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Rhythm of a Nation I: Portuguese Fado

March 24, 2009 by · No comments

Katia Delavequia

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Fado is like a sigh” – Celeste Rodrigues, fado singer.

Very few things can describe a culture and the vibrations of a people as the music. It is the music that makes us realize a different universe. Fado is a popular rhythm of Portugal, relatively appreciated in Spain, France, Netherlands, Japan, India and Brazil; the word came from the Latin fatum that means “fate”. Generally is sung by only one singer accompanied by classic guitar and Portuguese guitar.

Probably Fado had its origin in the early 19th century in Lisbon from Moorish songs that stayed on the outskirts of city even after the Christian reconquest. The melancholy of those singings, so usual in Fado, would be based on this theory.

Fado konzert
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Another hypothesis is that fado entered in Portugal under Lundum (a song of Brazilian slaves) that would have to the Portuguese people through the sailors coming from their long journeys, about 1822. Over time, Lundum evolved into the Portuguese Fado.

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There is a third theory that date fado back to the middle age, a time of troubadours. In that time, the songs already had characteristics as today. For example, the ballad of friend (sung by a woman) has great similarities with several themes of Lisbon Fado that is accompanied by a Portuguese guitar. The ballad of love (sung by a man to a woman) are similar to Coimbra Fado, where students sing their songs under the window of the loved. At the same time, the ballads of satire or mockery are still today a frequent theme of fado in politics and social criticisms.

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The emblematic song of Lisbon is as well inseparable of its more typical neighborhoods. Alfama, Castelo, Mouraria, Bairro Alto and Madragoa are its more genuine cradles. Due to this, listening to
fado is knowing Lisbon.

Fado koncert Porto
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Anyway, fado seems to have arise first in Lisbon and Porto, being afterwards carried to Coimbra through the university students (Coimbra was for a long time a university city par excellence), and having there acquired characteristics quite different from that of Lisbon.

Portuguese guitar
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According to tradition, to applaud fado in Lisbon you clap your hands, while in Coimbra one coughs like if clearing one’s throat.

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Fado is not only a song for guitar. It is the very soul of Portuguese people. Listening to the words of each fado, we can feel the presence of sea, the sailors and anglers’ life, the backstreets and alleys of Lisbon, the farewells, the misfortune and nostalgia. Fado tells the essence of a history connected to the sea.

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The Lisbon fado that is known throughout the world today can be (and often is) accompanied by violin, cello, or even by a complete orchestra, but the Portuguese guitar is always an essential element.

Portuguese guitar
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The first great fado singer who survived in collective memory is Maria Severa Onofriana, who lived in the first half of the 19th century. In the 1920s and 1930s, a series of fado de Coimbra recordings were very popular. Guitarists Carlos Paredes and his father Artur Paredes were the masters and the great pioneers of this genre and of the Portuguese guitar.

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Amália Rodrigues introduced the best-known variety of fado. Still today, after her death in 1999, Rodrigues is considered to have been the greatest fado diva ever. After she died, a new wave of performers added stylistic changes and brought more international popularity to the traditional Portuguese music. She popularized fados that featured the words of great poets, such as Luís de Camões, José Régio, Pedro Homem de Mello, Alexandre O’Neill, David Mourão-Ferreira, José Carlos Ary dos Santos, João Ferreira-Rosa, Teresa Tarouca, Beatriz da Conceição.

Dulce Pontes mixed fado with popular and traditional Portuguese music, Madredeus and Cristina Branco added new instruments and themes – all they kept of the original Fado are its looks and the concept of nostalgia.

João Braga also carved out his name in the history of fado’s revitalization because of the quality of the poems and the music that he performed: he interpreted poems by the authors mentioned earlier,
as well as works by Fernando Pessoa, Antonio Botto, Affonso Lopes Vieira, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Miguel Torga or Manuel Alegre. Braga was also the mentor of a new generation of fado singers.

We must listen to fado with a “soul that knows to hear”, Fado tells us about the profound feelings of the Portuguese people as well as showing the depth of their soul, a nation that has faced the sea

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