Fado in Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto
“Fado” is a word that derives from the Latin “fatum,” which means destiny. However, the origin of this distinctive musical style, highly cherished in Portugal, remains unknown. It is widely accepted that it emerged spontaneously in Lisbon during the 19th century as an expression among the most underprivileged classes in an urban setting.
Maria Severa is a legendary figure in this genre of music, possibly giving rise to the musical style in the Mouraria area in the mid-nineteenth century, becoming the symbol of the Fado singer. She passed away at a young age of 26, leaving a legacy that the Portuguese immortalized in films, theater, and musicals, even though there are no voice recordings of her. Despite being disdained by intellectuals of her time, UNESCO recognized Fado as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2011.
Traditionally found in the Alfama and Mouraria areas of Lisbon, Fado was initially performed by male Fado singers, accompanied by the unique sound of the Portuguese guitar and the classical guitar, commonly known as “viola.” The male Fado singer typically wears a dark suit, while the female singer dresses in black with a shawl draped over her shoulders (embodying the Fado aesthetic). The themes in Fado songs convey feelings of longing and love, and they narrate stories of pain, loss, and absence in a melancholic tone.
Amália Rodrigues, an icon of traditional Portuguese Fado, expressed that feeling Fado is the most important aspect as it defies understanding or explanation. Despite gaining international recognition, Fado has traditionally served as the expression of the Portuguese people’s soul.
Coimbra, a city in central Portugal, has a distinct way of performing Fado, which differs from the traditional style in some respects. People associate Coimbra’s Fado with the academic life of the University of Coimbra. Historically, Fado singers were exclusively male, but nowadays, mixed groups accompanied by guitars are common, and they often wear the students’ black capes. The themes in Coimbra’s Fado songs revolve around love, youth, academic life, and nostalgia, still presented in a melancholic tone reminiscent of traditional Fado.
In Porto, you can also experience live Fado performances in various venues across the city. Some individuals who claim not to like Fado often change their opinion after witnessing it live. The live performances create a shared atmosphere of silence, intimacy, and deep emotions between the Fado singer and the audience.
Some Fados have been adapted into songs with international recognition. For example, Dulce Pontes performed a very old Fado titled “Canção do Mar,” which was transformed into a song and featured in the film “Primal Fear” alongside Richard Gere and Edward Norton.
Over time, several establishments in Porto aim to promote and preserve the most authentic Fado tradition. They offer the opportunity to experience Fado in a traditional environment, engage in conversations with the artists, and appreciate the unique sounds of the Portuguese guitar. There are three types of Portuguese guitar: the Lisbon style, the Coimbra style, and the Porto style, with the latter being the smallest of the three.
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