Cante-me Seu Fado

Portugal’s pride and joy, the true language of its heart, is the Fado. Thought to have its roots in the Moorish occupation of the Algarve, evidence of Fado music extends as far back as the early 1800’s.

The Fado is poetry that reflects the human condition and speaks to us at our most base level. The word Fado means “fate” in Portuguese, from the Latin fatum (“prophecy”). The theme of most fado songs is usually love, often the unrequited type. There are two distinct versions: The Lisbon fado, which is deeply personal and usually sorrowful; and the Coimbra fado, which is more academic and light. It was once said that the difference is that the Coimbra “is the song of those who retain and cherish their illusions, not of those who have irretrievably lost them”.

The usual arrangement for the fado is one songstress called the “fadista”, accompanied by at least one fado guitar and one 6-string guitar. Traditionally when the fadista sings, no food is served and the room becomes hushed and expectant. Audience reaction and participation is actually one of the key elements in a good fado experience; patrons who are too noisy or disrespectful will often find themselves escorted out. Likewise, a fadista who has not managed to move her audience will find herself abruptly asked to cut her performance short. It is perfectly acceptable and expected to cheer, applaud, and whistle – when the performance is over.

Adjustar da Alma

Fado demands a great deal of vocal talent and artistry. Dramatic pauses, crescendos, softening of voice, all lend to the stories told through the fado – tales of love, longing, jealousy, and sorrow – all human emotions. It is usually sung in syncopated 2/4 time, almost always by a female. It is poetry put to song, often employing the form of a quatrain to set the pace.

The Guitarra do Fado or Guitarra Portuguesa is a small 12-string instrument indigenous to Portugal. There are two types of these: the Lisbon guitar and the Coimbra guitar. The Coimbra guitar is larger and produces a deeper sound.

Fado guitars are traditionally tuned B, A, E, B, A, D. The first three pairs of strings are tuned identically. The last three pairs are tuned with two different octaves of the same note. The result is a very full, rich sound that complements the fadista’s melodies beautifully.

Uma Canção da Saudade

This tradition is a long-standing one, started by the first great performer of the fado, Maria Severa. Severa was a temperamental young prostitute who was born and raised in the Alfama district of Lisbon. This tempestuous woman’s fado was performed in her mother’s tavern and held such sway that it managed to entangle Conde De Vimioso into a love affair. This scandalous tryst would act as a catalyst to this form of music as Lisbon society’s reaction to the controversy inspired people to publish sheet music and write articles about it. Maria Severa died at the age of 26 and it is said that fadistas traditionally don a black shawl to mourn her premature death.

E Você, Você Poderia Ser Rainha!

Arguably, Portugal’s most famous fadista is Amália Rodrigues. Born on July 23, 1920, her musical career began early. Tutored by her grandmother, Amália made her first public appearance at the age of nine, at the school she attended. She would travel a long, weary road her entire life, which would lend to her performance a powerful evocation of raw emotion accompanied by a magnificent voice. It is no wonder she was adored by her nation and mourned significantly on her death on October 6, 1999. Prime Minister António Guterres declared a 3-day period of national mourning and stated that he felt as though Portugal had lost one of its more distinguished representatives. Amalia's remains were sent to the "Panteão Nacional", which is a monument in Lisbon where only the greatest of the nation's heroes' remains are sent. People who travel to Portugal can visit her grave there, should they like to. If you wish to experience any fado, Rodrigues is the one to look for.

The fado speaks to our hearts with a quiet dignity that teaches us life’s lessons of love, passion, nostalgia, loss, longing, grief, jealousy, happiness – a whole cornucopia of things that make life worth living. Should you find an opportunity to experience the fado first-hand, by all means, take it. Even if you cannot understand the words – the facial features, inflection of voice, and overall presentation will move you. After all, it is most often said that “the Fado is life”. It moves us because it gives voice to our lives.


References:
http://www.dulcepontes.com
http://www3.sympatico.ca/geoles/
bothering my relatives until they finally exposed me to it to shut me up
a bit of tidbits from eggstasy

Fado is also an Irish-language (Gaelic) word meaning "a long time ago". Indeed many Irish folk stories begin "Fado, fado, fado...", meaning "once upon a time".
The Irish storytelling tradition is intrinsically linked to the Irish language, and although it has waned a lot with the decline in the usage of the Irish language, a vibrant storytelling tradition still remains, particularly in those areas of Ireland where Irish is still fluently spoken. Beginning a tale with "Fado" is very traditional in setting the tone which will allow all kinds of tales of magic and mythology to flourish. Very much like prefacing a story with the disclaimer "a long time ago, in a place far, far away...". Fado is an important literary device in the Irish storytelling tradition.

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