Fado. The Soul of Portugal.

Written by  //  March 24, 2011  //  play  //  1 Comment

Please bear in mind that this is written by a Brit, whose native music is a cacophony of sound, no one more identifiable than the other. I come from the land of noise (and rain) so I may not be quite as adept in my writing as a Portuguese native… So, for the uninitiated in Fado…

Nostalgia. Longing. Evocative. Reminiscence. Passion. Haunting.

Fado is…saudades…a Portuguese word that has no direct translation.

It’s a traditional, exclusively Portuguese music genre – the most hauntingly beautiful music ever to filter past my ears.

Beyond the borders of Portugal, Fado is little known. And that’s a shame. I remember the first time I heard Fado, I was unsure what to expect- this because even my Portuguese friends couldn’t adequately explain it. But – from the first note – I was in rapture. It’s been written that Fado is the music of the Portuguese soul. And that’s what I felt – the soul of Portugal. You don’t just listen to Fado, you feel Fado.


The traditional belief is that Fado evolved in the early 19th century. That it came from Brazilian slave music and developed the inimitable style that Fado is known for today. Others’ believe its roots can be traced even further back. To long ago days when women wept at the shore as their men sailed from their lives into unfamiliar seas…

For me, the origins seem a little obscure, as it depends on whom you are asking as to what answer you will receive. However, I’m not so sure that (as an outsider) the source of Fado is as important as the effects of Fado. Whenever I listen to Fado, I flood with emotion – yearning for those that I love but see so little of, nostalgia for joyful times long since passed…ahhhhh the missing…

Fado Instrument

Fado is usually accompanied by guitar, though in these more modern times, string quartets and the like are beginning to appear on stage (at more commercial venues) with the fadistas. Worth mentioning in it’s own right is the Portuguese guitar. It’s a twelve stringed instrument, strung in six courses, two strings apiece. Its tuning system is unique and as far as I’m aware, there is no established learning method – from what I understand, its an instrument you connect with, you feel, you identify with. For me, the Portuguese guitar is the rightful partner of Fado, one half of a whole, faithful, dedicated and devoted.

Amália Rodrigues

Fado is sung by male and females alike. However, I have a propensity towards the fadistas and so I will leave it to someone else to scribe about the wonderful Carlos do Carmo and his fellow counterparts.

For many, the undisputed monarch of Fado is and always will be Amalia Rodrigues. She redefined Fado, and was viewed as being the fadista who wrote the rulebook on how Fado should be performed. I’ve listened to Amalia and I have to agree with my Portuguese friends. When it came to Fado, Amalia was unique, a legend, the Rainha Do Fado, even today, almost 10 years after her death.

In more recent times, there is Dulce Pontes, a talented vocalist, who blends traditional Fado with more contemporary music. Raquel Tavares, now thought to be an ambassador of modern Fado. Mafalda Arnauth, another artist that takes Fado beyond the borders of Portugal and out into the wider world.

However, when the choice is mine, I listen to Mariza. For me, she epitomises modern Fado. Her voice is reminiscent of time-honoured fadistas yet she gently pushes the boundaries, influencing her performances with a contemporary style. And, for me, one of the most sublime aspects of Mariza is that she’s also a great ambassador for Portugal. Never a bad thing.


So – if you haven’t already, visit a Casa de Fado. They’re all over Lisbon and Coimbra. Be prepared to discover something unique, beautiful, haunting – be prepared to experience the soul of Portugal…ahhhh…saudades…

NB – Never talk during a Fado performance, whether you’re in a small venue or a large one. It’s considered incredibly rude. And I’d be rather disappointed in you if you did!

Article by Frogdropping - Accidental expat. Freelance Writer. Visited Lisbon in 2008 and lost her passport. Currently outstaying her bem-vindo.

One Comment on "Fado. The Soul of Portugal."

  1. Ana Quillinan June 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm · Reply

    I so agree with this statement, “I’m not so sure that (as an outsider) the source of Fado is as important as the effects of Fado. Whenever I listen to Fado, I flood with emotion – yearning for those that I love but see so little of, nostalgia for joyful times long since passed…ahhhhh the missing…”

    Just today, I was listening to a Fado featured on the Cafe Luso FB wall and indeed, even with modern technology, I felt the sentiment more than I heard it.

    I’d love to introduce you to the new ebook, A Fado for the River, by a South African author who made Fado the spirit of this tantalizing thriller. Let me know if you’d be interested in reviewing it for this blog.

    ~ Ana

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