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WORLD AND FOLK MUSIC NEWS
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Focus on: Music of Portugal, Fado
When the 'fadista' sings, a hush falls over the room…
Fado is a traditional but also contemporary style of singing in Portugal. The word comes from Latin fatum, which means 'fate'. Fado cannot only be described as a song; it represents a certain feeling which many people call the spirit of Portugal. These tragic and melancholic songs, beautiful and touching, relate a general sense of frustration and a unique Portuguese fatalism. They express a feeling which the Portuguese call "saudade", an almost untranslatable word evoking longing, yearning and nostalgia.
There are several explanations of how Fado came into existence. Its roots certainly date back far into Portuguese history. Some say that it came from the songs of the Moors, basing their opinion on the sadness and melancholy of Fado. Others however, say that Fado came to Portugal through Lisbon with sailors returning from long voyages to Brazil bringing with them the music of Brazilian slaves (lundum). This is supported by the fact that many of the early Fado songs were related to the sea and far-away lands. Another possibility often mentioned places the roots of Fado in the Middle Ages in the time of minstrels and jesters. Be that as it may, Fado was reborn in the middle of the 19th century in the harbour bars and taverns of the Alfama and Mouraria districts of Lisbon, which were districts of the lower classes, of sailors, prostitutes and bohemians. By the end of the 19th century, Fado had become socially acceptable in Portugal and a whole nation started to appreciate the fadistas. Special Fado Houses were established in Lisbon and Porto, and Fado developed into a part of the national culture of Portugal.
There are two distinct versions of Fado, one is the Lisbon Fado, which is personal and full of feeling. The Fado singer or fadista normally wears a black suit. He stands in front of the audience with the musicians behind him and sings about the miseries of life, of love affairs, the old days or he might even criticise society and politicians. In almost every performance he sings about saudade (longing). Women singers are also dressed in black when singing Fado - with a mournful plaintive voice they sing of love and death, passion, despair and sorrow, both black and beautiful. Accompanied by the Guitarra PortuguÍsa or Guitarra do Fado and the Viola (classical six string guitar) Fado relates a feeling of beautiful sadness - a gosto de ser triste.
The Fado de Coimbra is more academic and has a more structured pattern. It is sung exclusively by men, mostly students, wearing a traditional black cape (capa). Historically, Fado came to Coimbra from Lisbon and was picked up by the students of this university city. We find the same sad style here but with a different motivation. The Fado de Coimbra reflects the university traditions of serenading one's sweetheart or of farewell songs for students leaving behind their bohemian life. Today many students earn a living by singing Fado.
There is also a version that blends Fado and folk traditions. Fado is by no means the national song; each region in Portugal has its own typical music and folklore not related to Fado. The Fado popular, combining these two elements, tends to be lighter in spirit. Modern Fado singers often add other kinds of Portuguese popular music as well as jazz elements, or more pop style arrangements, including percussion, accordion, saxophone and other instruments.
The Guitarra PortuguÍsa or Guitarra do Fado is a twelve string lute (six pairs of strings) which is generally played together with a six string guitar, the viola, as accompaniment. It is traditionally tuned in B, A, E, B, A, D. The three treble string pairs are tuned to the same note and the three pairs of bass strings are tuned in octaves which gives the instrument a full and rich sound. The Fado guitar used in Coimbra is larger than the Lisbon guitar and has a slightly deeper sound.
You can find many examples of Fado on our website