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World Music Features

Misia

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Misia
By Michael Cowan

Published January 8, 2006

She’s been called the “Diva of Fado,” “The Leading Lady of Fado” and even “The Black Angel of Fado.” But Mísia, arguably Portugal’s most revered export since the legendary fado pioneer Amália Rodrigues, has another name for herself: “The Ant.”

That’s right. Mísia, the singer of the mournful, plaintive, heartachingly honest fados, shows off a more humorous side of her personality in her newest CD, Ritual. Why “The Ant”? Look back to Mísia’s humble beginnings as a fadista  for the answer. Go back to a time just after Portugal’s revolution of 1974, when fado was considered passé, when the intelligentsia and elite looked askance at anyone who dabbled in the beloved music that had long been associated with Portugal’s underclass–sailors, prostitutes and drunks.

“For almost eight years I did almost everything alone in the sense that I didn’t have the support of a record label. I was traveling with my CDs in my suitcase. I had tendonitis in my hands, I was really suffering. And then one day I was speaking with a friend of mine. I was complaining and crying a bit saying that everyone thought things were so easy for me–with my nice white skin, my sophistication–but really I feel like a little ant!” And so one of Ritual’s loveliest tracks comes in “Formiga” (“Ant”).

The little ant is no longer carrying her CDs in her suitcase. She travels the world and has become one of the most successful acts in the international music scene. She has in large part been credited with reviving interest in fado, even making it respectable again for the jaded intellectuals in the upper strata of the Portuguese elite.

As with many of her previous CDs, Ritual contains songs with lyrics by some of the best-known Portuguese poets–in this case Mário Cláudio, José Carlos Ary dos Santos and Rosa Lobato Faria. And even though her humor may be showing, she is still deadly serious, even philosophical, about her work, and what fado means to her. “Everything I’ve lived is inside this CD, even my limited experience with death,” she says. More than anything else, Ritual reaffirms Mísia’s commitment to carrying on and celebrating the richest traditions of fado–at times being faithful to the old ways, at times taking it in new directions.

“This CD is most of all an homage to the singers of the old-time fado houses—they keep the ritual of the fado alive every night–and even though they may not be famous, and sometimes they work in very difficult conditions, I have great respect for them, and I hope I can learn something from them.”

To try to achieve part of that world, Mísia turned her back on the state-of-the-art technology available to her when she went into the recording studio, and instead opted fo

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