In a time when “taking risks” seems to be the verbal construction the artistic community uses the least, Ana Moura dropped everything and decided to get to know herself just as she is: a plural performer, in love with multiple sounds and rhythms that are never lacking in fado. In a time when “taking risks” seems to be the verbal construction the artistic community uses the least, Ana Moura left behind her label and management team, the ones that for years had set her fate for her and promised her success and held on tightly to the will of “flying out of here” to conquer her (so desired) freedom.
“There’s a moment when I realize it. I was recording a record that never came out. […] This was a couple of years ago, before the pandemic. […] I basically went from the tours to the album. I didn’t stop. I started asking the composers with whom I usually worked to send me music, and the truth is that I found myself, whenever I was in the studio, feeling extremely sad. I recall going to the bathroom and crying because I was recording a song with this amazing producer, but I wasn’t recording the album I wanted to make. I was so lost. I started crying in the bathroom and [then] started singing a fado called Nossa Senhora das Dores. I started singing that fado, which even has a good beat, with a certain gloom, due to the sadness I was feeling, the frustration. I felt like I was having the opportunity of recording with a great producer but that, in the end, it wasn’t the album I wanted. Not because of him [producer]. It just wasn’t it. I was realizing it wasn’t it. I was so completely lost. In the meantime, I go into the studio, call for my guitar player and say tell him: 'Ângelo, come here, play along with me on this fado’, only to give me some kind of motivation. I started singing the fado, and he joined me, and I [would tell him] ‘Play a little slower’, and he would accompany me in all that gloominess with which I sang. I believe it was then that I realized ‘Man, I’m really not doing what I want to do.’ And then the record went into a halt, not because of me, but now, looking back on it, I’m glad it did. In the meantime, I had some time without a lot of concerts, asked my manager to not book me anymore, but the truth is that requests kept coming and I find it extremely difficult to say no, I’m a workaholic, but in reality, the fact that I wasn’t booking too many concerts allowed me to slow down and live a little. So, I started meeting a few people, such as the producers of this album, and I understood that there were people out there with the same interests as me, that spoke the same language. And that gave me back some happiness and a sparkle in my eye because we looked for the same things. Suddenly, when the pandemic hit, we stopped, I called them and asked if they wanted to spend isolation together at my house, told them to bring their computer, so we could try something out, but I never thought it would end up becoming this record, and that I would be part of the production team, in songwriting or composing.”
This is how everything (re)started. With the realization that something was wrong. Ana Moura, who the Internet calls “the most successful and awarded fado singer of the XXI century”, needed to feel like freedom was slipping away from her fingers for her to hold on to what she values the most, her voice – a “thousand-year-old” voice, like Prince once told her, one of her best friends in the industry. Andorinhas, released at the end of April, is the first single from her new album, that should come out during Fall. It is also the unveiling of what will be a new Ana Moura. “I think I will always be a fado singer. I always have been and forever will be a fado singer. That will never be dissociated with me. In fact, this record of mine excludes nothing, it was ever inclusive, and all that represents is what I’m interested in, what is of interest to me at this time. […] But I more and more believe that I feel like an artist. Because that is present in every form I manifest myself through. This record is filled with stories, it is filled with symbology, and all of it is part of my art. Not only as a fado singer, not only as a singer in general but as an artist. And so, yes, I would like to be referred to as an artist.” We can imagine Carnegie Hall, where she has performed, with huge neon signs reading “Ana Moura, the artist formerly known as a fado singer?” We can because the singer’s drive is facing the infinite. By having the courage to forgo her label’s services and management team with whom she worked for years, and adventuring solo, creating a structure within which she is, finally, the commander-in-chief, Ana rebelled in a way not many others would have. That’s precisely what Andorinhas is about, according to an official release, “an anthem to freedom with a crioulo balance pointed towards freedom.” Can we also assume it is a collective… rebellious claim – hers and of those who follow her? “Yes, that is the correct analogy. […] People take advantage of the strength that lyrics and music have, and of its sense of freedom, to be able to fight, each one of them, for what they [believe] in. The truth is that we… It’s normal to sometimes lose our strength and stop believing [or thinking] ‘Ok, this is for that person, not for me.’ But if we’re persistent, we manage to fight for our freedom and fly to wherever we want. And that is what I aim to transmit with this song, for example. I don’t have a manager now, nor a label. And following Prince’s example, who was always a dear friend, and at a certain point left his label and manager, being his own manager, and he would tell me: ‘Ana, do the same. Don’t have a label…’ And I would say: ‘You’re Prince, I am just Ana Moura, from Portugal, over there.’ And I always thought I would never pull it off. And in fact, it was during a really complicated time for us all that my life changed completely and, suddenly, with all these fragilities, I felt like I could do it. This is it. Now it’s the time.”
It had to be the moment. Moura, edited in 2015, made it possible for her to continue to perform and fill spectacle rooms a little bit all over the world. But it was the interval between that album and the pandemic that allowed her to find herself. In the midst of all the noise around her, of all the pressure. She, who always wanted to write, and who would throw scraps of paper into her lost-files drawer, is now the co-author of many songs. Who would have known? “Although I thought I had no skills to write, now it has happened. I actually have not stopped for one second, and needed stimuli, to live other things, and study, more deeply, who I was as a person. Because throughout our life we find out different things within us. And the fact that I was always in concerts, out there in the world… I didn’t stop. And that also didn’t help me succeed in that reset and self-awareness process during that phase of my life. And the fact that I stopped for a little before the first wave of the pandemic gave me that space and time to understand myself.” And she reached various conclusions. The most important one is that a human being lives off of the constant search for inspiration – wherever that is. The album should showcase that more precisely, but it is something we can already sense in Andorinhas. “In fact, I believe that was always present, but [now you can feel it] more, since I am increasingly freer. And that is what I am after. I’m interested in exploring. And that can only be done with other people. I can’t discover things on my own, alone in my room. I can only grow when in contact with others. This structure I am creating has a purpose, the one of creating an ecosystem that allows for constant revolution by listening to each other, exchange ideas, reaching new places and exploring new roads. I am always looking for something, and that is what keeps me going.” Did it help to have Pedro da Linha and Pedo Mafama by your side, producing the record? “I met Pedro da Linha during the Noites de Enxufada and Mafama I saw him live and was instantly interested in his music. Then I arranged a meeting with him and realized we were interested in the same things. And with Pedro da Linha the situation was the same. I vibed with everything he produced. And Mafama also has an interest in multiculturality and exploration of Portuguese traditional music. Since this record of mine had northern influences, as you can sense in Andorinhas, the ‘ih ih’s are the screams of minhotas singers, like the fandango, fado, samba, kizomba, electronic, that then adds all this… These are influences I recognize in both Mafama and Pedro da Linha.”
Ana Moura’s change is almost lyrical, given how abrupt it was. You can feel it in her voice and smile that she can’t disguise every time someone mentions this “new life” of hers, you can see it in her look, more modern and bolder, without fear of taking risks. But can it be that, at a certain point, she hesitated, felt afraid? “I was so in love by what I was doing that it made me believe, because I was being super honest, and fully believing in that honesty. The producers that were working with me would ask ‘Ana, be careful, aren’t you afraid your audience will find it weird?’, because they come from a completely different field and showed some concern. I was strong though, I only felt unsure when I shared [the new songs] with exterior parties to all of this, who offered some resistance, and that’s what made me grow tougher and think ‘No, I’m going to do this my way, no middlemen, otherwise I will feel unsure forever.’ Because it’s normal for huge structures to think they know what an artist’s career should be, and that’s what made me want to take this step.” A step towards the search for the multiculturality that runs in her veins. “I’m very interested in it. I’m a daughter of multiculturality. We all are, aren’t we? That’s what I’m interested in and that’s what this album is about. The music video, indeed, is filled with symbology: the swallows, for example, are birds that come from the north of Africa and that announce the good weather. My family is multicultural: my mother is from Angola, my dad was born in Amarante, my mom’s dad is from Trás-Os-Montes, my mom’s mother is from Angola, her father from Alentejo, and that is what I am about, my multiculturality, and also being able to transmit what my life and childhood have always been about. […] Ever since I was a kid, I always had huge expectations and ran after my dreams. I’m someone who believes in things most people don’t believe in, and that was also what I wanted to transmit since there was this connection between me and children, who appear at the beginning of the video running around in the roof terraces. In the end, they find me and we’re both looking in the same direction, which is the future.”
Success is measured in other ways, now. “Nowadays, being successful means having this courage I never thought I had and feeling free to make my own choices. That is what success means to me. And also, of course, having built this amazing relationship with my audience. That also gave me a sense of security. I haven’t recorded in such a long time, I was going around performing live in fully booked rooms… […] Since everything is short-lived, people also grow tired of songs rather quickly. […] Success is exactly that, it’s having created this relationship with the public that makes me feel safe because they’re the ones that took me in all that I am. For instance, I am a shy person and some time ago someone asked me if I still was. I believe I still am shy, what I gained was safety, maturity, but shyness is a personality trait I don’t think you can just shake off.” The only thing one loses is time. Ever since she started to sing at Senhor Vinho, still a teenager, until now, Ana Moura hasn’t stopped. “I regret nothing because it was what brought me here. The only thing I’ve felt recently was, because I lost some people, to think I could have spent more time with them. But I believe this happens to everybody. We always think we have time.” The only thing we miss is innocence. The singer openly discusses her musical references, away from the intellectual stereotype that usually is associated with artists. Lately, she tells us that she has been listening to C. Tangana, Caetano Veloso, Portishead, Jorja Smith, La Mala Rodríguez… And could just as well listen to pop in the car, windows down, without feeling embarrassed. “That is what freedom meants to me. For such a long time, in my pre-teenage years, my friends liked a certain type of music and I [another] and would feel like ‘Ok, they think this is terrible’. We’ve all been there. But that is what freedom is to me, naturally responding to what we like or dislike. If I don’t understand the point of an amazing art piece, if it gives me nothing, I will have to be honest and say it is giving me nothing, and perhaps will have to go through a certain process until it does. Or it never will. The same goes for music. If a song a lot of people don’t enjoy, gives me [something], then I want to feed on it… I have a great fear of losing that enchantment. I want to hold on to all things and draw beauty from them. Everything that can carry beauty, I will look for them, even if I don’t understand it at first. […] There are beautiful things everywhere, we’re the ones that need to be receptive to find that beauty in them. And that is what I want to do forever.”
Translated from the original, as part of Vogue Portugal's Music Issue, published in june 2021.
Full credits and story on the print version.