The title of Ana Moura’s new collection is DESFADO, and I take that to mean, without knowing Portuguese, that it is fado, but not, or fado but at an angle, askew; or perhaps it means to be taken by fado, touched by it as by madness, kidnapped by its pirate lilt and stirred by its melancholy.
The album, she told us last night at City Winery, is a departure from pure tradition; indeed it includes songs from Joni Mitchell and David Poe; and new work in old forms; or perhaps it is the other way around. The show included a crazy wonderful encore of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” transformed to fado. What can be said for sure is that Ana Moura is, on stage, the very model of what it can mean to be both imbued with tradition and vividly contemporary. The old tears well up from the font of her culture, yet she also rocks, and revs you up, and sets you down happy.
Moura is a above all a presence that cannot be tamped down, a personality that, like those of all great singers, speaks simultaneously to the crowd and the individual, the world and the fan at once. If there are bounds to her voice, she traverses them, her throat visibly warbling, her slender frame alive with a talent so great that it would overwhelm an artist less restrained and disciplined. Language is no issue, and not just because a few of the songs are in English. I recognize some Portuguese, by virtue of its affinity with Spanish, but her artistry is of the sort that validates the meaning in the sound, the sense in the gesture, the emotion in the phrase.
It was a generous, indefatigable performance, rousing and sorrowful by turns, the smile that endears and the outstretched palm that says, wait, there is something deeper than the fun we are having, a seabed of joy, but also of yearning.