There was a particular moment, on the night of July 18, 2010, when Ana Moura’s art reached a singular level, relevant in the global panorama because that is its real dimension: Prince’s call for a magical encore during his performance at the festival SBSR. the singer, with her presence and with all the wisdom held in her voice, silenced an audience of tens of thousands of people and brought them to tears. Her voice surrendered to “A Sós Com A Noite” and “Vou Douro de Beber à Dor”, but, in truth, any song could have resulted in the same collective rapture. Ana Moura proved to have something as unique as it is universal: an ability to interpret that goes beyond gender codes, that overlaps with languages, that seems to foreshadow a new culture. A long-awaited future.
When she took the stage with Prince, Ana already had a baggage, a career, and a lifetime of immersion in that force – that of music – that always pulled her. Her relationship with music began long before she entered a studio: perhaps when, still in the womb, she heard her mother sing fado, but she also felt the sounds that came from the turntable at home playing records by Fausto and Ruy Mingas, by José Afonso and Bonga.
With her family roots in Africa, there may even be some distant echo, carried by her genetic heritage, that even before that moment had already pushed it back to what it is today. But there was a route, of course. She started by learning with the voice of her parents, who sang whenever they could. As a girl, at the same time she learned to read, she sang fado with the same effort and innocence with which she danced semba and kizomba.
Adolescence took her closer to Lisbon, to Carcavelos, where she enrolled in high school and in the Academia dos Amadores de Música, trying to use her voice in other contexts. Perhaps it wasn’t in keeping with her core, but it was certainly more in tune than what other boys and girls her age listened to, played, sang, and danced. Even so, the song “Povo que Lavas no Rio”, which started out as being from Amália but was claimed by António Variações, would also deserve your attention, placed among the hit versions that one would expect to hear reinterpreted by young people 15 or 16 years old.
Along with the deep and varied learning from her family, and with her school and academic experience, Ana would soon add another path that would prove important for her artistic formation. In a bar in Carcavelos, during a night of singing, she risks a fado without knowing that guitarist António Parreira is present. He immediately recognizes her untamed strength and the originality of her posture. There she begins her journey through fado houses, which culminates with Maria da Fé inviting her to perform regularly at her house, the mythical Senhor Vinho.
You could say that from that point on, the dice were thrown: Miguel Esteves Cardoso, a prestigious journalist who never hid an unreasonable passion for Amália, recognized the same brightness in Ana and dedicated heated words to her that had immediate effects, bringing her to publishers’ attention. Universal offered her entry into its catalog, beginning with Guarda-me a Vida na Mão, with Jorge Fernando, another “Amálian” jewel, taking over the production and putting his signature on a good part of themes.
It would be fair to write that the rest is history. With a vision that was already much broader than what fado alone could contain, Ana Moura approached flamenco and gypsy traditions, bringing Pedro Jóia and the Ciganos d’Ouro to her side. She clearly stated that she had no interested in dogma, nor in ideas kept under domes. That there is a world that can be new if someone has the courage to invent it.
Her successful debut albums, Aconteceu and Para Além da Saudade, allowed her to add success upon success and expand the map of her presentations, gaining a world for her voice. From the best fado houses in Lisbon, she moved to the Carnegie Hall in New York and from there to the Rolling Stones Project, an adventure led by the saxophonist of the mythical British band, Tim Ries, who mixed the songbook immortalized in the voice of Mick Jagger with performers selected from various parts of the world. Like Ana Moura, who offered her versions of “Brown Sugar” and “No Expectations”.
To say that the Stones themselves surrendered is not enough. In a performance with the “Satisfaction” group at Estádio Alvalade XXI, her stage presence and interpretation, with Jagger and company, of “No Expectations” exceeded everyone’s expectations. Soon there was the sign that Ana was in a category of her own. So apart, in fact, that in this album, in addition to a song that Tim Ries composed specifically for her, “Velho Anjo”, there was also a rare collaboration with one of those voices she had heard at home as a child, Fausto, who offered “E Viemos Nascidos do Mar”. Other contributions came from Amélia Muge, who wrote “O Fado da Busca”, and the Spaniard Patxi Andion, who sang “Vaga, no Azul Amplo Solta”. And, of course, this work also included “Os Búzios” by Jorge Fernando, one of the first great successes of this artist who would soon have the Coliseu dos Recreios at her feet and collect the prestigious Amália Rodrigues Prize.
Weeks and weeks and weeks at the top of the charts resulted from the very special empathy from the public, who found a clear symbol in it. And then came the album Leva-me aos Fados, which again featured pieces written by Jorge Fernando and Amélia Muge, as well as José Mário Branco, who repeated and even amplified his success with the album. The world continued to go to Ana Moura. Prince flew to Paris specifically to hear and meet her, and that meeting resulted in that special moment of 2010.
Ana has spent the past decade running, flying, always farther and higher, transforming herself as an artist, assuming the different skins and cultures that have always run through her. Shortly after this meeting with Prince, there was another, in Rio de Janeiro, with Gilberto Gil, with whom she gave voice to Chico Buarque’s “Fado Tropical”. Tropical fado: maybe a good label for what her voice contains — an Atlantic soul, bigger than the borders that saw her born.
And perhaps Desfado, her massive global success of 2012, contains another good label in the title, affirming her as someone who, being able to dismantle a language, is also capable of inventing something absolutely new. That this album has remained in the Portuguese sales charts almost continuously since it was released is a clear sign that there is still nothing like it, with such vigor and strength, something that only deep originality can conjure up.
In 2016 Ana released Moura, still her most recent full-length record, and continued to cross the world, filling the most prestigious rooms and performing with giants. To her experiences with Prince, the Rolling Stones, and Gilberto Gil, she added encounters with Caetano Veloso and Herbie Hancock. From fado to funk and soul, from flamenco to rock and jazz, from samba to the future, there doesn’t seem to be anything that Ana doesn’t naturally incorporate.
In 2016, in New York, once again at Carnegie Hall, Ana sang the Angolan theme “Birin Birin”, dedicating it to the memory of Prince, who had died a few days earlier. It was an emotional tribute that led the famous critic Ben Ratliff to write about her voice, trying, perhaps, to unravel the mystery of her appeal: “She has a strong and clear range of notes at the highest points of her contralto voice, on which she relies heavily, with powerful effects”. This powerful effect that the critic was trying to extract from the formula is, after all, the result of someone who never wanted to be stuck with a single idea. Her freedom is our future. And that was clearly felt when, with Branko’s production, she participated alongside Bonga, another echo of her childhood, in an anthology tribute to Amália, with an inventive version of “Valentim” with enough nerve to liven up the dances of a future without borders.
“She has a tremendous presence and voice,” said the Guardian in 2016, recognizing the strength that translates into talent, courage, and vision, and which has been the most important vector in a career that has never stopped growing toward the future.
And it was that same future that continued to unfold in her collaboration with Conan Osiris and Branko and that translated into the extraordinary “2020”. It is only 3 minutes and 33 seconds, the typical “canvas” of the pop song that for decades has been used by artists to imprint in our memories the words and melodies, sounds and rhythms that we use to celebrate our identities, to signal revolutions, to advance the times. But this song is different because it contains worlds inside. It contains bright ideas and exciting possibilities. It is the beginning of something new. The start of a future that wants to be bright. And it is Ana Moura who will illuminate it.