Fado, from the Portuguese “saudade” that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. It is the soul music of Portugal. So if you are in Portugal and in Lisbon particularly you will see many signs out on the street and in bars and guaranteed your host will recommend you attend a performance. It’s truly something to behold, it’s a very emotional and dramatic type of singing that completely takes over. If it’s a good performance you will almost feel the lyrics, you will be able to feel what the singer wants to transmit.
Originating in Lisbon early in the nineteenth century. Locals say it originated long before that but it has been passed on orally from generation through generation so its hard to trace back its exact origins. Fado is characterized by mournful and melancholic with themes of destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. It’s meant to be extremely dramatic and melancholic to represent a feeling of loss. It was a fixture in the every day life of Lisbon’s working class it was in the past also performed for pleasure but also to relieve some of the pain of of life. It was the early music of taverns in brothels and even street corners, it was mostly spontaneous and it would be a way to join hands and recuperate some hope in life, that relief would come.
The sentiment you get from the music will depend very much on the “fadista” which is what fado singers are called and they can be men or women. It’s not as simple as just standing up and sing, the singer must have the soul to transmit this feeling and it is very common that if someone performing is not transmitting anything to the crowd, the public will ask the performance be stopped being a disgrace for Fado. It is greatly exalted by facial expressions, gestures and sometimes even clothing. It is accompanied by a twelve string guitar and a Portuguese bass guitar called “viola”. Like many other genres of music, it can’t be explained, Fado is something that must be experienced and felt.
If you want to catch a performance make sure to ask your host or locals which place they would recommend for an authentic performance but the main neighborhoods to experience would be Aflame and Mouraria in the Barrio Alto of the city.
Check out a video below by Afonco Quinto on you tube.