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Gisela João and Acoustic Trio at Schimmel Center

Ernest Barteldes By

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Gisela João and Acoustic Trio
Schimmel Center at Pace University
New York, NY
February 25, 2017

The evening, which was part of the Fado Festival in New York (a multi-venue event dedicated to disseminate fado—Portugal's most traditional genre—in the United States) began with a set of traditional instrumental fados performed by the acoustic trio formed by Ricardo Parreira (12-string Portuguese guitar), Nelson Aleixo (classical guitar) and Francisco Gaspar (acoustic bass). The songs showed the trio's dexterity, focusing on Parreira's Portuguese guitar with Aleixo and Gaspar providing the background, except for the final number, when all members took individual solos.

After a brief intermission, Gisela João—on her New York debut—took to the stage with the backing of the Acoustic Trio and kicked the set off with "Madrugada Sem Sono," a track from her eponymous release (Montepio, 2013) whose lyrics speak of suffering from insomnia over a broken heart. João boasts a dramatic voice and strong delivery, bringing lots of emotion to each note, moving her body to the rhythm of each song, especially during instrumental interludes. She followed with "Vieste do Fim do Mundo," a down-tempo number about an unexpected love affair.

She briefly introduced herself in English and invited the audience to sing along or dance as if "we were all friends in my living room" and went on to remove her high-heels so she could move about the stage more freely. Among the highlights of the evening was her highly personal interpretation of "As Rosas Não Falam," a tune written by Brazilian composer Cartola originally penned as a ballad, played here as a slow fado with a few lyrical changes adapted to Lusophone listeners (the meanings of some words from Brazilian Portuguese differ slightly from how the language is spoken in Portugal.)

Another great moment came with "O Senhor Extraterrestre," an up-tempo romp with humorous lyrics about a conversation with an extraterrestrial creature who'd come to Lisbon to learn about the local customs. As their dialogue continues, the visitor has a bit too much to drink and leaves with his flying saucer in a zig-zag pattern. She closed the concert with a very touching take on Chavela Vargas' "La Llorona" (the sole tune not in Portuguese), explaining that some songs can be seen as fados even if that was not the original intention—fado is, according to her, "about the feeling" and not just the genre.

Gisela João charmed the audience, explained the meaning of each song before singing it and also talked about the importance of keeping fado alive. The singer and the trio (that also performs on her albums) had great chemistry together, and the audience responded quite well to the set, clapping along to the more up-tempo numbers and often singing along to the better-known tunes.

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