FADO IN THE HOOD: Some of my fondest memories of transatlantic travels in recent years—in retrospect, at least—involve the accidental art of getting lost. In the age of GPS, global villagers, and other modern appurtenances of travel, getting lost ain’t what it used to be, but there are still lost-bearing possibilities in the four corners. The exciting yet also slightly nervous-making encounter with a strange terrain can impart a cathartic clarity once one is safely delivered to the light of arrival.
When in Fez, Morocco, last summer, I experienced a not uncommon rite-of-passage when I became entangled in the labyrinthine 1,000-year-old medina (ancient city). A few years back, on a search for the fado music in Lisbon, I got thoroughly dizzied in the twisting and seemingly illogical maze of narrow streets in Lisbon’s famed, old Alfama region, ostensibly the birthplace of fado. The maps I had were of little use, and my lack of Portuguese didn’t help. Eventually, I found my way to the sanctuary of Parreirinha de Alfama, near the Museo do Fado. Sinking into the ornately tiled fado house and its musical enchantment, and drinking too much vinho verde (green wine), a sense of being in the thick of the fado milieu struck deep into my pleasantly blurry brain.
As far as I know, they don’t serve vinho verde at SOhO, but an early Saturday show turns the stylistic dial to fado, with the local debut of Bay Area-based Portuguese-American singer Ramana Vieira, who is doing her part to help bring fado into the public ear. On rare occasions, Santa Barbara is privy to the special power of fado, as when the young-ish icon Mariza has landed here. Cape Verde’s Cesária Évora has brought us similar saudades spirits via the morna style, another sound from the Portuguese diaspora. Once you catch the fado spirit, it’s hard to let go, despite the challenges to hearing it live in these parts.
Fado is a music blessed with some languid beauty, a sound rising up out of the pride and passion of areas where economic struggle forges indigenous and heated artistic expression. While related to other great global idioms born of poor urban quarters, including flamenco and tango—not to mention the blues in America—fado is softer around the edges, without flamenco’s angular snap. As heard on Vieira’s album Lágrimas de Rainha (Tears of a Queen) (Pacific Coast Jazz), traditional fado, including homages to the late, great fado queen Amalia Rodriguez, blends with other stylistic twists, in English and Portuguese. Vieira, whose family came from Madeira Island and whose grandfather was a musician there, is onto something good and worthy in her musical efforts.
OFF THE RADAR: “Somebody’s had too much to think.” (—Captain Beefheart, from “Ashtray Heart”) It seems as if there has been something off-kilter or somehow discombobulated about life on our planet in the past months, and I suddenly realized the problem: We are now in a world without Captain Beefheart (aka Don Van Vliet), who died on December 17, 2010, from complications of multiple sclerosis. Of course, it wasn’t as if Beefheart was much on anyone’s active “radar” (pardon the Doc at the Radar Station reference) in many years, except for those who checked in on his intriguing work as a visual artist. But then Beefheart was always both of this world and blissfully out of it, a desert sage with a language all his own and with “a beef in my heart against society,” as he once explained his nom de plume.
Listening back to some of his greatest work, including his masterpiece Trout Mask Replica and his swan song album from 1982, Ice Cream for Crow, the terms “crazy genius” and “visionary” spring to mind … again. Santa Barbara’s own Jeff Bridges, clearly a music head, paid tribute when hosting Saturday Night Live in December, sneaking in the line, “Rest in peace, Captain Beefheart,” at show’s end. Hear, hear.