Portuguese singer Carminho says she was only about four years old when she fell in love with the achingly emotive singing style known as fado, but she had been listening to it even before she was born.
Her mother is a singer, and there were often live fado gatherings in her home, as well as albums that filled the house with the traditional Portuguese music.
When Carminho was just 12, the family moved to Lisbon and opened a fado house. She began singing “just for fun”, and was selected to take part in a large show.
“The first time I sang publicly was in the colosseum of Lisbon in front of 3000 people,” she tells InDaily ahead of her upcoming performance at WOMADelaide.
“I don’t remember when I started to be a fadista … it’s not who sings, it’s who has this language. Who sings, who plays, who listens and who understands what we’re doing because they are from this culture.”
Carminho sang in fado houses to earn “pocket money” while studying at university, and her vocal talent saw her invited to record an album.
“But I thought, the world is not Portugal; it is much more than this and I need to find what it is, so that was the beginning of the world and life experience that I have.”
She returned home committed to a career and life singing the beautiful songs of her homeland, recording her debut album, Fado, in 2009. It was followed two years later by Alma, which mixes traditional fado songs “resurrected from dusty old tavernas” with her own compositions and new arrangements, backed by acoustic Spanish guitars.
In 2011, Carminho also sang at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, where Portugal was seeking to have fado recognised on the organisation’s list of World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (it was added later the same year).
She says fado singing is essentially about feelings, and while it may sound mournful, there are happy fados about neighbourhood life, the sea and other elements of Portuguese life, just as there are fados about loneliness and suffering.
“I think fado is about truth, about giving ourselves and our feelings with truth.
“It’s how I am at that time on that night, and remembering always where I came from. It’s sometimes reinventing the feelings and remembering what we lived – it’s like the Portuguese soul and characteristics.
“There’s something about remembering old loves, old suffering. It’s something that gives us strength; it’s cathartic … you sing and you remember that you survived.”
Although Carminho came to Australia during her post-university world travels, her upcoming national tour – which begins at WOMADelaide – will be the first time she has performed in this country. The young singer, who will be accompanied by both acoustic and Spanish guitars, says she is excited to share her music with Australians.
“Everybody in the world wants to listen to fado … it is the flag of a culture.
“We are such a tiny little country, yet the culture is so strong and so is the identity. It is something that attracts people. I think it is beautiful.”
Carminho will be performing at WOMADelaide on Sunday, March 9, and Monday, March 10.
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