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Fado Lamo

April 27, 2010

In Fado music, the singer's voice and command of the stage should cut the audience to the core. I don't speak Portuguese, but when these elements are in place, I feel like I understand the meaning of the words being sung at the deepest level. The most powerful performers, such as Amalia Rodrigues and Cristina Branco, have a way of connecting with people that is entirely visceral. Even the peroxide-topped Mariza, for all her populist appeal, can carry a song by dint of her searing voice and queenly aura.

Such is not the case, as far as it's possible to tell from a single performance, with the Fado star Ana Moura. Moura was in town last weekend for a show at the Palace of Fine Arts as part of the San Francisco Jazz Festival's Spring Season.

The singer is gorgeous of course, with long dark hair, high cheek bones, limpid eyes and a nimble figure. She looked beautiful in the two identically-shaped tight-fitting, floor length gowns she wore during the performance. But her voice is way to sweet for a Fado singer. She sounds like she's singing about happy things rather than the bitter-sweetness inherent in the Fado-centric word "saudade", which stands for longing for or missing someone or something in Portuguese.

Moura also lacks stage presence. She has an annoying habit of wiggling her little hips and shoulders up and down and from side to side. She also - inexplicably - spent half of Saturday night's performance standing sideways to the audience and pitching her gaze slightly downwards as if concentrating hard on pocketing the black in a particularly crucial game of snooker. The singer has an undoubtedly lovely profile, but all of her energy got lost in the wings.

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