Raymond Soltysek's Blog

Claudia Aurora, Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 19/4/13

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on April 20, 2013
link to aurora.com

Claudia Aurora

What a lovely concert this was.

I saw Claudia Aurora at WOMAD last year, and she impressed me a lot, so I decided to drive through to Dunfermline to see her again.  Well worth the trip.  The Carnegie Hall is a pretty little theatre in the old municipal manner, but unfortunately word hasn’t got out that a fantastic fadista is in town and there are only around 30 in the audience.  Having said that, Dunfermline doesn’t seem to be the liveliest place on the planet: wandering the streets, I wondered if an evil overload had the inhabitants under curfew…

Still, the audience is warm and receptive.  Aurora repeats much of her WOMAD set, and the black and red costume, the side table lit by a red lamp, the wine bottle and glass, all attempt to recreate the fado bar aesthetic.  She herself is lovely: warm, charming, sexy and, of course, with a gorgeously rich voice – the venerable and friendly gentleman behind me is most impressed by her middle register, he says.

The most successful numbers from her first album –  the fado-walz “Silencio“, the beautifully upbeat  “Mariquinha” and, my favourite, the flamenco/fado epic tale of impossible love “Cigana” – are delivered impeccably.  She also introduces me to fado/bossa nova with “Formiga Bossa Nova” which likens humans to worker ants.  “Povo que lavas no rio”  is about  the poverty and famine of 19th century Portugal and is really beautiful.  She sings some new songs she’s working on for her second album too, and an absolute stand out is one about a mother pining for her emigree son (how very Highland Clearance) called “Lua” that is gob smacking, with a haunting vocal and a spine-tingling cello solo from the excellent Kate Short.  The CD will be worth it just for that show stopper.

The rest of the band, too, are wonderful, including Javier Moreno on  acoustic guitar, Andres Garcia on a teeny weeny 12-string guitar apparently called a viola braguesa, and Jon Short on double-bassThe guitarists are especially great: after the interval, they come on stage for a duet that has the “crowd” cheering, Garcia’s fingers moving at pretty much superhuman speed.

They come down into the auditorium for an acoustic encore of “Primavera” that is gently haunting, even allowing little Alexander – a toddler belonging to a young Portuguese mother in the front row – to join in the act.

A great night.  Dunfermline missed a trick on it.

Vicente Amigo / Carminho, GRCH, 18/1/13

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on January 19, 2013
Vicente Amigo

Vicente Amigo

I had begun writing a post about how  flamenco guitarists are really sexy because no other man’s fingers can make a woman move like that:  I’d also lined up a comment that Vicente Amigo is handsome enough to have stepped out of  the Mediterranean episode of your girlfriend’s ongoing 50 Shades of Grey fantasy.  However, that’s had to go, because for the second time in a  few weeks, I’ve been to a concert that’s left me missing someone I love.

My dad would have been 100 years old tomorrow.  In the 80s and early 90s, when I was just about mature enough to go on a night out with him but too immature to realise how precious that time would be, I took him to a few concerts.  They were rare, but by gum we saw some crackers: Paul Tortelier and his daughter at the RSAMD; Rostropovich playing the Bach cello suites at the GRCH.  Most of all, though, my dad loved the guitar.

I don’t know what kind of school education they had in Silesia in the 1920s, but it could make Curriculum for Excellence eat its heart out.  My dad was multi-lingual, was taught chess at school and became a war-time army champion, and learned enough guitar to be a dab hand at it until Russian frostbite turned his fingers to claws and his knuckles to concrete.  I think he always wanted me to learn to play, and made the mistake of assuming that because I could manage a tune on a flute I was actually really musical.  He bought me a second-hand guitar in my teens, but my hands were too small and soft and I lacked the patience to practice, and so he used it himself, getting frustrated at his inoperative hands.

So he was a huge Julian Bream fan (he thought John Williams a bit flash) and we saw him twice; once, solo at the RSAMD, then, most wonderfully, playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez at the GRCH.  I remember shooshing him when he got a little too carried away in the adagio; who the fuck doesn’t?   I wish I hadn’t been such a prick, and had just joined him in a chorus of “We love you Julian, oh yes we do…”.

Within a dozen bars of Amigo coming on stage, solo, and launching into a dizzyingly brilliant flamenco piece, I wish so much my dad was sitting beside me.  He would have been gobsmacked.  I can see him now, leaning forward (a habit I’ve developed), concentrating himself totally, losing himself.  I think he would have thought he’d just seen the one of the best guitarists ever: I know I do.

Amigo is some player.  His brand of jazz-flamenco is fantastic, those Moorish elements that make flamenco truly multicultural echoed in a band that includes muezzin-like vocals from across the Med.  He hasn’t updated his website for some time, so I can’t find the names of the band members, but they are all excellent.  He has also been working with Celtic musicians on a  project entitled “Tierra”, and the result is a persuasive fusion that hopefully will be recorded.  However, surrounded by a dozen musicians, it’s always Amigo who dominates proceedings. It may be that his instrument is tweaked a little louder than anyone else’s, but it’s more down to the fact that whatever he does, it is twice as technically stunning as anyone else on stage.  He starts at 9pm:  I have to bail at 10.40 with no sign of him leaving the stage.  Quantity and quality: how’s that for value for money?

I actually came to tick another fado star off my list:  Carminho is the latest thing, and lovely she is too.  Her voice is more fluid than many fadistas, with grace notes like oil, and she has a subtlety that some big belters certainly lack.  She too has been working with a Celtic signer (Maeve… I lose the surname), and while Gaelic and the fado style don’t go together too well, certainly Carminho’s richness of voice complements the rhythms and melodies beautifully when they do it the Celtic way.  It’s all precise and pitch perfect and perchink, and in many places gorgeous; however, she doesn’t move me the way some do.  I don’t get the hairs rising on the back of my neck as I do when I listen to Ana Moura; nor do I get that overwhelming feeling of warmth and joy and bonhomie I feel when Ana Bacalhau struts her stuff.  But I’m more than happy to blame the venue: as ever, the buttoned-up GRCH is no place to build relationships with a  performer.  I’m sure if I’d seen her live in the little Aqui del Rei in Faro on a boozy Friday evening, I’d be bowling off into the night in a daze, madly in love with yet another fadista.

My dad would have been too.

WOMAD 2012: Deolinda ****** / *****

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on August 1, 2012

Deolinda prove that aprons are no impediment to being cool…

No, I haven’t got my arithmetic wrong:  I actually have given Deolinda six stars out of five.  It’s my blog, I can do anything I want: so stick.

Deolinda are, of course, that wonderful Portuguese band I have blogged about before and who I adore because of the sheer sunshine of their music.  I catch them doing a Taste the World session, and it’s really amusing to see their stage dynamic replicated in the kitchen.  Singer Ana Bacalhau is up front, elbowing everyone out of the way, chatting away nineteen to the dozen; lead guitarist Luis José Martins quietly gets on with the important stuff as he’s obviously the talented cook (his father was apparently a chef); meanwhile, Luis’ brother, songwriter and guitarist Pedro da Silva Martins, and bass player Zé Pedro Leitão, who is Ana’s husband, beaver away quietly in the background preparing the ingredients for the dishes and organising the salad.

It’s a lovely way to spend an hour, watching your heroes cook.  They take it very seriously, rustling up some patinishkas (I have no idea if that’s spelled correctly) which are salted cod bajhias, along with various salads.  The guys get on with the cooking while Ana charms everyone by talking about their career and their relationship with fado (“We don’t do fado,” she says, “but fado is in our DNA”); at one point, she talks about the band crafting their sound and their songs to suit her voice, and that makes absolute sense.  They perform four numbers, my favourites being the breathlessly beautiful “Passou Por Mim“, a lovely little tale about a smile from a stranger brightening up a lost life and offering hope for love, and “Mal Por Mal“, a swinging calypso about a disjointed, fractured relationship in which the wellbeing of one drags down the other.

Their stage slot just doesn’t do them justice: they take to the Siam tent at 12.30am, the last show of the day, when half the crowd are drunk and noisy and just not willing to pay attention to an acoustic band.  They deserve better, but they do their best, which is, as always, fantastic.

Ana Bacalhau sure has a sense of dress.  She often plays ironically on her surname – for their live concert recorded at the Lisbon Coliseu, she wore an odd creation reminiscent of shellfish – and here she appears dressed in a little black jacket and a sherbert-lemon tutu dress with what looks like a fish motif in large glossy sequins. Sounds hideous? Well, she looks fantastically adorable; I hear a few “wows” muttered behind me.  And of course, there’s that sweet, strutting, cheeky streetkid  presence that immediately commands affection and she begins to win the war against the bubbling horde.

I know that you can only really appreciate a band singing in another language if you either understand the language or know the music: for me, it’s the latter, so I’ve got the CDs with translated lyrics and I’ve watched the live DVD with the English subtitles on. Therefore, I know just how clever a songwriter Martins is, and how brilliantly his creations suit Bacalhau’s delivery.  A song like “A Problemática Colocação De Um Mastro” is a terrifically subversive tale of a small town council puffing itself up by celebrating their enormous flagpole, one of those apocryphal morality fables that could have come from a  writer like Louis de Bernieres, Italo Calvino or even Iain Crichton Smith.  Their music is hugely political, but at the micropolitical rather than the macropolitical level: in that respect, they are not unlike Frank Yamma.  Thus, “Parve Que Sou” is a red hot indictment of the austerity measures which are crippling the lives of  young Portuguese, telling of a young woman habituated into blaming herself for her lack of opportunities who heart-breakingly comes to realise that the system has lied to her all her life.    I’ve always said Deolinda make me smile so widely; they can make me weep with rage and sadness too.

But mainly they are fun, fun, fun: they’re the kids on the block who will drag their pals out to play in the streets until dusk, which is exactly what they do on the impossibly catchy “Um Contra O Outro” (“Come with me out to the street / Because that life you have / As much as you win a thousand lives, it’s your life / that loses if you don’t come!”); they are the youngsters who gather in restaurants and drink and joke and sing their hearts out until they’re kicked out at closing time; they’re the wry, witty cool dudes who constantly burst the bubbles of the arrogant and self-important, in so many songs like “Fado Toninho” or “Patinho De Borracha”.  They must be a hoot on a night out.

I just have a few complaints. First, when I met them in Manchester, they said they were playing WOMAD, and so I booked up to get there on Thursday.  I then discover they were playing Glasgow’s RCH on that night.  So, instead of seeing my favourite band in my home town, I was 400 miles away.  I could have come down on Friday and seen them twice in three days, dammit!

Secondly, at the end of the Taste the World events, there is an unholy scrum to get a taste of the food that has been cooked: you wouldn’t believe how sharp some hippies’ elbows are, nor how psychopathic they are about free food.  So I hang back a bit, and never get a taste of anything they’ve made.  And Luis José’s patinishkas looked lovely too.

Thirdly, there is one song on their second album, “Há Dias Que Não São Dias”,  a sultry, flamenco-tinged slow burner about the pain of passion that is  utterly gorgeous, and which I haven’t yet heard live.

Next time, I hope.  Although, by then, their third album may well be released (around next February, Ana promises) so I may have a whole new set of songs I’m desperate to hear.

Already, I can’t wait.

ps – thanks Ana!  She let me know through Facebook they are called pataniscas, and I’ve managed to find a recipe here!

WOMAD 2012: Claudia Aurora **** / *****

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on July 31, 2012

Claudia Aurora

Hardly a month goes by that I don’t find a new fadista to be captivated by; July is the turn of Claudia Aurora, a London / Bristol based artist who is a lovely exponent of fado novo.  It’s a fascinating insight for me into the development of fado and the relationship fado has with my favourite band, Deolinda.

Aurora has a classic fadista voice, a husky and rich contralto.  She also conforms to type, dressed heavily but sexily in red and black, swishing her shawl in the most dramatic of fashions.  She is everything one could ever want in a  beautiful, heart-rending fadista.

She showcases numbers mainly from her new album, “Silencio“, and every single song is sweetly listenable.  The title track is gorgeous, a paean to quiet reflection in a world of invasive and pointless noise.  “Cigana”, the track she ends with, is an absolute standout too, melding flamenco with fado in a hip-swaying tragedy of a gypsy Romeo and Juliet tale: it’s really beautiful.

I think I’m beginning to put two and two together with this fado business. Aurora is definitely new fado – I can hear the freshness of it in the influences and the melodies – but it is also recognisably of the tradition.  Take “Mariquinha”, a lovely upbeat song about a young woman who is jilted at a dance but who has a whale of a time anyway:  that, it seems to me, is of the fado tradition.  Deolinda, on the other hand, sing of horny young women who go to the dance, strut their considerable stuff and elbow every other girl out of the way to get to the guy.  While Aurora sings of lost young women waiting for their men to come home from the sea, Deolinda sing of Portugal’s insanely stupid pride in having the tallest flagpole in the world.  Aurora sings of the past: Deolinda sing of the depredations of an austerity-choked Portugal in 2012.

This is what more traditional fado lacks, a sense of the irreverent, the contemporary.  There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and I will still respond viscerally and emotionally to the beauty of it.  And I’ll always welcome a new fadista into the fold of my favourite musical form.  Aurora says she will be playing in Scotland in the new year:  I’ll be sure to be there.

Sun on my back, warmth in my soul: Deolinda, Manchester Band on the Wall, 1/5/12

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on May 1, 2012
link to Deolinda's site

Deolinda

I’ve been a fan of Deolinda ever since their first album came out, and saw them first at Celtic Connections in 2010 when they – or, more especially, Ana Bacalhau’s foghorn voice  – absolutely blew me away.  They are a lovely band, perfect musicians led by the perfectly charming and cheeky and pretty Bacalhau.  Their modern take on fado – irreverent and pop-tinged – is totally refreshing; as Bacalhau points out, they don’t do it straight, of which her impossibly cute hip hop dancing is evidence.

It’s wrong to suggest Bacalhau’s voice is all about power; she is capable of immense range, and I’ve never heard a singer before so capable of delivering a full throated pianissimo; she is also linguistically hugely dexterous, delivering lyrics that are packed tight and fast, such as “Ai Rapaz” or “Cancao ao lado”.  She is an astonishing singer, a voice that is rare and quite unique and terrifically engaging.  As for the band, Luis Jose Martins and Pedro da Silva Martins on guitar and vocals and Ze Pedro Leitao on (a beautiful) bass  are fantastic musicians, and obviously devoted to giving Bacalhau free rein.  The result is… well, I have to say it again;  perfect.  Just perfect.

They sing plenty about falling in love and falling out of love, but always with a wink that suggests they know how ridiculous it all is.  In addition, they also have a political edge to them; Bacalhau speaks of the effect “Parva Que Sou” has on audiences in Portugal, telling as it does of a woman’s fight to retain her dignity and sense of purpose in an economic climate that dumps on the poor.   And there are so just many songs that put a huge smile on your face – “Mal por Mal” or “Fon Fon Fon” or “Movimento perpetuo associativo” (ignore the title, they’ll have you singing along in no time), as well as ones that are so beautiful, they’ll take your breath away:  I almost burst into tears at the loveliness of “Passou por mim” and I doubt you’ll find a more gorgeous song than “Clandestino” anywhere.  And as for “Um contra o outro” – it has one of the catchiest choruses ever.  Really.  Ever.

There are a few bands I would have on my “favorites” list – Tindersticks, The National – but Deolinda make me feel the sun on my back and the warmth in my soul, and for that reason, I might just love them more than any other band I know.

This doesn’t quite get gig of the year so far, but not because of them; Band on the Wall is a fine  little venue, but the audience doesn’t generate the warmth of The Civil Wars gig last month, and there are some bad mannered folk who think Bacalhau moving offstage to allow the band to perform an instrumental is some kind of intermission during which they can chat.  Deolinda themselves are joyous; afterwards, Ze Pedro tells me that they are playing WOMAD in July.  Just for them, I may put aside my natural aversion to festival toilets and go:  I’ve just got a new tent and sleeping bag, so why not?

Even if it pishes with rain, the sun will be out when they start playing.

Dreaming of dark mermaids: Ana Moura, Old Fruitmarket, 21/1/12

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on January 22, 2012
Link to Ana Moura

Ana Moura

Well, Ana Moura,  yet another flashing-eyed fadista I’ve wanted to see live for some time, was everything I hoped she’d be, and a whole lot more.

Let’s get the obvious adolescent boy stuff out of the way first.  She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.  Dressed in a stunning black sequined and lace evening dress, she shimmers and explodes like a firework when she catches the light: “she’s like a mermaid,” my sister says.  Indeed she is: a fabled, fabulous creature.

She’s much more self contained than many of the fadistas I’ve seen before; singers like Ana Bacalhau or Mariza throw themselves dramatically into the song, physically grabbing it by the throat.  Moura’s style involves the merest swing of the hips, the drop of a shoulder, an inclination of the head, and the effect is just as mesmerising, just as sensual. She is utterly elegant.

But of course the star of the show is that voice, a lusty contralto that is capable of breathy subtlety, heart-rending sorrow or barnstorming joy, and Pedro, Angel and Phillippe provide the impeccable backdrop a voice of this quality deserves.  Whenever I listen to fado, I’m transported to orange groves and beaches strewn with fishing boats and whitewashed villages where love is rampant and hearts are broken every day.  It’s gorgeous.  She sings songs mainly from her new live album, “Coliseu”,  and songs like “Os Meus Olhos São Dois Círios” or “Sou Do Fado, Sou Fadista” certainly do it for me. Get it, listen to it, fall in love with it.

The second act is  one of those weird combinations Celtic Connections delights in encouraging; if you thought teuchter salsa was odd, N’Diale combine the Breton Jackie Molard Quartet with the Foune Diarra trio from Mali.  There’s no doubt these are fantastic musicians, but it doesn’t quite hit the spot for me.  The Malian desert blues is great, and the set is at its most successful when the n’goni and the drum and Diarra’s beautiful voice are foregrounded.   However, the Celtic jigs and reels bolted on seem a little irrelevant, while some of the contributions from the western instruments – bass and sax solos that are more like jazz than anything – are just a bit… well… self-indulgent.   This is obviously really accomplished music, and I admired it: I just didn’t feel it, and while I wanted to hear songs, at times I felt I was listening to compositions.  The audience too seem to drift, the enormous goodwill that flowed towards Moura turning into something more polite and reserved.

Along with quite a few others, we left early – work commitments tomorrow! – so perhaps N’Diale (which means, rather sweetly, ‘the pleasure of being together’) hotted up the house.  I hope so.

Meanwhile, I’m off to sleep, and hopefully dream of fantastically beautiful dark mermaids who can sing my soul to life.

Aqui d’el Rei, Faro, Portugal

Posted in Gig review, Travel, World music by raymondsoltysek on November 11, 2010

Guitars at Aqui d’el Rei

This great wee restaurant / bar in Faro’s old town is brilliant for music.  First night, purely by chance, I wandered by and discovered a jazz trio, comprising three members of Amar Guitarra.   João Cuña, one of the brains behind Guitarra Portuguesa, and  his long-time collaborator Luís Fialho are stunningly good guitarists, while Betty M. plays the violin with real passion and sings like a sexy linnet.   It’s a fantastic, toe-tapping performance, with classics like “Sweet Georgia Brown” interspersed with mesmerising modern compositions.  Just listen to “Inconstancias” on MySpace, and you’ll get a feel for just how brilliant they are.

Aqui d’el Rei have a fado night every Sunday, and it’s fado I’m here for. Core musicians for the evening are the eminent fado project director Valentim Filipe on Portuguese guitar and his young collaborator Ricardo Anastácio on guitar and vocals, who are two members of the excellent Al Mouraria.   They, too, are fantastic musicians, and we have an interesting chat about fado, the portuguese guitar and football (Benfica are being thrashed five-nil on the telly): the only thing we disagree on is whether or not Deolinda’s music can be called fado, since Ricardo is, he says, a “purist”.  Charming guys, and they are tremendously generous in their support of local fadistas like Luis Mira, a typically flashing-eyed singer with a voice like thunder.   Being a foreigner, I can’t begin to explain what fado is or means to the Portuguese people, and I haven’t a clue what they’re singing about: I just know I love its passion.

It’s long been an ambition of mine to drink myself vaguely silly in a Portuguese bar while wallowing in top class music.  Two nights of it is a very pleasant overdose.

Deolinda / Koshka, City Halls, 29/1/10

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on January 31, 2010
Deolinda

Deolinda

The end of my hectic Celtic Connections week hits a real high. Deolinda, a young Portuguese foursome, make simply the most joyous and sun-kissed music on the planet today.  Their fado concept album (there’s a first), “Cancao ao lado”, was one of the best releases of 2008, and this is their first visit to Scotland.   Their website is extraordinarily generous with samples: try it out.

Three fine musicians accompany Ana Bacalhau, who is the most impossibly charismatic young woman I have ever seen.  Pretty and with a voice that threatens to blast the front rows away when she opens her lungs, every arch of the eyebrow, every gesture of the hand, every sway of the hips is designed to narrate the stories of the songs.  Fado is meant to be a dramatic performance, and Bacalhau is the most dramatic of performers.  Her English is impeccable too – apart from her description of one of the characters as a “potato couch”, an error sweet enough to charm the whole hall – and the audience love her retelling of the songs’ narratives, almost every one about young love – and why not?  Fado has been enjoying enormous popularity recently, largely due to divas like Mariza, but Deolinda surely represent the future of the form: fun, sassy, playful and musically brilliant.  I may have just seen one of the best bands in the world playing one of my concerts of the year.  Fantastic.

I’m here to see Deolinda, but it’s nice to see the support is Koshka, Lev Atlas’s latest incarnation of his dizzying klezmer / gypsy / baroque / Russian trio.  Atlas, lead viola for the Scottish Opera Orchestra and proprietor of the lovely Cafe Cossachok, is a hero of Glasgow culture, and his work with guitarist Nigel Clark and violinist Oleg Ponomarev is simply wonderful.  The conversation between Atlas’s sweet tone and Ponomarev’s more muscular, gritty sound is brilliant, and their set is humorous and incredibly accomplished.  No one, but no-one, plays the fiddle like these guys.

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