Friday, August 30, 2013

Balada de Lisboa (Beau Bledsoe)

I have a long history of going to far-flung locations to learn the music of other people in an immersive fashion. My recent trip to Lisbon was by far the deepest and fastest immersion I've ever experienced. I must first address an unexpected advantage Fado Novato was blessed with. I had personally assumed that there would be a mountain of foreigners hustling around Lisbon attempting to learn fado but apparently, we were among the first to do so. When I had traveled to Buenos Aires to study tango or to Sevilla to study flamenco, those communities were practically supported by foreigners clamoring for what those cities had to offer. There have been a few individuals from Japan, Spain, Brazil and Mexico to study fado in Lisbon but we may be the first ensemble of foreigners attempting to study and perform there. We were also American fado musicians with no Portuguese background and this fact was somehow very interesting to most Portuguese people.

By asking people in Lisbon for help ahead of our arrival we did not waste any time "settling in". We also had the great fortune of our press releases being picked up by many national publications resulting in many Portuguese people knowing about our project beforehand. On the first day, our apartment rental agent, Margarida Almeida Costa, introduced us to her neighbor, Diogo Varela Silva. He is the grandson of Celeste Rodrigues, the oldest living fado singer who is the sister of the fado legend Amália Rodrigues. We went out with Diogo and his wonderful family almost every night until the wee hours while we were in Lisbon. On the second night we were performing in a fado house called Bela located in Alfama. By chance, the editor-in-chief of Global Notícias, Catarina Carvalho, was present in the audience and was very interested in our project. She said that we would hear from one of her staff writers soon. The next morning she called us (we were asleep of course) and told us that she wanted to write the story herself. We later met with her for interviews and photo sessions that resulted in this article. She became a very good friend and introduced us to many of the important fadistas in Lisbon. I often felt as if we were culture ambassadors being wined and dined at incredible restaurants and locations. I’m quite confident that I’ll never eat that that way again. We spent two unforgettable evenings at Claro, the restaurant of brilliant chef and fado aficionado, Vitor Claro.

My personal ambition was to learn as much about the Portuguese guitar as possible. I had gotten as far as I ever could on my own and it was definitely time to study with some professionals. I was very fortunate to work with two very different Portuguese guitar players. Antonio Parreira, is the guitar teacher at the Museo de Fado in Alfama. He is very much an old guard fado musician and plays in the style that one often hears on older recordings from the golden age. He was extremely kind to both Jordan and I and often very emotive and excited about our learning process. He gave us an enormous amount of musical scores, MP3s and videos that I’ll be dealing with for years to come. Our other teacher was Sidónio Pereira. Sidónio is extremely active in the fado scene in Lisbon. He works every night with an infectiously positive attitude. I discovered him on youtube and I've always liked his accompaniment style. He’s very good with singers and knows all the tunes inside and out. He runs a fado series at Povo in Lisbon for young fado singer where they perform every Sunday night in eight week residencies and then make recordings when they have completed them. He taught me the most basic traditional fados and made sure that I had them in all keys and he never let me leave unless I really knew them.

Antonio performing Balada da Saudade

Sidónio's series at Povo

At the moment I’m practicing this material everyday and disseminating the information amongst my musical colleagues in Kansas City. I’ve had a handful of Portuguese guitar performances already and more planned in the future. I’m absolutely ecstatic about practicing right now and I can’t seem to put the Portuguese guitar down. I’m sure my current inspiration will result in some very interesting opportunities in the future.

Playing the music of Carlos Paredes with Victor Penniman (viola da gamba)

practicing Fado Lopes

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Madrid, Sunday, June 23 - Shay Estes

Madrid is growing on me.  I was not super happy with it when we got here.  Unlike Lisboa, which instantly felt like home, and O Porto, which is quite possibly constructed entirely of magic and wine, Madrid was not friendly to me at all when I arrived.  The ATM ate my debit card.  The people were quite rude to me when they heard me speaking English.  It's hot, expensive, and hard to get around if you're in a hurry.  The bar across the street stays open until 8 am, with drunks shouting all night. The percussion store next door opens around ten, with people playing and building drums and cajons all day.  I think there may be a music school nearby, judging by the loud, out of tune violin playing of children I can hear though my closed window, even right now.   No sleep at night, no napping in the day.  Shit.  I was tired.

Some miscommunications - either from language differences or phone/internet issues - on the first two days of the festival made for some alternately hurried circumstances then long periods of pointless waiting on several occasions.  The sound the first night was a never-ending disaster.  Giuliano was gone, I was tired from travel.  I was in a BAD MOOD.  I became very homesick for KC and for my temporary home in Lisboa. Madrid felt so foreign and harsh.  Not so far from Lisbon on the globe, to me it was a world away.  

There were some bright spots. First, I loved meeting the other fadistas at the festival.  Lina Rodrigues from Clube de Fado in Lisbon is incredible.  What a voice.  We talked for awhile about fado and singing in general, and she had great advice.  We also met Mariana.  Only 15, she's already taking the Fado world by storm.  It's like Maria Teresa de Noronha was reincarnated in the body of Taylor Swift.  She is as positive as can be, gorgeous top-to-toe and talented all day.  (If she weren't so incredibly kind and sweet, I might have to hate her!)  The festival staff, though harried at first, were and are a bunch of great, giving people who really care about sharing Fado and about their fadistas.  Our new friends Katia Guerreiro and Ana Geraldo, her manager, came to the opening show at Mercado San Miguel.  It was nice to get to play for them there.  When we dined together at Mesa de Frades last Tuesday, we didn't play until almost 4 am.  My voice was shot, we were exhausted, and we played like shit that night, in front of one of my fado heroes to boot.  Playing for them Thursday at the festival opening felt like a little redemption.  And finally, I got to meet Fidel, Beau's good friend from Andalusia and our new photographer for the last third of the trip.  He is gentle, soft-spoken and graceful.  I liked him instantly.  

However, I was too wrapped up in my dour mood to really appreciate any of this at first.  I slept all day Friday, saw none of the city, and then spent most of my day waiting and preparing for a gig we didn't even end up playing.  I felt like it couldn't get much worse.  I wanted to go home to Lisbon, home to KC. I was done with Madrid.  Until yesterday.

Yesterday, we met Fidel for coffee, then went shopping.  Beau is surprisingly fun to shop with.  He's fast and has actual opinions on fit and fabric.  Zhanna's trained him well.  Along with Jordan, we walked all over downtown, saw protests for public radio in the streets and stopped for tapas and beer at lunch.  I felt like I was starting to see the city.  Next, we went to the Museo del Prado to see works from Goya, Velázquez, Bosch, and El Greco, whom I love.  His sense of color just kills me.  I loved Velázquez's royal portraits, especially Las Meninas.  I adored Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights.  I must confess, I couldn't handle Goya's Black Paintings.  I got to the one with the dog, and I just had to go.  I liked Saturn Devouring His Son, though.  I saw just enough art to fill my eyes, but not enough to exhaust my brain.  Then naps.  With earplugs.

Our gig last night at the Casa de Fados was great.  Fidel picked us up and we got there in time to eat and hang out backstage with the other musicians.  The festival staff was light-hearted and playful, the stress of the previous days behind them. Both the dinner and the show seemed to flow smoothly, with significantly fewer sound issues than before.  There was a fadista from Spain who played first, then we played second, followed by the three regular fadistas who play every night: the adorable Mariana, Micaela Vaz, a beautiful morena with a smoky voice, and Pedro Calado, a rich baritone from Évora.  The featured singer last night was - like Lina Rodrigues from the two previous evenings - one of the talented fadistas from Clube de Fado in Lisboa, Miguel Capucho. We heard him our first night in Portugal; he's incredible.  At the end of his set, the stunning Cuca Roseta joined him for a duet.  Their harmonies together were hauntingly beautiful.  The whole evening was lovely.  Camané, Marta Pereira Da Costa (who is presently the only notable female guitarra player,) and a bunch of other amazing musicians were there.  It was really cool.  I was so honored to be in that company.

Beau, Jordan, and Fidel left early to go see a Flamenco show at a club called Corral, and I dashed out after the Fado was done to join them just in time for the very last song.  Kiko Pena was the singer.  Holy crap.  He's a a protégé of Miguel Poveda, who was in  attendance.  (I am new to Flamenco - tiny baby new - so I know Poveda mostly to me through his duets with Mariza.  Beau tells me he's quite well known.)  This kid, Kiko, was astonishing.  If he's the student, I cannot conceive of what a master must sound like.  As introductions to live Flamenco go, this one was hard to beat.  I hope to see more in Sevilla.  It spun my brain all to bits!

Today, I will go see Picassos and Dalís at the Reina Sofía, then go see the Palacio with my friends Rachel and Aaron Leimkuehler, in from KC by happy coincidence.  This evening, as a kind gift from the festival staff (one of many!), we have tickets to go see Camané's concert.  (I simply ADORE this man's singing, and one look from his gray eyes will knock you back about three feet, believe me.)  Then we head back for one more Casa de Fados show.  I have been told that lots of fadistas and guests will be there, and tonight's feature is the one and only Ricardo Ribeiro!  I'm ridiculously excited!

Madrid and I may just become friends after all, in spite of some of the crappier parts of the last three days.  The children across the street have been repeatedly practicing "It's a Small World After All" on their violins all morning.  They're annoying, but sort of charming now.  They are out of tune, yes, but they're not wrong; it really is a small world, once you get out into it.  I can't wait to make friends with more of its people and more of its cities.  

Thanks, Madrid.

Shay Estes

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fado From Behind the Lens by Giuliano Mingucci

     I have a unique perspective on Fado and on the group Fado Novato as an audio engineer, photographer and videographer. I’m also a musician so I deeply appreciate the music from that perspective, but I haven’t studied it or learned about all of its heroes and tragedies. However, feeling those people and those emotions are inevitable when surrounded by the sounds, smells, flavors and people of Portugal. Having finished mixing and mastering Fado Novato’s first album I now find myself living the role of photographer and documentarian for the group’s travels through the country of Portugal as they navigate the paths of its traditional music. My job is to observe, record and relay the truth as it unfolds with as little interference as possible. The only problem is that I’m the only one in the group that speaks Portuguese fluently so my involvement has to be deeper than the proverbial “fly on the wall”. Combine this lingual understanding with my passion for music and my deep loving relationship with lead vocalist Shay Estes and suddenly you see that my relationship with Fado itself is deeply entangled.

     As I watch and record the band’s rehearsals, the performances all over town, the local drinks, food and people what do I capture over and over again? Passion. The music is not one of sadness, as is often presumed, but one of pure passion. It comes as no surprise that it’s a passionate pursuit for Beau, Jordan and Shay because the heritage of this music is rooted in passion for all things beautiful, sad, delicious, rambunctious and sometimes absolutely hilarious. The people are outgoing because they care. They care about their food, their drink, their art and their music. Most of all they care about each other. I don’t mean each other as Portuguese people, I mean each other as humans. It seems obvious to them that we’re all here sharing this time and space together and how better to express it than through music that’s fueled by pure emotion?

     Fado is about food, wine, longing, love...even sometimes architecture or cobblestone streets. Most of all, though, it’s about relationships. What are relationships without passion? Empty. Like the bottle of wine and the basket of bread we finished late last night. So, Fado fills the void. It fills our glasses and our plates and motivates us to start again; to fill our brains and our hearts with the things that have fueled mankind for centuries. It’s so nice to see that some of these essential elements are still alive and well somewhere in the world when sometimes in day-to-day American lives they can get so easily overlooked.

     If I’m able to convey even a fraction of that story then I feel like I too can enter the realm of the ever-coveted Fadista. A passionate storyteller with something innately human to convey.

-- Photos & Writing © Giuliano Mingucci/Fado Novato 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

How to raise $16,000

While it is too early for a victory lap, I'm still really amazed at how this has all happened.

We started this fundraising project in November 2012 during Artist INC II, when Shay was a participant and I was a facilitator. Artist INC is an amazing entrepreneurial course designed for artists. The second level, Artist INC II, participants have to come up with a project, budget and a plan to implement during the eight week course. Shay put together the Lisbon project in which Shay, Jordan and myself will perform and study in Lisbon for the month of June and document the entire process.

At the end of the Artist INC II program there was a competition, where the participants pitch the idea in front of the audience. Shay was in the final three, but she didn't win the $1,500 prize. She did, however, receive her first donation of $100 at the after party and that was plenty of inspiration.

Video of Shay pitching our project

I can remember Shay telling me that she had put a budget together for all of our travel and costs for a month and it was around $15,000! This just didn't seem feasible at first. After our debut performance we introduced the project to the audience and received a sizable donation from the Seely Foundation. That's what put us over the tipping point and made us realize that this was indeed going to happen. We have also received many small donation of $25- $100 from patrons all over the country and we still get a few every week. So far, we bought our airline tickets and rented a fantastic apartment in the center of Lisbon.

Early on, we set up a tiered donation/gift level program that most people will be familiar with. It's very much like when one donates to public radio and receives a coffee mug but we give away CDs, tickets and prints. We've been able to accomplish this by utilizing a 501-C3 fiscal sponsor, Ko-Arts (Korey Ireland) so that people may receive a tax deduction for their donations. We solicited donations using email newsletters and snail mail letters on nice paper. The later being the more effective. Most addresses were taken from ticket pre-sales of our monthly fado shows around Kansas City. We also send out frequent updates and thank you letters.

We also printed business cards with QRC codes for donations

As far a crowd sourcing donations goes, I feel there's a bit of a "kickstarter fatigue" in fundraising in the local arts. I've heard it expressed that donors are tired of being burned by projects that never happen so we opted not to use the crowd funding model at this point. We feel something like kickstarter is probably a better fit for out upcoming Casa de Fado project when we return from Portugal. Kansas City needs a Fado house right?

We've also been quite fortunate to receive international exposure via PRI's “The World.” This sent our web stats through the roof. You can see below that on the day that the segment aired (May 1st) we were around 11,000 hits. The radio segment resulted in many donations coming from around the country as well as many new friends

By far the most effective device for Fado Novato is something we invented called the "anti-band meeting". I'm sure most of you know how awful business meetings can be. Whenever we met, we actually tended to socialize more than talk business. In the anti-band meeting we set up a conference call on our smart phones and open a shared google drive with a dated document outlining the topics that need to be taken care of (fundraising, travel, concerts, repertoire etc,). Each of us is assigned tasks from these topics and the ones that aren't completed are bumped up to the next week’s anti-band meeting. I've been in a lot of musical projects and this is nothing short of a miracle. We simply get things done - quickly. The meetings never go over an hour and we all do them from our homes in front of computers so no commute.

Here's an example of an anti-band meeting and our google drive directory.

It's been a mountain of work but we've all grown tremendously from this process. It doesn't seem like there's anything we can't accomplish. Although making an effective Portuguese press releases last week almost killed us.

- Beau Bledsoe

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Fado Guitar to Guitarra

Learning the Portuguese Guitar (Jordan Shipley)

Of all the exciting things that have been happening lately with Fado Novato, one stand out for me these days is beginning to learn more about the feel and technique of playing the Portuguese guitar, or Guitarra. With its unique, and at first baffling tuning, and "backwards" right hand technique (in relation to classical guitar fingerstyle technique) it was quite a challenge at first. For you guitarists out there; get ready to get used to fluttering your i finger up and down while being out in front of your thumb (feels so strange at first).

I have spent a great deal of time learning the cavaquinho and bandolim (mandolin), both traditional Brazilian instruments for chorinho and samba, with my project Mistura Fina here in Kansas City. Both were challenging at first because of the scale of the instruments and the tuning of the mandolin, but I was able to wrap my head around them fairly quickly since I had been playing many styles of Brazilian music for several years and I knew the role of the cavaquinho and bandolim well before learning to actually play the instruments. My experience with improvisational music from my jazz guitar training, and thorough knowledge of the guitar fretboard also helped with learning the geography of other similar plucked string instruments with different tunings. It has been a somewhat similar experience for me with the Portuguese guitar since I have been primarily playing the Spanish guitar in Fado Novato and learning how to interact with the Portuguese guitar parts that Beau is playing before learning those parts myself. However, there were far more materials (books and online resources) and easily accessible recordings available to guide my study of Brazilian music. Not to mention I had been playing Brazilian music for half a decade before I branched out to cavaquinho and bandolim. And neither the cavaquinho nor bandolim have any strings tuned in seconds like the Portuguese Guitar (Lisbon tuning low to high strings DABEAB).

In the Beginning

It may not have been the most productive way to go about it but I began with Carlos Paredes' composition "Verdes Anos," and one of my favorite new fados from Ana Moura, "Os Buzios." Those two songs inspired me to pick up the instrument in the first place so I was determined to make them work. Both really helped to break me in on the instrument, but I am now going back and learning parts for more tradition fado forms like fado menor, fado Mouraria, and others.

Off to Lisboa

I am indescribably excited for the opportunity to travel to the motherland of Fado and further my study on the Portuguese guitar and Spanish guitar parts. My travel to Brazil made a lasting impact on me and I expect this experience to be just as eye opening and humbling as my travel to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro! I was lucky to have the chance to visit Lisbon for a week this past January but I barely got a taste of the city. I can not wait to have more time to get to know Lisbon, Coimbra, O Porto and other important cities where this beautiful urban folk music is thriving, and bring some of that energy and inspiration back here to Kansas City.

 - Jordan

Shawl Collecting: The Kindness of Strangers (and of Friends)

I am a scarf junkie.  I will wear pashmina when it's ninety degrees outside.  I like to buy them when I travel abroad, so I can take a piece of gorgeous places home with me.  I like to buy them from local stores, so I can take a piece of home with me abroad.  I am a full-out addict.  I love it most when I get them as gifts, because it's like wearing a hug from the one who gave it.  Thus, when we first undertook the project and the research, I was giddy about the shawl thing.  It seemed like the natural next step in my scarf obsession!

"What's the shawl thing?" you may ask.  Well, I will explain.  Long ago in the Alfama district of Lisbon, there lived a prostitute and fadista named Maria Severa Onofriana, or simply A Severa.  She was beautiful, talented, and beloved of the Count of Vimioso.  At this time, Fado was still the music of the working and lower classes, not of nobility.  A Severa died a tragic death of tuberculosis at a young age, and the legend says that the Count was unbearably distraught and mourned her death very publicly.  Many credit the Count's affection for Severa as popularizing Fado with the upper classes.  In truth, the love story is so moving and tragic - it just smacks of La traviata - that it was immortalized in a popular book in by Júlio Dantas.  That book was turned into very popular stage play in 1901, which was then turned into the first ever Portuguese language sound film in 1931.  All of this brought Fado into the limelight of Lisbon.

"But Shay," you may be saying, "what does any of this have to do with you collecting shawls?"  Patience, meus amigos.  I am getting there.  Severa was famous for not only wearing the classic black lace shawl herself, but tradition holds that all female fadistas wear the shawl in eternal mourning of her death.   (There is a beautiful scene in Carlos Saura's Fados in which fadista Catarina Moura sings the story to a crowd in period clothing.  I'd post the YouTube video, but I cannot find one with English subtitles.  Anyway, if you're following this blog and you haven't seen the movie yet, it's time to bite the bullet, get a bottle of wine and a box of tissues and tuck in.  It's on Netflix.  Just do it already.  It's worth it.)

Back to shawls, and my collecting of them.  I have been borrowing a flamenco manton from Beau's wife (who is very kind and a great dancer, by the way) since our first concert.  I knew this could not continue forever, so I set about seeing what other contemporary fadistas were wearing.  I would hate to get to Lisbon and find that I am already out of fashion.  After much research, I can tell you that these girls are getting pretty creative with the concept of shawl.  Any Google image search of Mariza or Ana Moura will show some pretty varied options.  Along with gorgeous, updated versions of the traditional shawl in new shapes or colors, they're using shrugs and scarves, wraps and short jackets; Jordan said he saw Cuca Roseta in a blazer at a club one night!  I knew I needed to procure some impressive and distinctive pieces to keep up.  Enter Laura Issac.

Laura is a good friend and an amazing interdisciplinary artist.  I have been working with her husband, James, in The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City for years, but just started working with Laura this year, as - of all things - a model for her artistic clothing and knitting project line, 10kHrs. Laura has made me some beautiful pieces in the past, but when she offered to design and make me a shawl, I knew I was in for something special.  She's concocted a hybrid of sorts; a glove that turns into a shawl.  The gorgeous yarn she selected is light as air, and on it's way to KC.  It should be ready just before we leave.  This is a sketch of the piece.  You can see why I am so excited.

In the meantime, I have been gifted two beautiful shawls, one long, lace, and Egyptian from my good friend Linda, and another airy, velvet one given on a whim last weekend by my new friend Michelle.  She literally took it off her own shoulders and gave it to me.  I also picked up a loose-fitting lace shift that is working nicely, so I'm feeling set in the shawl department.  (That is, of course, not to say that I will not be acquiring more in Lisbon. I'm just set for NOW.)

However, I still felt like something was missing.  I saw a photo that got me thinking about Coimbra fadistas.  Coimbra is home to a large university, and the fadistas (which for years were only men and mostly students) dress in the academic uniform of a dark robe, cape and dark leggings.  Somewhere, I had seen an old black-and-white still from a film of men and women in the open black robes, singing and laughing together while playing Coimbra Fado.  On a recent trip to West 18th street, an area of KC filled with wonderful local shops and boutiques, I instantly found what I had been missing.  International designer Hadley Johnson keeps a small storefront there, and hanging in the back, was the most gorgeous black kimono I had ever seen, reminiscent of the beautiful black robes of Coimbra.  It was outside of the price range of a girl saving for a month-long trip to Portugal, but Hadley saw how much I loved it and offered me an incredible deal.  I was just blown away by her kindness.  I get to go pick it up tomorrow!

When I think about these women, what they have done for me, and their unbelievable generosity, I see it as a parable for all the amazing folks who have reached into their hearts and their pockets to support this project.  I am honored and humbled at the response to our fundraising campaign; never in a million years did I begin to imagine it possible, and you all have made it so.  This music is the music of community, it is meant to be shared and played together.  It is fitting, then, that this project has been one made successful by not just Fado Novato, but by all of you.  Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.  I can scarcely type this without crying to think of how grateful I am to everyone who has helped make this dream of our come true.  When I wear these shawls in Lisbon, they will truly feel like an embrace from each and every one of you.

Most Sincerely,

Shay Estes

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Yet another guitarra...

I am a very instrument driven musician. I have a very well worn behavioral pattern when it come to learning a new style involving a new instrument. I'll often test the waters with an experimental instrument and sometime later, when it's evident that I'm going to be playing in the new style for a long time, I'll take the plunge and purchase a professional level instrument. With this fado project I've had the great pleasure to work with the local Kansas City luthier, Dave Bucher. His interpretation of the Portuguese guitar is quite amazing. It follows the tradition but has many of it's own innovations and sound qualities. Kerry Stanley donated an old guitarra from the 60's that is roughly built but a blast to play. I love to have it hanging on the wall in my studio so I can just grab it when ever I like. My most resent aquisition is from the Portuguese guitar builder António Martins. I found his work via his blog which is filled with beautiful photos by his son-in-law Hugo Macedo. Antonio was very helpful and writes in excellent English (my Portuguese is pretty awful) and he is obviously enamored with process of building the guitarra portuguesa. I've had this instrument for about 24 hours and its starting to open up and reveal it's sound. It's quite aesthetically beautiful. traditional with hints of modernism. The rosette is made from a circle of rosewood "heartwood" that forms a star pattern around the soundhole. It has many of the the soulful qualities I love about hand made instruments. It is slightly asymmetrical in places and you can see marks from wood tools if you look very closely. It has also been French polished (very time consuming) and features a set of hand made tuners that appear to be made from brushed steel rather than traditional brass. This really helps with the overall weight and balance of the instrument. It feels like I'm holding an oud rather than a guitar. The intonation is very good and the neck is much smaller than I've ever seen. It is much easier to employ the thumb over techniques that are so often used in this style of playing. The sound is very even, refined and projects easily. I look forward to getting to know her over the next few months. A really professional instrument made by a great artist. - Beau Bledsoe