Japanese fado singer captivates Lisbon
AFP - Tuesday, January 20
LISBON (AFP) - - Four nights a week, a young Japanese woman captivates audiences in Lisbon with her haunting rendition of 'fado,' Portugal's national musical treasure of intensely melancholic songs tinged with nostalgia, passion and longing.
Kumiko Tsumori, a 28-year-old native of Osaka, stumbled upon Portugal's top musical export by accident and says it will strike a chord in her native country.
"It's soul and love," she says of the the genre, which is characterized by sad tunes and lyrics -- often about the sea or the life of the poor.
She says fado is "an emotion which is sad and happy at the same time, which gives one the strength to live."
Dressed in black apart from a shawl enlivened with splotches of red, Tsumori saunters between the tables of the Velho Pateo de Sant'Ana, or house of fado, casting a spell on onlookers with both her voice and her intensity.
Fado is linked to the Portuguese word 'saudade,' which has no English equivalent but could be explained as nostalgia or longing felt while missing someone.
Mainstream fado performances during the last century included only a singer, a Portuguese guitar player and a classical guitar player but more recent settings range from singer and a string quartet to a full orchestra.
Fado emerged as a bohemian art form in Lisbon's working-class districts of Alfama and Mouraria in the late 18th century and became popular with the singer Maria Severa, who died at the age of 26.
To this day, female performers wear a black shawl in her memory.
Traditionally the domain of native speakers, fado has been shunned by foreigners probably daunted by the challenge of singing passionately and with feeling about lost love, remorse, bullfights or vengeance in an alien tongue.
Tsumori, who is accompanied by a Japanese guitar player, is acutely conscious of her halting Portuguese but undeterred nonetheless.
"I am still not fluent," she apologises. "But I love talking to people. And when I sing fado, I can speak to several people all at once."
And she clearly touches a chord despite her less than perfect pronunciation.
"She has a slight accent and there are some words that I do not understand," says Susana, a Portuguese woman in the audience, but hastily adds: "Her voice is really magnificent."
Tsumori's love affair with fado dates back to 2002, when her Japanese guitarist friend, Kazufumi, introduced her to the genre.
She came to Portugal the following year and the year after and finally arrived to stay last October with a scholarship to study Portuguese.
In the course of these visits, Rosalina Caiero, the owner of a Lisbon fado house, took Tsumori under her wing.
"She calls me mama," Caiero says. "She has become my little Japanese daughter."
Kazufumi, who speaks better Portuguese than Tsumori, explains the meanings of the songs -- word by word -- so she can get the feelings, emotions and pitch just right.
It clearly works.
A spellbound audience joins her in a rousing chorus of 'Tudo isto fado' made famous by Amalia Rodrigues, the greatest fado diva in recent memory. The song is a clever play on words which means "everything is destiny," or "everything is fado."
And her presence is a pleasant surprise for two Japanese tourists who stumbled upon their compatriot accidentally while coming to the Lisbon venue to hear traditional Portuguese songs they imagined would be performed by a local.
"She sings with a great deal of emotion," exults Waka Shibata. "We are really proud of her."
But her folks back home are less than impressed.
"When I started learning fado they did not understand," Tsumori says. "Now it's better. My mother has learnt to appreciate me but my father and brother are indifferent."
She is however sure that fado can capture Japanese hearts.
"Those who know it love fado because it's all about nostalgia, the soul and emotions. And because the sea is omnipresent in both our countries."
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Japanese singer Kumiko Tsumori, seen here performing in Lisbon, has captivated audiences in the Portuguese capital with her haunting rendition of 'fado,' Portugal's national musical treasure of intensely melancholic songs tinged with nostalgia, passion and longing.
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