As the sun sinks behind the ancient monuments and rooftops, the mournful sounds of Fado music in Lisbon can be heard drifting under doorways and through the cobbled streets. At the heart of the Portuguese soul, Fado music lies like a melancholy mistress. Arguably the oldest urban folk music in the world, Fado has a somewhat chequered history as none can really say where its origins lie. Some sources claim it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Others say it began at sea as a sad, melodic song coaxed from the rolling waves by homesick sailors and fishermen.
Whatever its origins, the almost lovesick themes of Fado music have remained constant, a tangled web of destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. This mournful song can be performed by men or women and is accompanied by one Portuguese guitar and one classic guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. It’s heart-breaking music and a Fado performance is not considered successful if an audience is not moved to tears.
Burning with the historic resonance of national identity and culture, Fado was a product of early 19th century bohemia and derives its name from the Latin for fate, or fatum. By the early twentieth century, Fado music had become a fixture in the everyday life of Lisbon’s working class, as much a form of pleasure as to relieve the pain of their daily toil. The music of taverns, brothels and street corners, Fado reached its golden era in the first half of the 20th Century when the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar (1926-1968) forced the performers to become professional and confined them to sing in the Fado houses.
Traditionally focused on the working class districts of Alfama and Mouraria, these melancholic strains of guitars, mandolins, and poetry have produced such internationally acclaimed fadistas as Amália Rodrigues, the true diva of Fado. Worshipped at home and celebrated abroad as the most famous representative of Portuguese culture, when she died in 1999, the country’s prime minister called for three-days of national mourning, such is the hold of Fado over the people of Portugal. Take a trip to Lisbon and surrender yourself to the music of the people and fall under the melancholy spell of Fado. See our pick of the top Fado bars in Lisbon or ask the Concierge for more details.