SHIRAOI, HOKKAIDO – Hideko Tsukida appears more spirited the more she sings on stage, and shows no signs of fading strength in her fight against cancer.
The 65-year-old is one of the few Japanese singers of “fado,” a style of traditional Portuguese music. She received the Order of Merit from the president of Portugal in 2010 for her contribution to promoting the genre.
“Fado is a melancholic kind of singing about the past that can never be reclaimed or about those who are departing from you,” she said after her latest live performance. “But when you listen to it, you feel more energetic and that is one great thing about fado.”
Tsukida is currently undergoing treatment at a hospice in Muroran, southern Hokkaido, having been diagnosed in March with lung cancer and told she may not be able even to survive until next year.
She has also been suffering from fibromyalgia syndrome, a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, for the past several years.
Out of hospice, however, Tsukida held live events in mid-October in Shiraoi, also southern Hokkaido, and Sapporo, performing 11 songs with two guitarists, Takaya Watanabe and Tadanori Tanaka.
“My voice may not be as strong as before, but I see a whole new world that I had never seen before,” she said. “Singing fado is to express that,” she said.
Tsukida was born in Tokyo and studied literature at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto during the turbulent days of student protests against the Vietnam War and the Japan-U.S. security treaty.
After leaving university without a degree, she first pursued a career as an actress and a French chanson singer.
In due course, she encountered Portuguese music and was fascinated by the voice of the late fado queen Amalia Rodrigues.
Tsukida went to Lisbon University to study the language and had the opportunity to perform fado at local theaters and on TV, making her name known to local fado fans.
In the early 1990s, her performance during an arena festival in Portugal won her great acclaim, with the audience calling for an encore. Rodrigues also commended her, telling her that she would be her successor.
Back in Japan, she has performed at various sites nationwide, as well as in Portugal and some places in Asia, gaining many fans.
Her illness may have changed her circumstances, “But I hope to come back to the stage again,” she said.