Fado singer Carminho

Friday, November 15, 2019 - 4:37pm


As a fadista, Carminho is a big star in Portugal. Several years ago, before she became big, she was at university studying marketing and singing in fado clubs to make money. But, as she tells host Marco Werman, something was missing in her life.


Marco Werman: We’re about to take a trip to the Isle Farma neighborhood in Lisbon, Portugal.

Carminho: My name is Maria do Carmo Carvalho Rebelo de Andrade — and that is a big name.

Werman: A long name, but everyone in Portugal knows her simply as "Carminho," an exceptional singer of the Portuguese style known as fado. As a fadista, Carminho is a big star in Portugal. Several years ago, before she became big, she was at university studying marketing and singing in fado clubs to make money. But something was missing in her life.

Carminho: I was not happy with that. I was not happy with marketing and publicity. I didn't know that I could be a professional singer. I just sang normally, like a hobby. I already sang in fado houses and I had some companies — big companies — invite me to make an album with them. And I was very scared because I was sure that I didn't have the maturity to make an album, to defend the album.

So, with the money I earned from singing in fado houses, I bought a ticket for round-the-world travel, and I was one year backpacking and doing volunteer work and learning more about myself than any time before. And I still have a lot of fruits from that experience.

Werman: You spent two months at Mother Teresa's mission in Calcutta. Was the volunteer work you were doing generally kind of for poor people?

Carminho: Yes, I was with people who were going to die, who were gonna die soon. They were very sick. And then I worked also with the handicapped children and that was beautiful work, too.

I didn't sing during the trip because I wanted to discover if I really wanted to sing. So I quit singing.

When you travel alone, what you hear mostly is people asking you, “Who are you?” And I was able to choose whatever I wanted. So I could choose to say, “I'm a ballerina, I'm a lawyer, or I'm a singer.” In my town, in Lisbon, nobody wanted to listen to fado when I was young, so I get a little bit sad. And it was not so good to say to people that I was a fadista. Because nobody cared. My friends didn't like it.

When I was traveling, I [thought], what am I gonna do, put myself in this situation again? ... But I was surprised because I started saying that I was singing a traditional song for my country and I was a singer, and people were so enthusiastic and with a lot of joy to know more about the culture, about myself and about what I was doing in Portugal. I got a lot of confidence, more confidence to embrace this culture and to return and to sing again.

I think my voice changed, too. And my confidence changed and my knowledge — more knowledge to understand the words. Because fado is about music, but it's also about lyrics and poems and the words, the energy you put into each word. It's so important to the final result.

Werman: So, you've got a few more concerts left. What is the best way to listen to fado, music with lyrics in Portuguese that many Americans do not understand? What's your advice to Americans?

Carminho: I advise them to open their hearts and to see if they can connect with their history, because the history of fado is all about feelings. It's all about love and taking care and missing someone. There's something magical in fado that when you put the truth in each word, [even if] the audience doesn't understand the words, they can get some of the energy and can get something to them.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.