2007 they had recorded the songs and were surprised to find record labels excited about the concept and the band.
The debut album’s title, Canção ao Lado (The Song Next Door) refers to influences from Portugal’s musical styles including fado, and Cape Verdean morna, and Brazilian music. The mellow ’Não sei falar de amor’ (I don’t know how to talk about love) makes the connection with Brazil, a reminder, says Ana, “that we can’t escape Elis Regina and Chico Buarque.” ’Clandestino’ recreates the atmosphere of Old Portugal under the dictator Salazar, before the Revolution. “It’s about a couple; the woman has been persecuted by the police and doesn’t know if her lover is coming back that night or not. He comes and brings a gift for her and their baby, but the police arrive and she defiantly sings, “I kissed him and took him in my arms…” Deolinda leave the song unfinished because, Ana explains, the song is also about the universal tragedy of forbidden, “unfinished” love.
Fado, Portugal’s most famous musical song form, runs through the collection although Deolinda are quick to note that even these songs are best described as “fado with a twist.” No black shawls (the fado symbol of tragic women) appear in these songs, or on Deolinda’s lead singer. Instead, Ana wears brightly patterned costumes influenced by the rural folk traditions of Portugal (including the regions of Madeira and Estremadura), matching their colors to the music, and adding modern touches that underscore the group’s musical influences, which clearly stretch from traditional to pop.
Different as their perspective is, there is nothing ironic here: Deolinda’s fado songs are heartfelt and honest. “O fado não é mau” (Fado isn’t bad) is an irresistibly bluesy showcase for Ana’s voice – here the Deolinda character expresses both her attraction to fado’s overwhelming melancholy, and her ambivalence. She swears never to sing fado because “it corrupts the soul with demons”, yet concedes, “Without fado and without love, what is left?”
The record sleeve’s artwork brings to life Deolinda’s stories in vibrant paintings by João Fazenda. A group scene unites the musicians with their musical icons, including Madredeus and Amália Rodrigues, alongside characters from the songs: the crazy, gray-haired character singing ’Lisboa não é a cidade perfeito’ (Lisbon isn’t a perfect city)); St. Antonio, patron saint of Lisbon; the tuba player on the jaunty “Fon-Fon-Fon”, and the Brazilian blonde in “Garçonete da casa de fado,” a character who works in a fado club but revolts against the music’s sadness by developing her own upbeat style.
Other songs are vehicles for comments on Portuguese culture and lifestyle, including the humorous “Movimento perpétuo associativo”, a tease on the Portuguese national identity. A fan recently even set up an internet petition to turn the song into Portugal’s new national anthem. It’s proof that Deolinda perfectly represents a generation that will move from Portugal’s folk traditions to the modern world.