Portuguese vocalist Dona Rosa is among fado's most notable characters, set apart as much for her powerful artistry as her incredible story.
Born in 1957, Rosa spent her early life in grinding poverty. Rendered blind by a serious case of meningitis at the age of four, her prospects were slim. Her family, whose main income was begging, was able to provide her with some education, offering literacy in both written word and the folk music of Portugal. When she came of age, Rosa traveled to Lisbon, where she earned her way begging and hustling in the streets among the city's blind and homeless. The day came when she learned she could survive much better singing in the streets than selling magazines and lottery tickets. Accompanying herself with a triangle given to her by a friend, she performed the folkloric fado repertoire she'd grown up hearing. Over the years Rosa became well known throughout Lisbon, though still quite poor. In 1999 a Viennese producer was charged with finding a fado singer for a special production to be filmed in Marrakesh. He had seen Rosa performing in Lisbon years before, and went to great pains to contact her with the invitation that would change the course of her musical career. Her debut record, Dona Rosa, was released in 2000, featuring guest artists like the famed accordionist Ricardo Dias and the Bulgarian Voices Angelite. Rosa's powerful, haunting voice captured the attention of listeners all over the world. A follow-up record, Segredos, was released in 2003. Her 2007 release Alma Livre featured some of Portugal's most famous folk musicians, including Amália Rodrigues and Carlos Gonçalves. As on previous recordings, on Alma Livre Rosa uses her artistic success to shine light on those who endure poverty. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez, Rovi