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Fado – the Soul of Portuguese Music

By Anthony Correa

Club Lusitano was delighted to have “Fado ao Centro” perform Coimbra fado for members and guests on Friday 26th October, 2018

Fado is a deeply embedded Portuguese tradition of the idea that one cannot escape from one’s destiny. Melancholic songs of love, loss, hope and resignation.

It’s difficult to trace the exact origins of Fado, but is generally placed as being originated in the 1820’s in Portugal.

Generally in Fado music, the singer will sing about the hard realities of the daily life, balancing both resignation and hopefulness that a resolution to its torments can still occur. It can be described by using the Portuguese word “saudade”, which means “longing” and stands for a feeling of loss. This loss is generally a permanent loss and of long-term consequences. Fado music often has one or two 12 string guitars, one or two violas, and sometimes a small 8 string, bass.

Fado music has two main varieties: Lisbon Fado and Coimbra Fado.

Lisbon Fado

Lisbon Fado is the more well-known of the two styles of Fado. This style has roots in social contexts that are set in marginality and transgression. In the early 1900’s, it found a popular following that would continue to follow today. It came across some difficult times in 1926, when censorship caused major changes to urban entertainment and placing hefty requirements on any shows and venues. Thanks to the popularity of the radio, Fado found its place in homes across Portugal.

Coimbra Fado

Coimbra Fado has ties to academic traditions of University of Coimbra. The singers and other musicians will wear the tradition academic wardrobe that consists of dark robes, capes, and leggings. They will sing this Fado at night time on the streets or in the city square. While Lisbon often appealed to those in the working-class fields, Coimbra appeals to the more privileged classes.

There are a few other differences between Lisbon and Coimbra, aside from the group of people the music appeals to. Lisbon Fado can be sung by anyone regardless of gender, while Coimbra is only sung by males. Coimbra Fado generally is about finding hope in the everyday hardships that people live through. In contrast, Lisbon Fado would suggest surrender when being faced with those hardships. Lisbon style often features improvisation during performances, whereas Coimbra is constantly rehearsed before performances.

Fado and Amalia Rodrigues

Fado was made internationally renowned by Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado) Amalia Rodrigues (July 23, 1920 – October 6, 1999). Better known as Amalia, she became one of the most important personalities for the genre and the main inspiration for contemporary and modern Fado. Amalia had a personality, charisma, extraordinary timbre of voice, and her unique presence made her an acclaimed artist whose services were requested by Monarchs and Presidents. By the time of her death, Amalia had received over 40 decorations and honors for her music, stage presence and philanthropy including the Legion d’Honneur by the French government. She was given a state funeral and her remains are in Lisbon’s National Pantheon (the only woman to have the honor). Amalia single-handedly placed Fado on the world map.

Since the early 21st century, and influenced by Amalia Rodrigues there is a new found popularity in this type of music due to Modern Fado. Modern Fado has incorporated new instruments including piano, violin, accordion. They have also begun combining Fado with other popular genres. Some current artists of this genre include Madredeus, Ana Moura, Dulce Pontes and Mariza. Mariza in particular is highly popular, winning numerous awards in the World Music category and performing in the most prestigious theatres around the world.


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