Carminho: Portugese soul sister bringing new sound to Belfast
Carminho tells Matthew McCreary why her style of traditional fado singing will strike a chord with audiences here... even if we might not understand what she's saying
Getting hold of Maria do Carmo Carvalho Rebelo de Andrade - aka Carminho - is a tough enough endeavour at the best of times, but when it's in the midst of yet another world tour, preceded by her recently-completed nuptials, even bagging a few moments on the phone can take a week's chasing on my part.
And when the bright and friendly tones of the Portuguese 'fado' star finally connect at the other end of the line from her native Lisbon, it's on a rare day off sandwiched between dates in Canada and Austria.
Such diverse tour locations might not seem a natural fit for her soulful and impassioned strand of music, however. As she explains herself, 'fado' singing - which she will be bringing to the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's next weekend - is something that speaks mournfully of passion and longing for love and its loss that has a uniquely Portuguese flavour.
"Simply put, it's the traditional music of Portugal," she explains. "It represents the voice of Portugal, it is intertwined with the roots and blood of its people, even if they don't sing or play it themselves. We have a very deep story, similar to that of Ireland because of the sea. There is something in the souls of people who live near the sea, stories about travelling and leaving people behind waiting for their loved ones to return. It's about that kind of love and loneliness. We sing to express ourselves and to relieve the soul."
As a genre, fado traces its roots as far back as the 1820s, although it doubtless existed in various forms prior to this, and, like many traditional styles of music, was born in the lower reaches of society.
"It came from the poorest levels, the places with prostitutes and so on," says Carminho. "They sing so as not to cry, to survive, to help each other to get through their difficulties.
"Then in some way it started to become an artistic expression, with popular poets writing about the simple things of their daily lives."
While a relatively big star in her native land - where her two albums to date have shifted a healthy 50,000 units between them - her brand of music remains something of a curio on other shores, particularly as it is sung almost exclusively in Portuguese. Is there a danger then that audiences simply won't 'get' what is being expressed up on stage?
"Fado is completely magical," counters Carminho. "Everywhere we go, it touches people's hearts, even if they don't understand the lyrics or what we are talking about. There's something about that feeling that's in the moment; each one is unique and you put your emotion into it, so each concert ends up being quite different. Also, it depends on the energy of the audience - often we have a 'conversation of the soul'."
Given the music's traditional roots, indoctrination into its mystical ways begins at a young age for many of its practitioners, including the young Carminho, whose mother was a renowned singer of the medium too.
"There is no school you can learn it at, you learn by listening to people telling stories, singing and playing," she says.
"I started to listen to it from when I was born. In my village we didn't have alot of 'fado houses' so my parents held their own sessions at home. I would listen to the instruments and singers, and they became my inspiration and my education.
"Then we moved to Lisbon, where my parents started to manage a fado house. I met alot of great 'fadistas' there who inspired me and gave me the chance to build my own career and learn how to say things through this beautiful music."
As esteemed as she is in Portugal, the fame it has brought her is not a millstone by any means, she insists.
"Well, it's a pretty calm and simple country," she says of her homeland. "It's nice that people recognise my work and like what I'm doing. It reflects everything good that's happening to me, I guess. But people don't bother me or do anything that makes me uncomfortable."
While her music may be melancholy in tone, Carminho insists that she is a true romantic at heart, both personally and professionally - indeed her new husband is also her producer.
"He's part of my sound, he gives me alot of my (musical) identity - we built it together," she says.
Surely, though, sharing life at home and on the road can put a lot of pressure on any couple, even one still in the midst of their honeymoon period.
"Well, we just have to manage that," she laughs. "When we work, we're just singers and musicians - and everything goes perfectly."
Spoken like a true romantic...
Carminho plays the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s next Friday, October 18. For details, visit www.belfastfestival.com
BEST OF THE REST ...
Carminho will be just one of the acts taking part in this year's Festival Music Club, which sees the Elmwood Hall in Belfast transformed into an intimate cabaret-style venue for a wide range of performances. Highlights include:
Oddarang/Girls in Airports, October 22 - a jazz double bill with a Scandinavian twist as Finnish band Oddarang bring a genre-defying sound which has been compared to the likes of Bjork and Sigur Ros, while Denmark's Girls in Airports will transform the venue into the underground jazz scene in Copenhagen
Iarla O'Lionaird, October 23 - widely considered one of Ireland's most beautiful voices, will be joined by Australia's Steve Cooney who has worked with numerous projects and musicians including Sharon Shannon, Dermot Byrne and Altan
Efterklang, October 24 - another troupe of great Danes, Efterklang are described as one of the most exciting bands in the indie-classical movement for pushing boundaries with their four critically acclaimed albums
Dervish, October 25 - the six-piece band play a diverse selection of instruments including, flute, whistles, fiddle, accordion bodhrán, bones and bouzouki and will be supported by Donegal sisters The Henry Girls.
Eric Bibb, October 26 - the acclaimed US Blues musician will be bringing the Music Club to a close, with a cross-genre sound which grasps the sound of rural Louisiana, where it was recorded.