For 25 years Madredeus have been singing in Portuguese all over the world. They have a sound all of their own; a combination of folk and erudite music. A unique identity that has been forged around Pedro Ayres de Magalhães.
It’s been twenty-five years since their first record and their early concerts, and Pedro Ayres de Magalhães, the group’s founder, has good reason to be happy. “What’s most important is that we have never rested on our laurels. We can do something long-term or something sporadic. In my case, I always wanted to work on a long-term project, a Portuguese group that would reach the whole world. Even before Madredeus, I already thought that was possible.” They had already been working together for over two years when they put on their first concerts at the end of 1987 – one in Porto and the other in Lisbon. “Madredeus has always been a project that has needed time, planning and discussion. This is the only way we can always have an original sound, make good records, and put on shows that are even better than the records.”
Over this quarter of a century, group members have come and gone. Only Pedro Ayres de Magalhães has remained. He and the music of Madredeus. A sound so unique that it is immediately recognisable. And, although they sing in Portuguese, this has never been an obstacle, as their music crosses borders and is heard all the way from Asia to America. “I admit that our music is always a little strange for someone who’s hearing it for the first time. It’s not fado, it’s not folk. It sounds like a poetry recital. It takes some time for people to get into it, even in Portugal. But that is the time we share with the audience and there comes a moment when the audience understands everything, and is moved by the musical interpretation.”
A composer and a poet, Pedro sees himself as an author. “I think I’m more of an author than an artist.” For years, he spent more time in hotel rooms and on planes than he did at home, and yet he never stopped writing or composing. “Even when we were on the road, we were always playing and rehearsing, and inspiration would strike at those moments. So, it didn’t really make a difference if I was at home in Lisbon, or in a hotel room in Tokyo or Buenos Aires. There’s nothing more inspiring than playing because that’s where new ideas come from. My guitar is always with me, no matter where I am, and I often entertain myself by writing new songs.”
The spell of the stage
“I rest during concerts,” he assures us. Being on stage with his classical guitar is always a source of pleasure. “You’re showered with energy! So, we’ve always been very careful about the places where we perform.” And they have played at the best and most beautiful concert halls around the world. You need silence to listen to Madredeus. Silence and time. To spend two hours at a concert. There are never any crowds waiting for them. “We play in halls that seat two or three thousand people. For us, that’s ideal. It’s very rare for us to play at festivals, because that’s also not in keeping with the spirit of our music; there are always lots of other sounds and noises,” admits Pedro.
He is not worried about releasing an album every year. In 25 years as the group’s leader – Pedro doesn’t like that title, he prefers to be called the founder of the group – he has been on five world tours, all of which were long and lasted for two or three years. “It’s the opposite of showbiz. We never go back to the same city with the same repertoire. Each tour is different to the previous ones. We play other songs,” he says.
Their first show abroad was in Italy, and then they never stopped. “It was unbelievable! We were all very young, I was the oldest in the group, and suddenly we had a very professional agenda that would tell us that in a year’s time we would be playing in Bulgaria or Colombia.” For years, Pedro Ayres de Magalhães spent more time on the road with Madredeus than he did at home. “I didn’t see my friends or spend time with my family; I was hardly ever at home. It was very difficult, but also very good. After all, I was doing what I wanted to, what I loved the most,” he confesses. After recording the soundtrack for Wim Wender’s film Lisbon Story in 1994, they were booked for more and more concerts. “It was probably the most popular film about Lisbon ever seen around the world and, of course, it brought us a lot of exposure.”
Ten years after their first concerts, some of the group’s members left. “It was never because of disagreements, but because they wanted to do different things. They wanted solo careers, they wanted to get married or spend more time in Portugal. Nobody ever left because they had a falling out with the others. In fact, looking back today, I realise that nothing serious ever happened among the members of Madredeus. On the rare occasions that we did disagree, it was always about unimportant things that were quickly worked out.” The first to leave the project was Rodrigo Leão, who was later followed by Francisco Ribeiro and Gabriel Gomes. For the next ten years, there was a new line-up with the arrival of Carlos Maria Trindade, José Peixoto and Fernando Júdice. Only Pedro Ayres de Magalhães, on the guitar, and lead singer Teresa Salgueiro remained from the original group.
A new voice
In 2006, José Peixoto, Fernando Júdice and Teresa Salgueiro left the group to work on new projects. “There was still plenty to do with Madredeus, there was no reason to put an end to a group that still had a long road ahead of it,” Pedro declares. It was in this interim that he founded ‘Banda Cósmica’ together with Carlos Maria Trindade. “It was a project with ten musicians and five singers, and it included Brazilian and African musicians.” They recorded three albums and put on hundreds of concerts. Along the way, Pedro Ayres de Magalhães also had time to be one of the main driving forces behind ‘Resistência’, a project that brought together Tim from ‘Xutos & Pontapés’, Olavo Bilac from ‘Santos & Pecadores’, and Miguel Ângelo from ‘Delfins’. But he never stopped writing or composing songs for a unique repertoire that goes by the name of Madredeus. “When Teresa left, we didn’t think about replacing her immediately; rather we thought about looking for voices,” he explains. It was a lengthy process that only came to an end in 2011 upon the arrival of Beatriz Nunes. “Despite being very young, Beatriz has already completed her course in classical singing and is currently studying jazz. And that’s exactly what Madredeus needs at the moment,” he explains. In order to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the group has a new album and a new tour. It’s called Essência – a collection of 12 songs from several previous tours, with new arrangements and a different show. Madredeus also includes Jorge Varrecoso, António Figueiredo and Luís Clode.
Pedro Ayres de Magalhães knows that their audience is largely made up of people aged 40 to 50, who go to concerts and often take their children, too. He knows this, because they tell him so. When he’s on stage, he looks at the audience as a whole. “I can’t look at anyone in particular, or get to see who the people are that are sitting in front of me. That distracts me!” Twenty-five years after their first concert on 20th November 1987, at the Carlos Alberto Auditorium in Porto, Pedro Ayres de Magalhães and Madredeus will once again be heard here and there around the world, with concerts scheduled until the end of 2013.
by Maria João Vieira