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Katia Guerreiro Nas Maos do Fado Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

[...She] has easily overcome the difficult second album syndrome.

Jon Lusk 2004

If fans of Portuguese fado have overlooked this young singer, it's not because she lacks talent.

Her debut album Fado Maior appeared around the same time as that by her better known colleague Mariza, but Katia's career has been more of a slow burn affair for several reasons. Firstly, she hasn't had as much heavy promotion or any major label backing. And incredibly, she still works one or two days a week as a doctor in a hospital near Lisbon, so she's had to fit a limited touring schedule around her other vocation. Nor does she have quite the same showbusiness nous as Mariza. Onstage, Katia is almost static (though still magnetic), usually singing with her eyes closed and hands clenched firmly behind her back, as on the cover of this, her second album.

The title means in the hands of fado and refers to the way her devotion to this exquisite and distinctively Portuguese style has changed her life completely. Her take on it is very traditional, and she still uses only the three key instruments of 12-stringed Portuguese guitar, Spanish guitar and double bass, which some purists insist is the only authentic fado arrangement.

A third of the melodies on Nas Mãos do Fado are drawn from the body of over 200 traditional fados which artists such as Katia regularly update by combining them with the words of Portuguese poets. A good example and one of the undoubted highlights is "Ancorado en Mim", which marries the tune of fado "Santa Luzia" with a poem by Ana Vidal. Another example is "Valsa", which employs fado margaridas and one of three poems by António Lobo Antunes on the album.

Like most up-and-coming female fadistas, Katia is often compared to Amália Rodrigues widely acknowledged as the greatest fado singer of the twentieth century. In fact, Katia's range and tone are remarkably similar, so the comparison isn't entirely inappropriate, even if it does create unrealistic expectations. After all, both "Chora", "Mariquinhas Chora" and "Perdigão" were part of Amália's repertoire.

Katia's Portuguese guitarist Paulo Valentim and guitarist João Viega also contribute both words and music, as does the singer herself on a couple of numbers. The test of such new compositions is how convincingly they blend in with the traditional ones; suffice it to say you'll be hard pressed to spot them.

But my personal favourite is the most experimental song. The stunning slow waltz rendition of "O Que Fôr Há-de Ser" (by Dulce Pontes, Portugal's current number one roots-pop diva) is a masterpiece of restrained passion. The full range of Katia's extraordinarily subtle charm as a singer is on show, from a whisper to a wail. She has a very beguiling way of leaning into notes which makes her the equal of any of her contemporaries and on this evidence has easily overcome the difficult second album syndrome.

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