Fado, the international music of Portugal.jpg

Fado, the international music of Portugal

By by Gillian & Robert Atkin [email protected]

Gillian and Robert Atkin split their time between Lagos and Buckinghamshire. They are retired, have two daughters and enjoy walking, theatre, music, learning about Portuguese culture and language, and visiting that fascinating capital, Lisbon.

Can we be the only British living in the Algarve who love the traditional music of Portugal, Fado?

Many visitors we meet are unaware that Portugal even has its own music, which is the essence of Lisbon, but which is adored over much of Portugal, yet we have only heard it in one restaurant in Lagos, most establishments preferring to play modern music while one dines.  

What a missed opportunity for visitors to leave the Algarve with a richer knowledge of Portugal than when they arrived!

While strolling near the Castelo de São Jorge above Lisbon five years ago, we heard music coming from the castle shop and were told it was called Fado.  We had assumed that Portuguese music was similar to Spanish flamenco. How wrong could we be!  We decided to familiarise ourselves with this haunting music and purchased several CDs including the one playing. The singer or fadista was called Mariza and our Fado journey had begun!

The word Fado means fate or destiny and, when sung well, is a wonderfully expressive experience.

Fadistas can be male or female and are accompanied by a Portuguese guitarra which is a 12-stringed lute-shaped instrument of great aesthetic beauty with a magical sound as fingers dance lightly over the strings, together with an acoustic guitar known as viola, and a bass guitar known as viola baixa.

Fadistas usually wear black dresses and often include a shawl depicting the attire of the fishwives of the 19th century.

Fado is sung in tascas and restaurants in traditional bairros or districts such as Alfama and the Bairro Alto and convey nostalgic messages of love, loss and yearning. The Portuguese word for this is saudade, but they can also convey happiness.

Fado originated from the hardship of fisher folk and sailors, their lost loved ones and their return home after difficult voyages. Some say Fado also originated from Brazilian and African colonies, creating a meld of influences.  

Fado is also sung in Coimbra where the fadistas are traditionally male and the origins are associated with its well known university.  

The area of Lisbon where Fado originated is Mouraria, a traditional bairro steeped in history and still earthy, atmospheric and fascinating to explore. The first famous fadista was a prostitute called Maria Severa who lived off Rua do Capelão in Mouraria.  She died in 1846 aged 26.  

Almost opposite her home is the birthplace of a great male fadista called Fernando Maurício who died in 2003. At the entrance to Rua do Capelão behind Centro Comercial Mouraria is a large stone carving of a Portuguese guitarra with the inscription ‘Mouraria birthplace of Fado’.

The most famous and adored fadista for 50 years until her death aged 79 – exactly 10 years ago – was Amália Rodrigues.  

Amália was known worldwide, acted in films and reached the hearts of the nation with her voice and performances. When she died, thousands lined the streets for her funeral after three days of mourning.  

Amália now lies in the National Pantheon, an honour given to the most important figures in Portuguese history.  

There are many talented Fado voices such as Maria da Fé, Carlos do Carmo, the new and talented young Carminho, Camané, Mafalda Arnauth, Ana Moura and Joana Amendoeira, but the most famous and successful since Amália is Mariza, who has an astonishing voice that bursts with emotion.  

She is a polished, charismatic performer of quality, tours the world at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall, works with numerous top world musicians, has appeared on the Jools Holland show and last year had three concerts at the Barbican including one for children to introduce them to Fado. With a question and answer session, this was a wonderfully successful idea and the children loved it.  

Mariza is a striking fadista, tall with cropped ice-white hair giving a somewhat punky image to the tradition.

She moves about the stage using enormous energy to express her emotions and transfers those feelings to her audience with great success.  Her style is a wonderful mix of traditional, up tempo and jazzy forms, which produce amazing results and show the versatility of Fado to evolve in new ways.  

Mariza was raised in the vibrant historical hub of the city and home of Fado, Mouraria, so she is the genuine article!

Our first experience of a Fado performance at a tourist restaurant in Lisbon was dire, and we could have been put off, but we tried various venues to get to know the difference!  Our advice would be to avoid touristic venues that offer an all-inclusive package of food, Fado and folklore.

Our best experiences so far have been at Clube de Fado in Alfama, owned by the famous Portuguese guitarist Mário Pacheco,  Senhor Vinho in Lapa where many fadistas go on to become well known – such as Mariza –  Adega Machado in the Bairro Alto and Os Ferreiras, Rua São Lázaro, near Martim Moniz.

There is also a type of Fado known as Fado vadio or ‘free Fado’, where anyone can sing! We had a wonderful evening at a small tasca called A Baiuca in Rua de São Miguel in Alfama. Simple food, cramped benches, amateurs came and went and the cook sang! A mixture of visitors and locals made it a memorable evening with a happy atmosphere which made one want to have a go oneself!  

In Fado, the emotions are obvious and, if performed well, truly reaches deep into you and conveys its meaning with ease.  It is soul music with a difference and we have grown to appreciate it the more we hear it.

We will never forget our introduction to Fado in the magical setting of Lisbon’s castelo.  For us, a visit to Lisbon is incomplete without a Casa do Fado.

If you ever get a chance to see Mariza perform, you will be amazed. We were!  She performs at Lisbon Coliseum on October 31 and November 1 and at the London’s Royal Festival Hall in January plus various other UK and European venues in the New Year.