“Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.”
Victor Hugo

Should anyone wonder, upon hearing Elsa Gomes sing, how such a voice could arise from a small body, they will soon understand that it is not the size of the body which defines the greatness of a singer’s voice, but the depth of their soul. A greatness revealed when, singing, Elsa fills not only the space around her but also the hearts of those who listen.

Born in Lagny-sur-Marne, France, upon arriving in Portugal, the eight year-old, short-haired girl didn’t master the Portuguese language. This didn’t prevent her, however, from succumbing to the charms of Amália Rodrigues on an August afternoon in her grandmother’s house, while watching television. Amália, herself short-haired with rough lines on her face, sang the story of Casa da Mariquinhas in “Vou Dar De Beber à Dor”. The sight fascinated young Elsa and Amália would become, from that moment, her muse and teacher.

Fate would wield its hand in Elsa’s journey who, like Amália, wasn’t born from, nor for fado; it was music that drove her. Either rehearsing popular music over recorded cassettes or participating in folk music festivals; accompanying Joaquim Barreiro’s Conjunto Alegria – whose son, Quim, was shaping the popular music landscape in Portugal – or performing at weddings and other events; or still, with her violin in hand, uncovering the world of classical compositions; little Elsa’s days were filled with music.

But there was fado on the horizon and a long, unpredictable road laid ahead. Determined to go the distance, Elsa set forth and, step by step, her achievements amassed.

After her guest appearance in the premiere of the theatrical revue “Já Viram Isto”, at Teatro Maria Vitória, in four short years Elsa would earn her degree at the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa; become a tutor at the Conservatório Regional de Artes do Montijo, as well as the Projecto Orquestra Geração of the Conservatório Nacional’s Escola de Música; begin her master’s degree in Musical Theatre at the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema; and join the Gulbenkian Choir.

The road was long, but the will to learn and grow gave no signs of stalling. Walking through streets of Lisbon, Elsa absorbed the old city and peeked into its fado houses, fascinated by what she heard coming from doors slightly ajar. Whoever steps onto a stage, or there strives to make art come alive, will find its exigencies constant and tremendous. Why fado? Because, beyond its seriousness, the shawls, the large queen-like earrings, fado isn’t glaring but subtle. Because it challenges one to find the story behind poem. Because it takes more than being a singer to tell it.

So, in the same year Elsa joins Lisbon’s Escola Superior de Música’s Singing class, her debut album is released – her affirmation as a fadista, or fado singer. The statement was heard and, soon, she would be invited to perform at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Summit in Viana do Castelo. As she went

 

on stage and sang “Havemos de ir a Viana” (We Shall Go To Viana), the entire crowd gathered at Praça da Liberdade was brought to sheer rapturous delight. Even though the stage had become Elsa’s livelihood, she couldn’t have imagined the impact this moment would have in her journey. The stage earned new significance; it was there that Elsa would be able to achieve her true – and priceless – purpose: to thrill us with her stories.

Harnessed from the depths of matured souls and wrapped in the same joviality with which a child looks upon the world, the fado of Elsa Gomes doesn’t settle for the words. Rather, it lays on them an invitation to a journey in the company of her voice. To accept this invitation is to accept the purity of the friendship that extends a hand to stop a fall, or ignite a passion. And smiling throughout.

“Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.”

– Victor Hugo

If Elsa’s path exhibits the wisdom behind Victor Hugo’s words, her achievements cannot fit within the physical boundaries of a stage. They’re found in the memories of those who listen to her sing, and in the limitless potential of any heart that opens up to her voice. It isn’t, therefore, surprising that the once estranged, short-haired girl, now a long-skirted woman who finds stories between a poem’s verses, is known through northern lands as “The Fadista”.

António Rodrigues
Charneca de Caparica
January 2017

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