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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

Nathalie Pires, New Jersey Folk Festival, Eagleton

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 Free. Saturday,

April 28, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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