Fado, Portugal's song

"Tudo isto existe. Tudo isto é Fado." (All of this exists, all this is Fado)

The song that fascinates the world with its unmistakable tone of sentiment and nostalgia has its peak in Lisbon and Coimbra. Fado is longing and nostalgia, is pain and moan, destiny and fate. And some say that the deepest of the Portuguese soul is in everything that it represents.


A bohemian and popular song, the fado emerged in the typical quarters of Lisbon in the early nineteenth century, through the voices of fish saleswomen and of sailors, of bohemians, artists and prostitutes. A combination that resulted in the Fado particular lyrics and music, a crossroads of various influences, from the most rooted Portuguese folklore to references coming from across borders.


From Lisbon to Coimbra


For a long time, the fado remained in its initial circuit, admittedly very popular and linked to Lisbon, having a single specific development in the University and city of Coimbra. There, it met with success among the students and still remains closely tied to the academic community, being sung and played only by men, always wearing a black suit with black cassocks and cloaks.


It was only during the 20s and 30s of last century, with the success of the first records of the greatest singers of the time, that fado has become a national phenomenon. The rise of the radio played the most important role by taking the language of the Portuguese fado to even more remote regions of the country, which hitherto had little or no contact had with it.


The people identified with the music and its biggest diva was about to reveal herself. In her earlier years, Amalia Rodrigues enchanted people in the streets of the capital, and in the ensuing decades established herself as Portugal greatest voice, taking the art and the feeling of Fado to the most reputed international stages. With Amalia, Fado left the streets of Lisbon, has transcended the country and conquered the world.




But in the capital, it is in older neighborhoods such as Alfama and Bairro Alto that we find the traditional fado houses, where the music is heard in a favorable environment. "Silence for fado will be sung": this is how the typical night of Lisbon makes its start, the Portuguese guitar chords moving us as emotion fills our hearts with the power of interpretation. The decor is typical, with shawls, guitars, old photographs and a quiet lighting, while a typical supper is served.


Apart from renowned houses like the Cafe Luso, the Clube de Fado or Senhor Vinho, where  both renowned and emerging performers can be listened to, there are also some places where anyone with a soul for Fado can get up and sing. It's called "fado vadio", performed by amateurs and enthusiasts in  sessions that can happen in the afternoon, as in Graça neighborhood, at the Tasca do Jaime, or in the Bairro Alto, all night long, at Tasca do Chico.


And be it amateur or professional, it is on the singers that our best attention is focused. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to listen carefully to the music, to those notes that enhance their voices, played by the Portuguese guitar, an instrument so distinctive as Fado itself. The greatest master of the Portuguese guitar was Carlos Paredes, a man of simple ways and a virtuoso, who keeps inspiring young guitar players.


New expressions


And alike Lisbon, a mirror of tradition and modernity, Fado also renews itself, dressing its old melodies with new expressions and interpreters. Emerging in the 90s, the new generation of fado has introduced other musical instruments and new variants, making it to sound softer and, eventually, more harmonic. Names already acclaimed as Camané, which introduced the sound of the bass, Mysia, who sings the great Portuguese  writers, or Mariza, most acclaimed and internationally recognized.


Fado continues to evolve over time, always surprising the listener with the emotion conveyed, and able to conquer even those who do not understand the language, which, as if a Lusitanian opera, fills one's eyes with tears or cheers one's spirits during the long bohemian Lisbon nights.

See all regions

Follow LifecoolerEng on Twitter