Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was prepared for the
April 25, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Folk Sounds of Portugal
From the time she was a toddler, 14-year-old Nathalie
Pires knew she wanted to be a singer. Whether she can make a living
singing her repertoire of Portuguese fado songs, Spanish songs,
and pop songs remains to be seen, but for now, the bright, polite
teenage vocalist and dancer is keeping her dream alive.
"My dad used to be a musician, and that’s how I got into it,"
says Pires, who got started singing with her father when she was four
years old. "Back then, everybody thought it was cute, but nobody
really knew that’s what I wanted to do in the future." Pires,
who lives in Woodbridge Township, will turn 15 on April 29.
When she was 10, Pires began performing without her dad by her side,
she says, and since last year, she’s been singing fado songs.
This old musical form is the soul-blues music of Portugal.
"Fado goes back to the days when Portugal was taking on African
slaves, several hundred years back," she says, "it originated
with the sailors, and I’m not really sure when it was, but it was
a long time ago."
"There are songs that talk about homesickness and going back to
Lisbon or wherever your hometown is, but a lot of the songs are about
lost love," Nathalie explains. "There are actually songs about
everything in fado, but the popular songs are about love and
country and going back to your hometown."
Pires performs occasionally at Portuguese restaurants in the Ironbound
section of Newark, where there are thriving Portuguese and Brazilian
populations, and she’ll be performing at Tony de Caneca, a Portuguese
restaurant in Newark on May 6, as well as at a Portuguese restaurant
in Ossining, New York, the following month.
Pires, who also dances with Rancho Infantil Recordacoes de Portugal,
a dance and music troupe, will take center stage, accompanied by just
two guitarists, as is traditional in fado, to sing "the soul music
of Portugal" twice on Saturday, April 28, at the 27th Annual New
Jersey Folk Festival. The folk festival is produced by the American
Studies Department at Rutgers University, and directed by folklorist
and educator Angus Gillespie and a team of students from Douglass
College at Rutgers University. It is free and held outdoors at
on the grounds of the Eagleton Institute of Politics on the Douglass
College campus off of George Street in New Brunswick.
Other performers on Saturday will include Roni Stoneman from the old
"Hee Haw" television program, the Griggstown Lock Rapper Team,
an English country dance troupe, and an assortment of contemporary,
Garden State-based singer-songwriters including storyteller and singer
Jim Albertson, Orrin Star, Ralph Litwin, John Carlini, Dennis Gormley,
and Roger Deitz. The festival also boasts a juried craft show, an
assortment of ethnic foods, including featured Portuguese dishes,
as well as a children’s activities area and craft demonstrations.
A "New Folk Showcase" will feature the talents of
performers Michael Veitch, Scott Sheldon, Terence Martin, Laurie
Arlon Bennett, and Jim Beer.
The guitarists accompanying Pires at the folk festival on Saturday
will include Francisco Chuva and Alberto Resende, and most likely,
all three will be dressed in black, as is traditional when singing
Is there a way for young Nathalie to make a living singing fado
"I sing pretty much everything," she explains, "it’s only
in the last year that I’ve begun singing fado. I wouldn’t want
to sing fado music all my life. I like to sing other kinds
of music, too. But fado music is kind of dying, and that’s what’s
so cool about the folk festival, they’re bringing back the chance
for fado to be heard."
"It’s kind of a dying art, and even though people from Portugal
still listen to it and love it, it’s not as much as before," she
explains, "it’s mostly older people listening to it."
Nathalie’s father, Telmo Pires, works as director of
shipping and receiving for Vira Inc., a retail display case design
company in Perth Amboy, a city with a thriving Portuguese population.
He credits one of the owners of his company for prompting Nathalie
to get up and sing before a crowd of several hundred last year at
the Portuguese Sporting Club of Perth Amboy, where many of the
folk and foodway traditions are kept alive, at least on weekends.
Telmo Pires, a keyboardist, trumpeter, and French horn player who
now considers himself a retired musician — "I’m just
father," he says — explains how he and his wife moved from
Barrada, Portugal, to Venezuela before settling in New Jersey in 1984,
three years before Nathalie was born.
He says the most famous fado singer of all time was Amalia Rodrigues.
"She was known all over the world, she performed in Italy, Spain,
Japan, South America, all over the place. She was popular from the
1950s until she died two years ago."
"In order to be a successful fado singer, you have to offer
different and unique as a performer," he adds.
Asked to expand on the themes addressed in fado music, Telmo Pires
says the subject matter is often lost love or homesickness, "but
you’ll also find fados that speak about bullfights," he says.
"It’s a Portuguese tradition to have fado either before or after
a bullfight. But there are also songs about the sea, which is so much
a part of life in Portugal, the history of certain cities and towns
in Portugal, lost love, but also the beautiful love that exists in
the world. You can find all of these things in fado singing."
Asked about her plans for the future, Nathalie says "I’m going
to finish high school and then immediately go to college, and then
I’m going to try to make it big. It’s hard, I know it’s very hard,
but I feel like I have to try," she says. "It’s always been
my dream, and my father even told me when I was two I’d be stepping
up to piano to sing. So it doesn’t hurt to try."
What can audience expect from Nathalie Pires and her two accompanying
guitarists on Saturday at the New Jersey Folk Festival?
"They’ll hear several different types of fado," she says,
"and if they don’t like it, then they don’t like it. But if they
listen long enough, I’ll bet you they’ll fall in love with it, ’cause
it’s a really beautiful type of music. Even though it’s better if
you understand what the lyrics are saying, if the fado is interpreted
correctly, you don’t need to know the language to love it."
— Richard J. Skelly
Institute Grounds, Rutgers’ Douglass College Campus, George Street
& Ryders Lane, New Brunswick, 732-932-9174. "Portuguese-American
Traditions" is the theme for the annual free festival featuring
dozens of musicians and entertainers on four stages, with craft market
and food. On the Web at njfolkfest.rutgers.edu. Free. Saturday,
April 28, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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