Photography by Mário Pires. Words by Gonçalo Frota.
There is an infallible method to tell apart a remarkable singer from a merely very good one. Let’s call it the ‘goosebumper.’ If, involuntarily, the reaction to a vocal performance hits you at gut level and manages to completely disarm you, you’re certainly in presence of a voice that works way beyond any technical qualities. Gisela João is such a singer. You can take your pick with her eponymous debut album. She has the ability to create an emotional vertigo in both the most dramatic, despairing love song and the looser folkloric songs. From ‘Meu Amigo Está Longe’ (a bold take on a staple of Amália Rodrigues’ sacred repertoire) to ‘Bailarico Saloio’, it all fits beautifully into place, led by a voice so full of longing. Such an arresting, passionate drive is wisely left to its own devices.
There is enough of a contemporary quality to Gisela João’s performance for her to avoid the pitfalls of fado instrumentation nowadays. On Gisela João, there are no violins nor bassoons, no overly stylised arrangements nor pompous fireworks. Even when João enlists hip-hop wonder Capicua, the rapper’s signature is lightly stamped, via updated lyrics, on a version of the traditional ‘Casa da Mariquinhas’. Add it all up and what we have is an outstandingly well-planted footprint in fado history.
Gisela João will be at Songlines Encounters Festival on June 4.