At 78, Carlos Do Carmo, The 'Sinatra Of Fado,' Makes His New York Debut Carlos do Carmo helped popularize fado, Portugal's national music, and gave it a political edge when Portugal's dictatorship fell in 1974. This past weekend, he brought fado to New York.
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At 78, Carlos Do Carmo, The 'Sinatra Of Fado,' Makes His New York Debut

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At 78, Carlos Do Carmo, The 'Sinatra Of Fado,' Makes His New York Debut

At 78, Carlos Do Carmo, The 'Sinatra Of Fado,' Makes His New York Debut

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Carlos do Carmo has a nickname - the Sinatra of fado. Fado is the national music of Portugal. It's filled with so much emotion that people describe it as the Portuguese blues. Carlos do Carmo set the path for generations of singers. Yet until this past weekend, he had never performed in New York City. Betto Arcos has this profile of the 78-year-old singer.

BETTO ARCOS, BYLINE: Carlos do Carmo wants to set the record straight on fado.

CARLOS DO CARMO: People think that fado is connected with sadness only. It's not true.

ARCOS: Do Carmo says there is sad fado.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARLOS DO CARMO SONG, "FADO DA SAUDADE")

DO CARMO: Fado menor, minor fado - that's sad. It can describe the sad side of life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FADO DA SAUDADE")

DO CARMO: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: But do Carmo says there's also happy fado sung in a major key and really happy fado.

DO CARMO: The corrido. The corrido is something that you even can dance. And there's got to be a smile when you sing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O CACILHEIRO")

DO CARMO: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: Carlos do Carmo grew up in Lisbon the son of Lucilia do Carmo, one of the great singers of the golden age of fado, which began in the late 1920s. Her club became a gathering place for all of the older fado singers, says Rui Vieira Nery, a musicologist and the author of "A History Of Portuguese Fado."

RUI VIEIRA NERY: And he absorbed that tradition, but then he went on to reprocess that heritage. And he was always very curious about the interaction between fado and other genres. He was very keen on, say, French song, Frank Sinatra and the crooners.

DO CARMO: Sinatra was the best fado singer I ever heard. I mean it. You heard Sinatra. The same song in different records - never the same song. That's fado.

ARCOS: Carlos do Carmo took Sinatra's approach and applied it to his own records. Up until he came along in the early 1960s, fado was usually performed by a singer and two guitarists. He brought in the orchestra.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JA ME DEIXOU")

DO CARMO: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: Rui Vieira Nery says do Carmo also invited musicians who were outside the scene to compose music for fados.

NERY: He managed to attract people from pop rock, from jazz, from art music and convince them to actually try to get into the language of fado and write melodies for fado just as much as he attracted some of the very best contemporary poets to write for him.

ARCOS: One of them was Ary dos Santos. In 1977, three years after the collapse of Portugal's dictatorship, the two men collaborated on a new album called "Um Homem Na Cidade" - "A Man In The City."

DO CARMO: We lived in a dictatorship for almost 50 years. There was censorship. So if you sing under censorship, you can't express yourself. And I lived that. I know what I'm talking about. It's terrible. It humiliates you. My good friend Ary dos Santos - very, very, good, popular poet - we had an idea together. Let's make an album about Lisbon in freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UM HOMEM NA CIDADE")

DO CARMO: (Singing in Portuguese).

ARCOS: But before the album came out, fado had become old-fashioned, aligned with the regime even as do Carmo was pushing its boundaries. But "Um Homem Na Cidade" was a watershed. It was a call to artists, poets and musicians, says Sara Pereira, director of the Fado Museum.

SARA PEREIRA: They had no more excuses to dislike fado, to criticize fado. Carlos was fundamental so that they could understand that fado can sing everything, can also be a song of intervention, can also be a song of protest. So it's alive. It's a living tradition where all the feelings and ideas have a place.

ARCOS: And whether a fado is sad or happy, Carlos do Carmo says it has to be deep. The lyrics have to be strong and go straight to the heart.

DO CARMO: For me, it's life, love. It's my entire life, my dreams, the love of my hometown, love of my country. It's a deep song - a very deep song.

ARCOS: For NPR News, I'm Betto Arcos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FADO VARINA")

DO CARMO: (Singing in Portuguese).

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