Carminho

The acclaimed Portuguese fado singer brings the atmosphere of the tabernas to Belfast's Elmwood Hall

Thankfully for promotors, radio announcers and Joe/Josephine Public alike, Maria do Carmo Carvalho Rebelo de Andrade chose the moniker Carminho with which to present her fado to the world.

Still, it’s unlikely that anyone present in the Elmswood Hall will forget her given name, because from her first penetrating notes at the 2013 Belfast Festival at Queen's it’s clear that the young woman from Lisbon possesses a truly remarkable voice.

'We are here to give you our hearts and a little bit of what is our soul,' Carminho announces. For the next hour and a half the singer does just that, with a performance that is tender, passionate and profoundly soulful.

Carminho’s rich timbre and range draw comparison with Amália Rodrigues, arguably the greatest fado singer of them all. Yet there’s a raw emotional edge to her voice, an earthiness that also evokes the spirit of the late Mexican singer Chavela Vargas.

Songlines magazine awarded Carminho’s debut album Fado Best Record of the Year 2009, but the singer is looking forward, regaling the audience with material from her latest album, Alma.

The Elmwood Hall is decked out with tables topped with wine bottles and drinks, recreating some of the informal atmosphere of the tabernas. It was in this traditional fado environment in Lisbon that Carminho honed her craft as a teenager, 'Where you can feel the eyes and the energy of the listeners'.

The black drapes that backdrop the stage are bathed in light, combinations of soft blues and purples, green and brown, red and yellow, in sympathetic syncopation with the prevailing mood of the music. The lighting is exceptional by any standards, and indicative of Carminho’s highly professional stage craft.

Diogo Clemente on guitar, Luis Guerreiro on 12-string Portuguese guitar and Marino Freitas on acoustic bass guitar provide exquisite accompaniment of an almost chamber perfection. Clemente’s rhythmic impetus and counterpoint lines dovetail beautifully with Guerreiro’s more lavish embellishments.

As part of this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's, the Music Club in the Elmwood is presenting folk, Americana, roots, jazz and blues, and in truth elements of all these genres can be heard in the sweet melancholy of Carminho’s fado.

The lament 'Lágrimas do céu' and the aching ballad 'Talvez' – a duet with Clemente – could come from the pen of Brazilian songsmith Caetano Veloso. There’s a little of guitarist Django Reinhardt’s jazz manouche in the lovely 'Bom Dia Amor', and elements of bluegrass in a jaunty instrumental number.

In Carminho’s most impassioned flights, driven by Guerreiro’s flowing runs, there are echoes of flamenco, and in everything there is the universal blues. In the formal attire, and chamber presentation, there are comparisons with some jazz, which, like fado, has moved from drinking clubs to the concert halls of the world.

Carminho’s lyrical interpretation of Vinicius Moraes’ 'Saudades do Brasil em Portugal' is full of longing; 'Folha' is about a sheet of paper and a poet, but really ponders questions of truth and lies, pain, love and surrender.

These are typical fado themes for sure, yet undeniably universal in essence. For the encore, Carminho leads her group through a bobbing, two-chord fado dating back to the 19th century. It’s a song about two lovers fighting, and what could be more universal than that?

The Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's continues until October 27.

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