Antonio Zambujo - Live at Womex, Copenhagen (2010)

Tagged with: Antonio Zambujo Guia fado fadista fadisto Portugal World Village Harmonia Mundi Womex cante alentejano Zamzama Lisbon Lisboa Copenhagen DR Koncerthuset Denmark Womex Ricardo Cruz Bernardo Couto Jose Conde Jon Luz zamzama Glyn Phillips

"Pure acoustic joy"

The DR Koncerthuset in Copenhagen is an amazing building built on numerous levels and encased in glass like a huge see-through Lego brick. But for me it's true magic lies in the design of its main concert hall. The unimaginatively named Studio 1 is situated right at the top of the building as if hanging from the eaves. The rest of the building is glass and concrete and stone, but nothing prepares you for the inside of this hall. Every where you look there is a rich golden-red wood, glowing gently like a light shining through dark honey. It's unusual shape - it almost feels wider than it is long - and unusual angles to the wood panels (including strange striations and textures carved into its surface), are all there for one purpose: the sound. I'd never been in a hall quite like it - wherever you are inside you can hear every slight sound emanating from the stage; yet even when the hall is full of people, the background noise is absolutely minimal. And the warm resonance provided by the wood enhances the quality of the music as if you are sitting right next to the musicians, pure acoustic joy.

"A breath-taking concert"

In other words, it was the perfect setting to hear Portugal's greatest contemporary male fado singer, Antonio Zambujo. I arrived early and was able to sit right in front of the stage and within minutes the hall filled right up, the anticipation rippling throughout the audience. As Zambujo walked on there was a polite applause and then a reverent hush fell, the crowd becoming completely silent in true respect. For 45 minutes we were transported far away from Denmark as he took our hearts and wrapped them in the most exquisite 'saudade', a longing for a land and life most of us had never even known. It was a breathtaking concert - our souls being alternately filled with joy and emptied of hope as song followed song; bitterness and sweetness swirling around the same cup.

"Zambujo's voice ... is an instrument of profound artistry."

Zambujo's voice is surprisingly light, and higher than you'd expect for a male singer of such deep, passionate music. And yet it is an instrument of profound artistry. His nuances of expression (matched often by his facial muscles) were both subtle and powerful. Every note, each slight pause, precisely placed to bypass our heads and speak directly to our hearts. Here was a master at work.

The band's Musical Director is the bassist, Ricardo Cruz, a great musician in his own right, but also a wonderful arranger. Exquisite, intricate, humorous, even surprising, as a phrase was thrown from the Portuguese guitar and caught by the voice, and we sighed as one, marvelling at the invention, revelling in the musicianship, tears welling up at the profundity of expression.

One by one the rest of the band came on: the amazing Bernardo Couto on Portuguese Guitar (completely different to a Spanish guitar), his use of harmonics just stunning; the bass clarinettist, Jose Conde adding a very unusual colour to the sound and Jon Luz on the cavaquinho (a tiny guitar-like instrument mostly known via Brazilian music).

There were some old favourites like"Fado Loucura", "Amor de Mel Amor de Fel" and "Nem as Paredes Confesso", but most of the songs were from the new album "Guia" (released by World Village/Harmonia Mundi - winners of the Top Label Award at Womex 10). These new songs included the unusually named song "Readers Digest" (a whimsical plea for an 'ordinary' life), the nostalgically romantic "Zorro" and the bitter-sweet remembrances of "A Tua Frieza Gela".

"... a whisper that made the spellbound audience hold their breaths until the last note died away."

This last one in particular brought about a magic moment as this minimal yet atmospheric song was delivered at hardly more than a whisper that made the spellbound audience hold their breaths until the last note died away. Through the silence the only other sound that could be heard was the gentle plop of the photographers' camera shutters like a forest of falling leaves . . .

Antonio Zambujo is a sorcerer of love and loss. His alchemy lies in how he takes our own hearts and makes them sing in turn.

Glyn Phillips