Fado – Portuguese folk music
Fado is the soulful music of the Portuguese heart. It is the world’s oldest folk melody of city streets and poor neighborhoods. The genre absorbed the romance of Greek ballads, Arabic variations, and Brazilian temperament. Fado distinguished between the exuberant Spanish rhythms and the mellow character of the Portuguese people.
The genre emerged in the 19th century in two centers, Coimbra and Lisbon, and spread throughout Portugal. The first center emerged within the walls of the university and tended toward the academic musical tradition. The more refined melodies are vocalized only by men who play along on the guitar. In the second center, in Lisbon, the songs were born in poor neighborhoods, sung by men and women accompanied by two or three guitarists.
The Portuguese guitar was obligatory in this ensemble. This unique instrument has a pear-shaped body and a flat fingerboard with six strings. The first guitars had 10 strings, two of which were single strings and four were twin strings. Now all strings are doubled, and in some models the last strings are strung.
The guitar, sung in a saudade voice, is inseparable from the melodies of the fado. The words and music convey an irresistible longing for unrealized dreams of the sea, love and home. If the performer does not convince the audience of the sincerity of their feelings, their performance is perceived as untrustworthy. This is why fado listeners often have tears in their eyes.
Fado songs are known and sung by all generations of Portuguese. The genre achieved its greatest success in the early 20th century. The songs so conveyed the mood of the people that the dictator Salazar (1926-1968) banned street performances, but was powerless against singing from the stage in the houses of fado, where even today traditional tunes are performed in the evening candlelight, mysterious companions of mood. There are about two dozen fado clubs in the city, which can cost up to 50 euros a night. Fado houses resemble cafes, with live performances. The best performances take place in the small taverns of the old quarters. Fado is not for large halls. A complete history of the genre’s development with audio recordings and performer biographies is on display at the capital’s Fado Museum.
The most famous performer of Portuguese fado was Amilia Rodrigues. Her embodiment of folk motifs at the end of the 20th century earned her adoration in the country and was the beginning of international recognition of the genre. She performed in Europe, Japan, South Africa and America. When Amilia Rodriguez passed away in 1999, the state spent three days in national mourning. She was given the honor of being buried in Lisbon’s National Pantheon. This is the attitude of the Portuguese people toward the art of fado.
The art was also appreciated by UNESCO experts from 24 countries, who included the Portuguese Fado in the list of cultural intangible heritage of mankind.
Fado Houses in Lisbon
Clube de Fado – A place with a special atmosphere where Fado singers perform. It is close to Lisbon Cathedral in the heart of Alfama, perhaps the most famous place for Fado music. Professional and amateur Fado singers go hand in hand with gracious service and solid Portuguese cuisine.
Rua Sao Joao da Praca, 94. Tel: 218 852 704. Open daily from 20:00 hours.
Adega do Machado – This Fado house in the Bairro Alto is the oldest in Lisbon and still a favourite. It is also popular with foreign visitors. You can still feel the spirit of the great singers who performed here in the past.
Rua do Norte, 91. Tel: 21 322 4640. Open from 20:00 to 3:00. Closed Mondays.
Faia – Almost as old as Adega do Machado. This restaurant, which is also the home of Fado, has hosted some of the most famous artists such as Lucilia do Carmo, Carlos do Carmo, Ada de Castro, Vascu Rafael and Camané. This is an expensive place, but the food is excellent.
Rua da Barroca, 54. Tel: 21 342 1923. Open 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Sundays.
Cafe Luso – This was the carriage house and wine cellar of Palacio San Roque, one of the few buildings that survived the 1775 earthquake. Performers such as Amália Rodrigues and Tony de Matos once sang under its pristine vaults, which date back to the 17th century.
Travessa da Queimada, 10. Tel: 21 342 2281, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Sundays.
Parreirinha de Alfama – One of the oldest and best known Fado houses in Lisbon attracts a large public, so you should book in advance.
Beco Espirito Santo, 1. Tel: 21 886 8209. Open daily from 8:30 to 2:00.
Fado: “Portuguese Romance” or Songs of the North
There is no mistake in the title. It’s not about geography, it’s about the last name. The surname of the legendary performer of Portuguese Fado, Maria Severa, is indeed consonant with geography for the Russian-speaker.
José Malhoa. “Fado.”
And one might find irony in that. After all, the Fado song itself is in some ways consonant with the Russian romance. Experts prove that our understanding of things is related to the associations that arise when we hear a particular word. For example, some people associate Portugal with Portuguese port wine, others with beautiful gardens, and still others associate Portugal with the great seafarers. Anyway all of these associations are true and it is worth a trip to Portugal to see it with your own eyes. But the experience of a trip to Portugal would not be complete without getting into the soul of the Portuguese. You can do it with a song. No, you do not have to sing. You just need to open your ears to the traditional Portuguese song, fado.
Anyone who has been to Portugal and listened to Fado without understanding the language says that the main thing is to hear it and then Fado will reach your heartstrings. So if you are planning a tour to Portugal or if you stop in Lisbon even for a day, even if it is just for business you should allow at least one hour to enjoy this original Lisbon phenomenon.
Lisbon is the birthplace of Fado. Music researchers note that it was here that stylistically disparate folkloric works crystallized into a single whole, which became known as the song of destiny (Fado – from Fatum – destiny). Some consider Fado to be the oldest genre of Portuguese song, although it is officially considered that its first performer was Maria Severa (1830-1868).
Poster of the first film about Maria Severa (A Severa. 1931, directed by José Leitan de Barros). A Severa was the first full-length film of Portuguese cinema. Since its release, this is the image in which Maria Severa has been imagined in Portuguese culture. Next to it is a sketch of Maria Severa from life. Artist Francisco Metrass (1825-1861)
Fate is a strange thing and just as a diamond is born from the black earth, the diamonds of art happen to be born in no less gray, if not black, to match the earth. Similar was the fate of the girl born in a Lisbon tavern in a family, if you could call it that, of the owner of the establishment, who did not shy away from moonlighting in the ancient profession, and the man with gypsy roots. Perhaps the latter led Maria to play the Portuguese guitar and sing. We can assume that the unusual sound of this instrument, combined with the songs of the gypsies, which this people have passed down from mouth to mouth for thousands of years, gave birth to a peculiar performance in Maria’s imagination as a result.
Prot. of Lisbon. Engraving.
Of course, the port also had an effect. Lisbon is a port city, and there is always something going on in the port. There is always someone coming in from a long voyage and someone going into it. It is the place where the joy of return is felt most and the possibility of loss is felt just as keenly. It is a place where all people are united in hope. Some hope to reach the shore, some hope to see relatives, some hope to see departing people someday, some hope to sell goods, some hope to buy them. You could say that the port in this sense is a place where hope lives. All this must inevitably have left its mark on the art of Portugal.
The port, perhaps imperceptibly, but always moved progress forward. Where goods, languages, people meet, there is always something new. This is also true of songs. A talented person will always find something in the port that will influence his art. Such was the case with Maria Severa.
Azugelo. The port of Lisbon.
Her hearing merged the multitude of faces, voices, songs, destinies she saw in her mother’s tavern, giving rise to a song that united nostalgia, sadness, loneliness, despair, pain of loss and hope for love that was so lacking in people who lived and worked in difficult conditions. The Portuguese call this intricacy of shades in one word: saudade. There is no translation into Russian. Saudade became a proper name, meant to convey the character of fado.
Severa started playing her songs in the taverns of Lisbon when she was very young, and soon enough her unique way of singing captivated the hearts of the regulars of these establishments. Maria became popular. So did her song. But that didn’t keep the young talent from repeating her mother’s path. Alas, she did not break free from the bonds of the tavern atmosphere, did not become a “star” in the modern sense of the word, she was not made a baroness or even given any title. Life in the poor districts rarely resembled a romantic fairy tale. Reality consumed Maria.
She, like her mother, moonlighted as a prostitute and, as is often the case with naturals, ended her life early and ignominiously. She died of tuberculosis in an establishment in Lisbon. They say it was a brothel. Legend has it that the first “fadista” (as fado singers are called), dying, uttered words that are as painful as her songs: “I am dying, even though I never lived. She was aware that her life was not what it could have been. We can only guess what dreams lurked in the soul of the dying twenty-five-year-old singer, what tormented her soul. Perhaps it was an unrequited love…
Fado, which appeared and developed spontaneously, mostly in taverns, could not help but splash out on the streets of Lisbon and penetrate into the homes of the local nobility. From the end of the 19th century the Fado movement began to take shape, later to be called “aristocratic Fado”. Of course, it was influenced not only by motifs and images brought by sailors from overseas, but also by Portuguese poetry and a special genre of Portuguese lyrical song – modinha.
Only 40 years after its appearance in Lisbon’s high society, high fado is not only travelling all over Portugal, but also dividing into different stylistic subtypes. By the end of the twenties Fado is reborn from a folklore genre into a professional one. Performers appeared, who became everyone’s favorites and even quite influential personalities. Thus, even in the 21st century Amália Rodrigues remains an unshakable authority in the world of “Portuguese Romance”. Her importance for the Portuguese culture in general was so high that on his death on October 6, 1999 a national mourning was declared.
During her lifetime, Fadista’s work contributed to the popularity of Fado all over the world. The “Queen of Fado”, as her contemporaries called her, gave concerts in many countries. Including in the USSR. In May 1969, the most famous “voice of Portugal” sounded to the public, for whom the romance is a part of the historical memory. Rodrigues concerts were held in Leningrad and Moscow and were warmly received by Soviet audiences.
Amália Rodrigues – Estranha forma de vida (1965)
Modern Fado is performed by both women and men. Fado is usually accompanied by two guitars – six-string and twelve-string Portuguese guitar. It is the palm of the genre, while the six-string that we are accustomed to plays a secondary role. It is said that the Portuguese guitar conveys the whole gamut of subtle Fado sensations. And indeed, for those who don’t understand the language, the music comes to the forefront. Its combination with the fadishta voice gives birth to the whole image of a romance.
Ricardo Ribeiro – Destino Marcado
Apart from the sound, the instrument and the emotional content, the similarity between Fado and the Russian romance is in the places where it is performed. We are used to the gypsies accompanying the party in restaurants and other entertainment places in pre-revolutionary Russia. So familiar, in fact, that the expression “come with gypsies and songs” has taken root in the Russian language.
The restaurant is still associated with these people and their rich musical culture, which in the 21st century is experiencing a resurgence of popularity. So is fado.
Fado, originally sung in inns and restaurants, has its own special establishments in Portugal. They are called Casa de Fado. There are many in Lisbon and each of them is unique in some way.
This is a peculiarity of the genre, because each song is put together for a specific case. This has been the case since the genre’s inception. After all, it’s not hard to imagine that dozens of destinies were gathered on the ships that departed from Lisbon docks. And dozens of sorrows converged in one place, to then dissipate in waves of fado.
Of course, Lisbon is more than just Fado. It is also the famous Portuguese port, which in its time became a valuable export commodity, and the beautiful gardens and parks, and the magnificent painted ceramics – azulejo, popular, like Fado, not only in Portugal, but also abroad.
The origins of the latter, in contrast to the “Portuguese romance” are not always associated with navigators. But one cannot write off the fact that had it not been for the discovery of sea trade routes by Portuguese pioneers, azulejo would not have penetrated Portuguese culture from the Arab countries,
and port would not have been known beyond the Douro valley. Its very appearance owes much to the search for optimum conditions for transporting wine by ship.
Boats with barrels of port on the Douro River
In addition, the sailor, exhausted by long and dangerous voyages, was certainly glad to return to his native place, where after the salt bitterness of the ocean waves and the deprivations of harsh ship’s life he is welcomed with beautiful tiles home, where on the table there is sweet wine.
And his soul already asks for songs on joyous themes. However, modern fado has a lot to offer even in this case.