The first time I saw fado singer Mafalda Arnauth perform live was in Porto. I had never heard of her but was intrigued by a poster that announced the concert in this Portuguese town that is famous for the sweet wine with the same name. A few years later I saw Mafalda again during a concert in the Prinsenhof in the historic town of Delft (Netherlands). “Oh yeah I remember that concert in Porto very well”, she smiles, surprised to hear that I was there in Porto. “The audience was marvellous, they gave me so many positive vibes. We were in that theatre for three days and we had plenty of time to rehearse and create a perfect sound and atmosphere.”
The day after the concert in Delft I spoke to Mafalda. While drinking a coffee we talked about fado music, her musical roots and her performance last night during a festival dedicated to Chamber Music.
“We noticed immediately that this was a ‘cultivated audience’. Especially when it comes to classical music. We were wondering how they would react to fado. It was a real challenge. A completely acoustic concert, without microphone. Fado is a very physical type of music. It requires a lot from your voice. So I hoped it wouldn’t lose strength during the performance.
There is always a certain tension. Will I be able to get the most out of me? Can I balance my emotions? I remember some performances in which I got angry because some things didn’t go the way I wanted. In such occasions I felt overwhelmed by my emotions. That’s not good, because you can’t really focus on your voice. ”
Fado comes from the very depths of yourself
A Portuguese newspaper wrote about her : ‘She not only sings fado, she is fado.’ “They described it very well”, she reacts with a big smile. “If you want to sing fado, you have to give yourself completely, you have to enter into the song, become one with the music and connect with your soul. Fado comes from the very depths of yourself.”
When Mafalda Arnauth grew up in Lisbon, she never thought of being a fado singer.
“I don’t come from a musical family at all. As a teenager I didn’t listen much to fado music. I was more into rock music and listened to my brother’s records. Things like Pink Floyd and Genesis. It was during my study as a Veterinary that I sang a fado song at a party. People told me: ‘wow you’ve got talent’. That’s were it all started.”
Fado music is often associated with a kind of melancholic feeling that Portuguese describe as saudade. “It’s true, i’m a melancholic person, but actually I search for that transcending feeling. My lyrics radiate melancholy but also hope. During the years I’ve learned that writing songs is not only inspiration. That’s probably 10%, the rest is respiration. Songwriting is a craft. Fado is often associated with a kind of bohemian lifestyle. But a good performance requires, discipline. It is a sport. I can’t keep my voice in good condition with wine and cigarettes.”