“Fado music is something very deep,” says the dark and beautiful Portugese singer Carminho, “it comes from the very heart and soul.
“It’s strongly associated with Portugal and the stories of its people.
“Fado music tends to have lyrics that say a lot about the sea, and every city near the sea has this thing in common - a sense maybe of nostalgia deep in the soul.” After a moment’s reflection she adds: “I think you can hear that in Irish traditional music too.
“There are a lot of goodbyes in these songs, people waiting, people experiencing loss.”
The 29-year-old Carminho is a much vaunted star in her native Portugal and is swiftly building an international following. Listening to her sing is to witness incredible purity of emotion; her voice is plaintive, powerful, soaring, able to communicate great depths of sorrow.
Carminho, who was raised in Lisbon and the Algarve, is considered one of the fado stars of her generation and is one of the headline acts set to perform at the new cabaret-style Music Club at the Elmwood Hall as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. Her voice soars over the Spanish guitar accompaniment, and the artist deftly mixes influences from jazz, and Brazilian pop in her unique melodies.
Her first album, Fado, was named best album of 2011 by Songlines and her latest offering, Alma, combines the fado songs of quayside tavernas with new Brazilian arrangements. Both albums have achieved platinum and gold status in Portugal, selling more than 50,000 copies.
Fado music may not be immediately familiar to local audiences, but its potent expression of emotion is something that should immediately have audiences rapt.
The genre can be traced back to the 1830s in Portugal and first appeared in Lisbon and in port districts like Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto.
In common parlance it is characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea and the life of the poor, full of sentiments like resignation, fatefulness and melancholy; in Portugese culture it is losely captured by the word ‘saudade’ which is used to denote longing or loss. “Fado as a tradition began in a very poor place in Lisbon -people sang as a way of surviving, a way of escaping from the misery of poverty; they came together to sing, to comfort each other and expel the pain,” explains Carminho.
“I think of fado as being a simple way of saying beautiful things about people, nature and the melancholy of life.
“To me fado is a way of expressing the things that the soul needs to say.”
Carminho confides that her mother was a fado singer and helped her learn the craft; she describes herself as having “basically been born singing!”
“Singing to me is like breathing,” she continues, “it’s a part of me in the way an arm or a leg is.
“When I am up there on stage I feel completely free, alone - because I need to find in myself what it is that I want to say to the audience, and at the same time I feel connected to the audience, I feel in love, part of something bigger than myself.”
Carminho will perform at the Music Club, Elmwood Hall, October 18 as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. Visit www.belfastfestival.com.