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All About Portugal | February 26, 2021

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Fado: the soul of Portugal in music

Fado: the soul of Portugal in music
Clara Campos

Fado is a symbol of Portugal as it puts down in words and in melody our singular and true soul. Born in Lisbon in the 19th century it has conquered the world.

Fado music is par excellence the music of Portugal, embraced by almost every Portuguese, regardless the social class; yet, it hasn’t been always like this. Born in Lisbon during the early years of the 19th century, Fado used to be linked to the most marginal spheres of the society, sang in places visited by prostitutes, sailors and coachmen. Due to this reason the bourgeoisie and the intellectuals rejected this new music that dealt with daily narratives and violent love stories. On the other hand, attracted by the sense of transgression, the bohemian aristocracy started to attend the disreputable places where Fado music was sang and from this strange communion between aristocrats and outlaws was born one of the greatest myths of the History of Fado, the love affair between the Count Vimioso and Maria Severa Onofriana, a prostitute famed for her singing talents. This romance was immortalized in several poems, in the novel A Severa by Júlio Dantas that latter on was adapted to the cinema by Leitão de Barro, becoming the first Portuguese sound film.

Slowly, Fado began to make its way among the working classes and the typical Lisbon neighborhoods such as Mouraria and Alfama, mainly due to the Teatro de Revista, a sort of vaudeville theatre, which incorporated this musical gender in 1870, allowing renowned fado singers to perform on stage. After the 1930’s, famous actresses such as Hermínia Silva then sang Fado music. By those days two different approaches to Fado established themselves: the danced Fado and the spoken Fado personified by João Villaret.

Fado music wouldn’t be the same without the Portuguese guitar, which role as Fado companion was defined during the last quarter of the 19th century, along with formal poetic form of Fado, the “ten verse stanza”.

The first half of the 20 century grew in importance and several professional companies were born to promote shows with great casts in Portugal and abroad. Exemples of such companies are “Grupo Artístico de Fado”, with Berta Cardoso, Madalena de Melo, Armando Augusto Freire, Martinho d’ Assunção and João da Mata, “Grupo Artístico Propaganda do Fado”, with Deonilde Gouveia, Júlio Proença and Joaquim Campos or “Troupe Guitarra de Portugal”, with Ercília Costa and Alfredo Marceneiro.
Radio stations such as Rádio Clube Português, Rádio Graça and Rádio Luso also contributed to the spreading of Fado, as at the beginning of the 20th century few had the possibility to buy gramophones and records.

The military coup of May 28, 1926 and the following implementation of previous censorship on public shows, the press and other publications, led to changes in Fado music. Significant changes were imposed on the performing venues, on the way interpreters presented themselves and on the sung repertoires, eliminating improvisation.
The Fado houses in the Lisbon historic neighborhoods became popular since the 1930’s and the ritual of going to one of these places to hear Fado music is well alive even today.

The advent of sound films helped Fado as several films were dedicated to the song, being O Fado, História de uma Cantadeira, with Amália Rodrigues, and O Miúdo da Bica, some of the most important.

If radio broadcasting took the voices of the singers to the public, television revealed their faces, contributing decisively to the mediatization of Fado that gained strength between the 1940’s and 1960’s.

Even though some artists like Ercília Costa, Berta Cardoso, Augusto Freire or João da Mata, for instance, already had taken Fado abroad, namely to Brazil and Africa, its internationalization was only consolidated with Amália Rodrigues, the Fado Diva.

During the years after the 1974 Revolution, Fado music was considered as a symbol of the old regime, thus was kept away from the radios and the television. Fortunately, in 1976, when the democratic regime was fully implemented, Fado regains its space and in the 1980’s conquered singers from other areas such as Paulo de Carvalho and António Variações.

In the 1990’s other artists besides Amália Rodrigues and Carlos do Carmo conquer the international markets; Mísia and Cristina Branco are the new faces of the song. A new generation of talented singers comprising Camané, Mafalda Arnauth, Kátia Guerreiro, Maria Ana Bobone, Joana Amendoeira, Ana Moura, Pedro Moutinho, Miguel Capucho, Rodrigo Costa Félix and Raquel Tavares, among other, and headed by Mariza rises to conquer once more the world with this unique expression of the Portuguese soul and applied to the list of Cultural Heritage of Humanity approved by UNESCO.

Fado’s houses location

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