I also recommend getting Nuno Cristo’s first CD, Minha terra banzambira.
Nuno Cristo Travels in Lusomania: welcome aboard his musical Caravela
Reviewed by Emanuel Melo
On Wednesday, April 12, 2006, I went to the very cool Lula Lounge to
experience the wonderful magic of Nuno Cristo in concert as he launched his
new CD Travels in Lusomania.
I lived for many years just one block north of Dundas and Brock, a
predominantly Portuguese neighbourhood going back to the late 1970’s and
80’s. There were some Portuguese grocery corner stores, a couple of bakeries, clothing stores, barber shops. However, Portuguese café culture was no where to be seen in those days. Only the macho males had it good with local billiard halls and drinking holes. Today, it’s a very different story. Both Portuguese men and women enjoy going out for a social time at one of the many Portuguese bakery-cafes found throughout Portuguese neighbour-hoods in Toronto. Padaria Brazil is one of these places and is located right across the street from the Lula lounge. It was orig-inally a little place where
those of us who lived in the area went to buy our papo secos, corn bread and
other Portuguese baked goods. In recent years the bakery has expan-ded to
include a sit down restaurant area, where you can watch Portuguese news and soap operas via satellite while enjoying a Bifana (delicious pork sandwich)
and a galao (coffee with milk) or simply trying one of the many regional small
desserts beautifully displayed behind a long glass counter.
The Lula lounge space, I remember, used to be at one time a big dining hall
for Portuguese weddings and baptism receptions. It’s my first time coming
here tonight and I find inside the Lula lounge a quietly sophisticated and
relaxed atmosphere with tables for dining and a floor for dancing and a stage
for performing. All I can think of is “why did my parents leave this area
years ago?” it is now all so hip to visit Portuguese pockets, like this one at Dundas and Sheridan, near Dufferin Street, that I miss not living in the area.
But never mind, I’m back here now in my old neighbourhood and I’m about to
experience a deep connection with the music of my culture. While people are
still busy chatting, Nuno Cristo casually and without fanfare enters the
lounge making his way up to the stage playing Portuguese bagpipes: Alvorada, a traditional piece when the village piper would go around early in the morning
announcing the day of festival. Then, silence from the audience. Nuno’s
playing calls us to enter a musical journey into the heart of Portuguese
traditional music. He takes us, I’d like to image, in one of the old
Caravelas, the old ships of the age of Portuguese exploration, back to far
away places with his haunting music.
Nuno’s extraordinary humble stage presence, free of all pretence and
exaggeration, quietly draws us in through music and sound. I am grateful at
this time for my Portuguese background because I can experience the music not as something foreign and new but as something deeply connected to my past. I know many of the traditional pieces he plays, and the lyrics, sung in a strong yet gentle voice without any affectation or dramatization but simply and pure, bring to life old folk tunes that I’ve known all my life but rarely experience hearing them live. I hear them mostly in my head, songs my grandmother taught me, songs I heard in childhood. These songs are here now, sung live, across the ocean from where they came from, bringing past to present and creating a new musical reality.
Nuno takes the time between songs to tell us about the instruments he’s
playing, to talk about the music, its history; this intimate act of teaching
draws us all in, those of Portuguese speaking background and those others
present who are here because they love world music but don’t share in the
language nor the cultural heritage. To each of us, I think, Nuno, creates a
space of understanding for the music he plays so well. He is accompanied on
vocals and on instruments. The ensemble sing As armas do meu Adufe, another traditional folk song played on a square drum called the adufe. The musical selection showcases different regions of Portugal; there are also original pieces composed by the musically talented Nuno Cristo. On of my many favourite songs tonight is Terra do Bravo, a strong vocal piece with
Portuguese guitar, classical guitar, and cavaquinho. I have been playing this
track off his Travels in Lusomania CD every day. I highly recommend that you
get this CD. Don’t let the cover jacket scare you; it’s a wonderful
collection of music from the heart of Portugal.
What I found extraordinary about his concert, his musical offerings, is that
instead of keeping it all traditional Portuguese, Nuno, who also loves and
plays African music, draws from the lusophone musical gallery and now takes us on a travel to different lands where Portuguese is also spoken. New players come up on stage during the second set for Rovambira Zimbabwean Mbira music.
I recommend getting Nuno Cristo’s first CD, Minha terra banzambira, to hear
the wonderful sounds of this music. I am amazed by this man’s ability to move effortlessly from one musical tradition to another in a marriage of musical souls, if you will, reconciling a political history of shameful conquerors and oppressed peoples that has been Portugal’s past history of colonization, and by the music he offers an ambassador’s good will by focusing on what is good and beautiful out of this heritage of the past.
I must not forget to mention the wonderful opening act of the night, the Grupo de Cavaquinhos da A.M. Barcelos (Portuguese Ukulele Ensemble), made up mostly of young children, who filled the entire stage in their white shirts and black pants uniform, to display their talent in showcasing traditional folk songs like O Malhao, Malhao and Alecrim aos Molhos, two of the most traditional tunes anyone who grew up in Portuguese culture will know. Although these numbers were played with only the cavaquinho, those of us who knew the words to the songs could sing them in our heads, taking us back to our grandparent’s time.
Although we sat in the enclosed darkly lit space called Lula lounge, Nuno took
us on a travel through two continents and let our minds imagine beyond space and time. The concert ended by 11 pm. We had almost three hours of a rare musical experience that only those of us who live in Toronto can find. Pity that more people didn’t come out to participate in this musical journey.
Published in 'twas review, July 2006 Vol. 3 Issue One