In the Alfama district, in the “costa do Castelo” or further down, almost hidden in the small passage going down the stairs from largo das portas do sol, you are captivated by Ruca’s voice and his fado.
Originally from Leiria, Ruca Fernandes discovers fado around the age of 20 by pure chance. During a wedding banquet, he attends a fado show, and it is immediately love.
From that moment he begins to listen to his father’s fado records, to learn the words and start singing. The first few times he does it in public will be in Karaoke evenings, when he discovers that fado is also available among the music for karaoke and he begins to sing.
Fifteen years ago he discovers fado vadio (“vagabond” fado, the one traditionally sung in taverns), and decides to try. He learns a fado, “A moda das tranças pretas” and shows up one evening in the Tasca dos chicos and asks to sing. A few minutes to agree on the tonality with the guitarists and his voice expands throughout the club.
Ruca begins to sing fado more frequently and begins to have contacts with other fadistas and this is how in 2007 he performs in the “Grande noite de Lisboa”, a special show dedicated to Fado. He also participates in two singing competitions, “Concurso de fado de Odemira” and “Costa da Caparica” and wins them both.
Ruca also begins to participate in guided tours dedicated to fado, where the emotion of his voice joins the story of the guides.
I remember the first time I heard him sing: it was in a fado restaurant, where Ruca sang accompanying himself on the guitar as he still does today. I remember the emotion of that voice, and how his skill struck the tourists I accompanied that evening. When I met him again and got to know him better, I discovered that behind his being an artist there is an extremely shy person.
And then I ask him how he does it, how he manages to dominate his shyness and sing in front of so many people. And Ruca confesses to me that Fado is almost a therapy.
The moment he takes his guitar and begins to sing, he enters another dimension, transports himself to a different plane, where there is no shyness, where there are no people watching him, where there is only him and his music. And it is no coincidence, he explains to me, that the types of fado he most loves to sing are the most melancholy and sad. After all, in that way he manages to express what he feels, channeling his soul into that music. Because singing fado means exposing yourself to the emotion, your own and those who listen to you, without filters. After all, in fado, even before the technique, the soul is important, and the ability to convey one’s emotion.
When I explain fado to someone who has never listened to it, I always say that understanding the words is not important, and neither is the fact that the singer has perfect vocal technique. What really matters is that whoever is singing is able to do it without barriers, without filters, so that those who listen to him can feel his soul.
Ruca agrees that fado is a universal music, which everyone can understand without grasping the words and their meaning, because it is pure emotion.
And personally I know this feeling well because I myself have been moved many times, often to tears, listening to fado, even at first without speaking Portuguese. And with Ruca it happened to me more than once. Because when he sings, he feels that he does it with his heart. For him, music is everything.
When I ask him what you feel when he manages to move people like this, he tells me that he feels he has done a good job, because it means that his music has reached the hearts of people, to their most intimate part.
As we speak, he occasionally interrupts himself, grabs his guitar and begins to sing. As if his soul was “possessed” by fado and he couldn’t stop to sing it. Our conversation is pleasantly interrupted several times by these moments, in which, in order to explain himself better, Ruca has to do it through music.
And then he starts playing, closes his eyes, and his voice begins to echo in the streets of Alfama, singing a fado, “Com que voz”, poem by the great poet Luis Vaz de Camões, sung by the famous Amalia Rodrigues.
And people stop, one person after another, fascinated by that music and above all by Ruca’s voice.
It’s been a few days since Ruca started singing on the street. There is less work in fado restaurants during this period. But Ruca does it above all to be in contact with people, basically fado is also that, to transmit emotion by singing among the people, in an absolutely intimate atmosphere.
Ruca confesses to me that his greatest dream would be to be invited to sing fado abroad, to be an ambassador of this music. And we wish him that. After all, many things have changed since his beginnings: now we can often hear his voice on Radio Amalia (radio dedicated to fado, n.d.r.) and has already released two CDs, in 2008 and 2018.
But there are always new challenges awaiting him. Ruca tells me that every day for him is a personal challenge, with himself, to improve himself, to be able to reach more and more technique, sing increasingly complicated fado, transmit more and more emotion.
Ruca tells me that at the beginning of him he had gone to a fado house to ask for information on where to study him and the porter of that house had asked him what he could help him with. Ruca had told him that he was looking for a school to learn fado. And then that gentleman had told him that “fado cannot be learned, you have to be born fadista”.
Certainly, as Ruca says, you need to know how to perfect and take care of your technique too, but I agree with that gentleman “You have to born Fadista”.
There is an emotion in singing fado that you either have or don’t have. And you can’t learn that. And Ruca has it.
Just look at the atmosphere that has created around us in the meantime. The sun has set, it is becoming night in the streets of Alfama.
In the small passage between two streets where we stopped to talk to Ruca, a dim light comes on. Ruca is singing “Gente da minha terra”, one of my favorite fado. On the stairs leading down to Alfama people begin to stop. A small crowd has formed, but all is silent. Nobody dares to interrupt the magic that Ruca has managed to create. As if at that moment everyone was holding their breath, struck by that emotion that Ruca’s voice transmits. He continues to sing, with his eyes closed. He doesn’t know how many people stopped, he doesn’t see them. At that moment there is no room for anything or anyone: there is only him and his voice, his music, his fado.