It was gratifying to be able to include Lula Pena’s wonderful Troubadour in the PopMatters’ Best World Music albums of 2010. For those of us who rely primarily on recordings to hear her work, it had been a long wait since 1998’s classic [phados]. Here is what I wrote for the world music feature:
2010 proved to be another successful year for Portuguese fado and its derivatives. The fourth album by the brilliant young fadista Ana Moura received international distribution, while the second album by Deolinda was met with only marginally less acclaim than the group’s debut. But the real surprise came with the long-awaited follow-up to singer-guitarist Lula Pena’s classic 1998 album [phados]. Troubadour followed closely in its predecessor’s footsteps, offering up a stark, haunted take on fado that took in Portuguese folk music, French chanson, Latin American nueva canción and Anglo-American pop, all stripped down to the wood. Over seven longish “Acts”, Pena wove fragments from other writers into her own songs, using voice, guitar, and silence to mesmeric effect. Her take on the Amália Rodrigues classic “Fado de Cada Um” is startling, as is the closing number that mixes two distinctly non-fado songs, Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” and Mirah’s “Pollen”.
I would only add here that Troubadour is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of 2010 regardless of genre or marketing category. It made it into the general lists of Best Albums that I submitted to the two music sites I write for (PopMatters and Tiny Mix Tapes) but would have been too obscure a treasure to have made it onto the main lists of those sites. It is at times such as this that otherwise problematic categories such as “world music” can be useful, in providing a space for otherwise marginalised sounds. Credit should go to PopMatters, too, for consistently encouraging the coverage of international music on its pages. (Troubadour received critical acclaim in Portugal, featuring in the Best of 2010 lists of Time Out and Blitz, among other places.)
The following performance by Lula Pena opens with her take on “Fado de Cada Um”
Here is the version made famous by Amália Rodrigues in the film Fado, História de Uma Cantadeira:
And more from Lula Pena’s Troubadour:
There are a couple more videos available at the website of Mbari Music, along with a press release which offers a kind of “explanation” of Troubadour. The normal PR exaggerations aside, it contains some thought provoking comments about the “open” nature of Pena’s album, its emphasis on flow and transience, and its refusal of closure or memory. For Pena, it seems, the place of longing cannot be fixed or fastened down, not even provisionally. Rather, longing remains a constant source of becoming, an undoing of oneself and one’s sense of stability.