Fado is one of the oldest types of urban folk music, and for Portugal it is an art form that reflects the soul of the country. Its origins may be traced to a dance form from Africa, but it emerged in the port districts of the Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto in Lisbon in the early 1800s.
The Portuguese word used to describe fado is saudade, which lacks a direct translation but can best be described as a type of emotional state of longing or nostalgic yearning. The early performers were sailors and working class people who sang about common themes, such as death and despair, destiny, and betrayal in love. Like American blues or jazz, or Spanish flamenco music, fado music is more about how it makes you feel, and not just about what you hear.
Fado singers can either be male or female, but many prefer female singers because of the deep feelings they are able to deliver in their performances through their voice, the way they dress, and their expressions. Traditional fado music includes the accompaniment of a Portuguese guitar. More recent fado performers have incorporated other instruments, such as piano, violin and accordion in their recordings.
In addition to the Lisbon-style fado, there is also another style of fado that has its roots in the city of Coimbra, which is north of Lisbon and was once the medieval capital of Portugal. Coimbra fado is a bit more playful and is linked to the University of Coimbra. It is performed exclusively by men (often students) who wear traditional academic outfits consisting of a dark robe, cape and leggings. If you want to see Coimbra fado performed, you’ll have to visit this historic city. If you visit when the university is in session you may even run into a group of students performing fado in the street.
The best place to see a traditional fado performance is in Lisbon, in the neighborhoods where it all began. The Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto still have fado houses where you can enjoy a live performance. Since fado began in taverns, you can still enjoy a meal while taking in a fado performance at many venues.
The following are a few popular fado houses in Lisbon:
- Senhor Vinho – is considered one of the venues that attracts top-notch fado singers and also serves good food. Located at Rua do Meio à Lapa, 18. For more information, click here.
- Tasca do Chico – a popular casual café and bar that offers a more intimate atmosphere. Located at Rua do Diário de Notícias, 39.
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