A leading voice in the revival of male fado singers, António Zambujo brings his distinctive style to Harris Center for the Arts for just one performance on Monday, Jan. 27.
With his earthy songs, honeyed tones and sensitive interpretation, Zambujo has emerged as one of the best modern fado artists. One night at a Zambujo concert a female audience member was overheard to say, “If boys could express themselves like that, how easily we would be won over.”
Fado, the legendary Portuguese tradition that evolved in the port cities in the early 19th century, has a place on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage. Unlike rural forms of folk music where a single culture is often responsible for the evolution of the genre, fado is an urban folk music, originating in the port city of Lisbon, where many cultures met and merged over centuries.
The expression of fado is beautiful and melancholy, characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often infused with a characteristic sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia or saudade — a Portuguese word meaning longing for something that is eternally lost and will never come back. Fado combines elements of Portuguese country folk music with Moorish and African influences, among others.
Zambujo was born in Beja, in the south-central Alentejo region of Portugal, and grew up listening to the “Cante Alentejano” that would later influence his musical education.
He began studying the clarinet at the age of 8 but fell in love with fado by listening to artists like Amália Rodrigues, Maria Teresa de Noronha, Alfredo Marceneiro, João and Ferreira Rosa among others.
Though he usually only sang in the company of his family and friends, he won a regional fado contest as a teenager and having completed his clarinet studies moved to Lisbon. There he met renowned Portuguese guitar player and composer Mário Pacheco who immediately added him to his ensemble at the prestigious Clube do Fado in Alfama.
He played the part of Francisco Cruz, Amalia’s first husband in the musical “Amália,” directed by Filipe La Féria, for four years in the staged version as well as for the subsequent national tour.
After recording his first album “O mesmo fado” in 2002, Zambujo won the prestigious Radio Nova FM prize for the Best New Fado Voice and the Amália Rodrigues Foundation’s Award for Best Male Fado Singer.
He has recorded four more albums since — “Por meu cante” in 2004, “Outro Sentido” in 2007, which was named ‘Top of the World’ album by Songlines, and “Guia” in 2010. Zambujo’s latest album, “Quinto” was released in 2012 by Universal Music Portugal. After 70 weeks in the Top 10, “Quinto” is No. 1 in Portugal and a Platinum Album.
In 2009, Zambujo was included in O Globo’s list of the 10 Best International Concerts of the Year alongside musicians Elton John, Burt Bacharach, Terence Blanchard, KISS, Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo.