Most people are coming here to enjoy their holidays. The culture in Madeira is usually not on top of the list.
Many people who enjoy their holidays on a subtropical island like Madeira do not really realise that there is life beyond the list of typical attractions for tourism. Now that alone, in Madeira, is quite rich. There are the many Levada walks you can walk. There are bathing facilities and beaches. And there are plenty of possibilities to wine and dine. On top of that, most people who work in tourism speak several languages. The scenery is breathtaking, there are boat trips to be made. You can go whale watching, and you can even visit the nature reserve of the Ilhas Desertas.
When visiting Madeira, culture usually comes to mind as an afterthought, perhaps on a rainy day. And yes, there are plenty of things that may interest you. There are numerous musea on the island, and there is a lot of historic architecture to be seen. But performing arts usually have to take the back seat in the tourist’s vehicle. One exception may be the world-famous Madeiran Mandolin Orchestra, with regular performances in the lovely municipal theatre of Funchal, the ‘Teatro Baltazar Dias” on the Avenida Arriaga. Because I am a Fado lover, I have found out a long time ago that this art form is alive and kicking on the island. Though ‘born’ in Lisbon’, it has spread nationwide, especially since the Fado has been put on the UNESCO list of immaterial cultural heritage.
sabor a fado
Through the family that runs our favourite Fado house in Funchal, we have become much more aware of all kinds of musical manifestations going on here, especially in the last two or three years. Though usually still playing and singing in Alexandra Sousa’s Fado house, son Pedro Marques and daughter-in-law Sofía Ferreira have spread their wings and are now performing more and more outside, and they can regularly be seen and heard all over the island, or on the TV station RTP Madeira.
Now that slowly the cultural life is picking up speed again after the state of emergency and the lockdown that came with it. We notice that some municipalities organise cultural manifestations to attract tourists and residents. Last week, we went to a concert at sundown in Ribeira Brava, where Sofia Ferreira and Pedro Marques, together with their usual guitar players Emanuel Faria and Miguel Marques gave a seafront concert against the backdrop of the ocean, under a spectacular sky at sundown. Good to see how the seats were spread quite far apart. The audience had no problem maintaining social distance, without the whole event feeling unnatural or cold. Have a look at a fragment below.
quarantine sessions: free online performances
As we have become friends with the Sabor a Fado family over the years, we were very concerned when the pandemic got the island in its grip and restaurants and bars were ordered to close. Financial support from the regional government came. But for many performing artists it was difficult or even impossible to access , as many have irregular gigs and cannot produce proof of a regular income.
Then, a very corageous performing artist, Miguel Pires took an initiative that will have a lot of effect on the long run. He started the Madeiran Quarantine Sessions. Many performing artists, all from Madeira, each gave an online free concert and so gave us a moment every day to look forward to in the early days of the pandemic, when we were living under the State of Emergency. Of course, everyone has his or her own preferences, so not every performer was my favourite. But I watched them all regardlessly, and I was amazed by the incredible amount of talented people in our little paradise.
Conversa de Artista
After the state of emergency was lifted, Miguel Pires morphed the Quarantine Sessions into regular interviews with the artists of the archipelago. Great to listen to and to look at, less aimed at foreign visitors as it was in Portuguese. But for those who understand the language it was a boost to the insight and understanding of cultural life on the island. Also, it gave a glimpse into the personal views and even lives of the artists in the limelight. It was great fun to see the performing artists gain confidence and professionality during all these internet performances and interviews.
Last but not least, we were presented with another internet series, this time in Youtube. Visitas Cantadas. I have dedicated an article to this, which you can read here. A beautiful combination of performing artists and places to go and see.
All these free concerts, entertaining interviews and beautifully wrapped up performances all held the same message: Look how rich Madeira is. So many performing artists you may never have seen or heard. But also: our performing artists have no income. But still they keep performing just to not lose their connection to the audience. Then, the regional government launched a campaign: Use o que é o nosso. Use what is ours. In other words: buy local. Support small businesses. Buy local fruit and vegetables from the farmer’s markets. And that’s when we got the message. We already buy at the farmer’s market. We prefer smaller supermarkets and visit our local bar for a lovely poncha. But what about the performing artists?
We decided there was only one thing we could do. Hire them for a private performance. So we dropped the idea to a number of friends. What if we would try and hire some local artists to perform for us. The idea was met with approval. That made us get things moving. We decided that of course, we wanted Sofia and Pedro. But because Fado is not everyone’s cup of tea, we wanted another kind of music as well. Easy, because the delightful Tiago Sena Silva had caught our eye (and ear) during the internet performances.
That made our life easy. I just had to call Sofia, and she took care of getting a quote from Tiago as well. I’ll just say that it was very affordable. We decided to do it before july 1st. On that date, flights to Madeira were planned to resume and we did not yet know what the effect on the island would be pandemic-wise. (it turned out to be fine, but I’ll write about that in a next article).
So on june 24th, we all gathered at our local Bar Formiga – the one that makes the best Poncha of West Madeira – and enjoyed a bright and sunny afternoon of music, laughter and poncha, in the excellent company of friends and friends-of-friends.
Everyone had to contribute all of €10, and some gave a little more so that we could pay the performers a little more than they quoted. I have taken my time preparing a small video impression. You can tell we could not offer the artists the professional setting and acoustics they deserve, and yes, there was some background noise, but everyone loved being there and it is an event we are certainly going to try and repeat. We love to relive those moments, the visible joy in stark contrast with the seriousness of the pandemic that darkening the world outside of the oasis called Madeira. Sit back and enjoy the music, but maybe keep your eyes open to see what we mean. Next time, make sure and join in if you are on the island. Everyone is welcome.
We shall continue to enjoy and support the performing artists on the island. You can do the same by just go and listen to the music. Many restaurants have musicians performing in the summer season. I do realise that it is not always easy to find out where. For now, the best way to find things out is to follow the Madeira Island News, as Tobi picks up on these news snippets and publishes them continuously.
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