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Fado officially recognised by UNESCO

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Portuguese music genre Fado, which developed in the middle of the 19th century, has been voted Heritage of Humanity at a meeting of UNESCO’s Magna Council.

The decision was announced in Bali where the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) had met and had been judging the 49 proposals on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage for Humanity since November 22.

It took just five minutes for the decision to be taken and announced by the 23 delegates who voted in favour.

The president of the scientific commission for the candidacy, Rui Vieira Nery, said he was “overjoyed” with the decision which had “put an end to weeks of worrying”.

Fado was the last candidate to be evaluated in the UNESCO session which ended at 8.30pm Bali time (12.30am Lisbon time) after votes had been cast for 30 proposals.

A delighted Lisbon Mayor, António Costa, who attended the ceremony, played Estranha Forma de Vida, sung by the late Fado diva Amália Rodrigues, from his mobile phone for all to hear.

He said it had been “five years of very hard work”. “This is a great tribute to Fado singers, musicians, composers and all those involved in Fado who have been working to safeguard its heritage and importance,” he said.    

On Saturday, Lisbon’s Museum of Fado remained open overnight and visitors were allowed in for free. National broadcaster RTP has also been screening a new series about Fado and its singers and the importance of the music genre culturally and socially.

The news was greeted with jubilation by the present international ambassador for Fado, singer Mariza, and long-standing Fado singer Carlos do Carmo (pictured right), who both said that Fado “wasn’t something that you learnt, it was born with you and in your blood”.

A symbol of identity, Fado is typically performed by a solo male or female singer, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the Portuguese ‘guitarra’, a pear-shaped 12-string lute.

Mournful tunes

It is performed professionally and informally in grassroots associations and often transmitted over successive generations within the same families, as is the case with Carlos do Carmo, whose father was a Fado singer.

Rui Vieira Nery says that it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the musical genre became established in the form we know today because so much was passed down from generation to generation rather than documented.

In popular belief, Fado is a form of music characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea, the life of the poor or tragic lost love.

It must follow a certain structure and in reality can be sung about anything. The music is linked to the Portuguese word ‘Saudade’, which sums up a bitter-sweet feeling of loss, homesickness and longing.

Apart from Amália Rodrigues, Mariza and Carlos do Carmo, other singers have introduced a more contemporary twist to the genre including Mafalda Arnauth, Misia, Cristina Branco and Camané who have made the genre popular not only in France, Canada and Luxemburg where there are considerable Portuguese communities, but also in Japan.        

The Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2003 and is now adopted by 139 state parties.

Only those countries that have ratified the convention are eligible to present items for inscription on the Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

The Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage comprises 24 UNESCO member states, elected for a term of four years. Half of the committee is renewed every two years.