Passion and pathos, for a good cause
Unity — What is the fiery, passionate soul music of Portugal doing in rural Waldo County on a midwinter’s night? Raising funds for New Hope for Women … and making a case for music as the universal language.
Fado purveyors Tremolino will perform Friday night, Jan. 31, at the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts, 42 Depot St. The evening will begin at 7 p.m. with tapas, drinks and a silent auction, followed by a two-set performance of music with improv by local dancer Shana Bloomstein. Dessert will be served during intermission. Tickets are $15, available via New Hope by calling 596-7147 or visiting newhopeforwomen.org.
“You really get a lot for the buck,” said Leslie Stein of Freedom, Tremolino’s lead vocalist and a guidance counselor at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.
Stein, who also plays guitar, is joined in Tremolino by guitarist Jim Macdonald of Burnham, who has explored many kinds of music; Chris Marshall of Montville, who has played in a Russian balalaika group, a Javanese gamelan and a Bulgarian dance band; and Doug Ronco of Winterport, who has been playing guitar and bass regionally since the 1950s.
Stein and Macdonald, who refers to himself as a graduate of the Allman Brothers School of Endless Guitar solos, have performed together as a folk duo for years and were looking to shake things up a bit, Stein said. Then she received a fado recording as a gift.
“When I listened to it, I kind of swooned. It was so overwhelming and beautiful and really spoke to me,” she said.
Fado — “fate” or “destiny” — is a Portuguese song and dance genre with a Moorish, and maritime, origin. It is usually sung with guitar-like instruments, which play cross-rhythms against the vocal melody. Fado songs are often about the sea and sorrow. Stein decided she wanted to sing fado; almost immediately, doubts began to rise in her mind. She is not a Portuguese speaker, after all, and rural Maine is as culturally as it is physically distant from the Iberian Peninsula.
“I thought, who do I think I am? But the music is just so meaningful to me, personally … the melancholy and sadness, I understand it,” she said.
In fact, she thinks most people understand fado when they hear it, whether or not they understand Portuguese.
“There is a strong theme of longing, but it’s not all sad music. It’s very much about being human,” she said.
In addition to fado, Tremolino performs some Spanish numbers and some blues, the latter a favorite of Macdonald’s. They rehearse weekly at Stein’s house and perform several times a year; last spring, Tremolino was part of the Belfast Free Range Music Festival. The band’s gigs often are benefits.
“We really enjoy doing a benefit, it’s really our raison d’etre, and New Hope is such a fantastic organization,” Stein said.
New Hope for Women serves Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Knox and Sagadahoc counties, offering support to people affected by domestic violence in all its forms. New Hope also provides educational resources for the public, schools, other domestic violence-related agencies, hospitals and medical offices.
Stein said the silent auction, which will offer goods and services donated by local businesses, has “some really great stuff.” And Bloomstein, who has performed with Tremolino before, will create some great stuff of her own.
“Jim and Shana are going to do a piece together, both guitar and dance improvised on the spot,” Stein said.
The group has a few new songs in process, which may make it to the UCCPA stage. Stein said she is “always cracking the whip for new songs,” although acquiring one takes a less aggressive approach. Basically, they listen to recordings from Portugal and other places where fado is performed. Coming up with the lyrics — and, if possible, English translations — is hard work.
“Chris has a friend who is a retired Portuguese professor and I work with him. But I don’t speak Portuguese … mostly I do it by being a parrot,” Stein said.
She reiterated her belief that the soul of fado is conveyed by much more than its lyrics.
“The melodies are engaging and a little hypnotic,” she said.
The group does not take a folkloric approach to performance, although Stein admits she wishes the men would wear the hats favored by old-school fado musicians. Of course, traditional female fado singers wear a black veil, which she has resisted thus far. Things could change, though.
“If they wear the hats, I’ll wear the veil,” she said.