For other uses, see Fado (disambiguation).
This article is about the Portuguese music genre. For the computer documentation system, see FADO.

Fado (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈfaðu]; "destiny, fate") is a music genre which can be traced to the 1820s in Portugal, but probably with much earlier origins. Fado historian and scholar Rui Vieira Nery states that "the only reliable information on the history of Fado was orally transmitted and goes back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. But even that information was frequently modified within the generational transmission process that made it reach us today."[1]

Although the origins are difficult to trace, today fado is commonly regarded as simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain traditional structure. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word saudade, or "longing", symbolizing a feeling of loss (a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent lifelong damage). This is similar to the character of the music genre Morna from Cape Verde, which may be historically linked to fado in its earlier form but has retained its rhythmic heritage. This connection to the music of a historic Portuguese urban and maritime proletariat (sailors, dock workers, port traders, etc.) can also be found in Brazilian Modinha and Indonesian Kroncong, although all these music genres subsequently developed their own independent traditions.

Famous singers of fado include Amália Rodrigues, Dulce Pontes, Carlos do Carmo, Mariza, Mafalda Arnauth, António Zambujo, Ana Moura, Camané, Helder Moutinho, Carminho, Mísia, Cristina Branco, and Gisela João.

On 27 November 2011, Fado was inscribed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.[2] It is one of two Portuguese music traditions part of the lists, the other being Cante Alentejano.[3]


Fado, painting by José Malhoa (1910)

The word "fado" comes from the Latin word fatum,[4] from which the English word "fate" also originates.[5] The word is linked to the music genre itself and, although both meanings are approximately the same in the two languages, Portuguese speakers seldom utilize the word fado referring to destiny or fate. Nevertheless, many songs play on the double meaning, such as the Amália Rodrigues song "Com que voz", which includes the lyric "Com que voz chorarei meu triste fado" ("With what voice should I lament my sad fate/sing my sad fado?").

The English-Latin term vates, the Scandinavian fata ("to compose music") and the French name fatiste (also meaning "poet") have been associated with the term fadista.[6][7]


Fado appeared during the early 19th century in Lisbon, and is believed to have its origins in the port districts like Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto.

There are many theories about the origin of Fado. Some trace its origins or influences to "cantigas de amigo" (friends songs) and possibly ancient Moorish influence, but none conclusive. Fado typically employs the Dorian mode, Ionian mode (natural major), sometimes switching between the two during a melody or verse change, more recently the Phrygian mode (common in Middle Eastern and Flamenco music), which is not considered a traditional feature of this genre. A particular stylistic trait of fado is the use of rubato, where the music pauses at the end of a phrase and the singer holds the note for dramatic effect. The music uses double time rhythm and triple time (waltz style).

Fado performers in the middle of the 19th century were mainly from urban working class and sailors, who not only sang, but also danced and beat the fado. During the second half of the 19th century, the African rhythms would become less important, and the performers became merely singers (fadistas).

Maria Severa - Fado-Singer (1820-1846)

The 19th century's most renowned fadista was Maria Severa.

More recently Amália Rodrigues, known as the "Rainha do Fado" ("Queen of Fado") was most influential in popularizing fado worldwide.[8] Fado performances today may be accompanied by a string quartet or a full orchestra.

Varieties of fado

There are two main varieties of fado, namely those of the cities of Lisbon and Coimbra. The Lisbon style is more well known - alongside the status of Amália Rodrigues, while that of Coimbra is traditionally linked to the city's University. Modern fado is popular in Portugal, and has produced many renowned musicians. According to tradition, to applaud fado in Lisbon you clap your hands, while in Coimbra one coughs as if clearing one's throat.

Lisbon Fado

Early history

Born in the popular contexts of the 1800s Lisbon, Fado was present in convivial and leisure moments. Happening spontaneously, its execution took place indoors or outdoors, in gardens, bullfights, retreats, streets and alley, taverns, cafés de camareiras and casas de meia-porta. Evoking urban emergence themes, singing the daily narratives, Fado is profoundly related to social contexts ruled by marginality and transgression in a first phase, taking place in locations visited by prostitutes, faias, sailors, coachmen and marialvas. Often surprised in prison, its actors - the singers - are described in the faia figure, a fado singer guy, a bully of a rough and hoarse voice with tattoos and skilled with a flick knife who spoke using slang. As we will see, fado's association to society's most marginal spheres would definitely make the Portuguese intellectuals reject it profoundly.

Example of a typical fado tavern in the Fado Museum, Lisbon

Stating the communion of ludic spaces between the bohemian aristocracy and the most disfavoured fringes of Lisbon's population, the history of fado crystallized into myth the episode of the amorous relationship between the Count Vimioso and Maria Severa Onofriana (1820–1846), a Romani gypsy (Cigana) prostitute consecrated by her singing talents, who would soon transform into one of greatest myths of the History of Fado. In successive image and sound reprises, the allusion to the involvement between a bohemian aristocrat with the fado singing prostitute would cross several sung poems and even the cinema and the theatre or the visual arts - beginning with the novel A Severa, by Júlio Dantas, published in 1901 and transported to the silver screen in 1931 - the first Portuguese sound film, directed by Leitão de Barros.

Fado would also conquer ground in festive events connected to the city's popular calendar, beneficence parties or cegadas - amateur and popular theatrical presentations generally performed by men on the street, in night feats, and popular associations. Although this sort of presentation was a famous entertaining form of Lisbon’s Carnival, enjoying popular support and often with strong intervening characters, the censorship regulation in 1927 would strongly but irreversibly contribute to the extinction of this type of show.

The Teatro de Revista [a sort of vaudeville theatre], a typical theatre genre from Lisbon born in 1851, would soon discover fado's potential. In 1870, fado began to appear in its music scenes and from there projects itself to a broader audience. Lisbon's social and cultural context, with its typical neighbourhoods, and bohemia, assumed an absolute protagonism in Teatro de Revista. Ascending to the theatre stages, fado would animate the Revista, developing new themes and melodies. Teatro de Revista was orchestrated and filled with refrains. Fado would be sung by famous actresses, and renowned fado singers, singing their repertoires. Two different approaches to fado would become recorded in history: the danced fado stylized by Francis and the spoken fado of João Villaret. A central figure in the history of Fado, Hermínia Silva conquered fame on the theatre stages in the 1930s and 1940s, adding her unmistakable singing gifts to those of a comical actress and revisteira. Fado's appropriation field broadened in the last quarter of the 19th century. This was the time of the formal stabilization of the poetic form of the “ten-verse stanza”, a quatrain made of four stanzas of ten verses each, on which fado would get its structure and later develop into other variants. This is also the period of the definition of the Portuguese guitar - progressively diffused from the urban centres to the country's rural areas - in its specific component as fado companion.

In the first decades of the 20th century, fado began to be gradually divulged and gained popular consecration through the publication of periodicals on the subject and the consolidation of new performing venues in a broad network that began incorporating Fado in its agenda with a commercial perspective, fixating private casts which would often form embassies or artistic groups for tours. In parallel the relationship of Fado with the theatre stages was consolidated and the performances by fado singers at Revistas musical scenes and operettas multiplied.

Estado Novo

In fact, the appearance of fado singing professional companies in the 1930s allowed promoting shows with great casts and their circulation in theatres north and south of the country, and even in international tours. That was the case of “Grupo Artístico de Fados”, with Berta Cardoso (1911–1997), Madalena de Melo (1903–1970), Armando Augusto Freire, (1891–1946) Martinho d’Assunção (1914–1992) and João da Mata, and “Grupo Artístico Propaganda do Fado”, with Deonilde Gouveia (1900–1946), Júlio Proença (1901–1970) and Joaquim Campos (1899–1978), or “Troupe Guitarra de Portugal”, with Ercília Costa (1902–1985) and Alfredo Marceneiro (1891–1982) among others.

Although the first discographic records produced in Portugal date from the beginning of the 20th century, at this stage the national market was still very incipient since it was quite expensive to buy gramophones and records. Effectively, the fundamental conditions for recording sound appeared after the invention of the electric microphone in 1925. At the same time, gramophones started being made at more competitive prices. This created more favorable conditions for the market among the middle class.

In the context of the mediatization instruments of fado, TSF - wireless telegraphy - had a central importance in the first decades of the 20th century. Among the intense activity of radio broadcasting stations between 1925 and 1935, CT1AA, Rádio Clube Português, Rádio Graça and Rádio Luso - this last one quickly becoming popular for favouring fado. The broadcasts of the first Portuguese radio station, CT1AA, began in 1925. Investing in technical and logistic infrastructures which guaranteed it the expansion of its broadcast range and the broadcasts regularity, CT1AA of Abílio Nunes incorporated fado in its broadcasts, conquering a large group of listeners, including in the Portuguese emigration diaspora. With live feeds from the theaters and musical live presentations at the studios, CT1AA also promoted the broadcast of an experimental fado show directed by the Spanish guitar player Amadeu Ramin.

With the military coup of the 28 May 1926 and the implementation of previous censorship on public shows, the press and other publications, the urban song would suffer profound changes. In fact, in the following year the Decree Law Number 13 564 of 6 May 1927 globally regulated the show activities through extensive clauses; defending a “superior supervision of all the houses and show venues or public entertaining (...) by the General Inspection of Theatres and its delegates in behalf of the Public Instruction Ministry” on its 200 articles. Fado suffered unavoidable changes. The legal instrument regulated on the attribution of licenses to the companies which promoted shows at the most diversified venues, authorship rights, mandatory previous viewing of shows and sung repertoires, specific regulation for attributing the professional card, contracts, and tour traveling, among many other subjects. Significant mutations were so imposed on the performing venues, on the way interpreters presented themselves, and on the sung repertoires - stripped of any improvised character - cementing a professionalization process of several interpreters, instrument players, songwriters and composers, who were then performing at several venues before an increasing audience.

The hearing of fados would gradually become ritualized at fado houses, places which concentrated in the city’s historic neighbourhoods, mainly in Bairro Alto, especially since the 1930s. These transformations in the fado production would necessarily drift it apart from improvisation, losing some of its original performing contexts diversity and imposing the specialization of interpreters, authors and musicians. In parallel, the discographic and radio recordings proposed a triage of voices and performing practices that were imposed as models, thus limiting improvisation.

The next decade, the revivalism trends of the so-called typical features would definitely prevail, leading to a replication of the most genuine and picturesque in fado’s performing venues.

Fado was present in the theater and the radio since their first moments and the same would happen in the Seventh Art. In fact, the appearance of sound films was marked by the musical genre and the Portuguese cinema gave special attention to fado. Proving it, the theme of the first Portuguese sound film, directed by Leitão de Barros in 1931, was the misfortunes of the mythical Severa. As a central theme or a mere side note, fado accompanied cinema production until the 1970s. In fact, the Portuguese cinema showed particular interest in the fado universe in 1947 with O Fado, História de uma Cantadeira, starring Amália Rodrigues or in 1963, with O Miúdo da Bica, starring Fernando Farinha. Despite the protagonism of Amália Rodrigues, the participation of artists like Fernando Farinha, Hermínia Silva, Berta Cardoso, Deolinda Rodrigues, Raul Nery and Jaime Santos in the Seventh Art are also noteworthy.[9]

While radio broadcasts brought fado to thousands of people, the inauguration of Rádio Televisão Portuguesa in 1957 – and after coverage became national in the mid-1970s - brought the faces of artists to the general public. Environments connected to fado themes were recreated inside the studios between 1959 and 1974, with live broadcasts of fado shows. Enjoying the diffusion on the Teatro de Revista stages since the last quart of the 19th century, and the promotion on the specialized press since the first decades of the 20th century, fado became progressively mediatized by the radio, cinema, and television. It gained great strength between the 1940s and 1960, often called the golden years.. The annual contest 'Grande Noite do Fado' began in 1953, lasting until the present. Gathering hundreds of candidates from several organizations and associations of the city, this contest became traditionally held at Coliseu dos Recreios, still an important event for the fado tradition of Lisbon and promotion of young amateurs attempting professional status.

The exponents of fado were at the time attached to a network of typical houses with regular casts. But now they had a broader working market with many possibilities of discographic recording, tours, performances at radio and television. In parallel, there were performances by fado singers at the 'Serões para Trabalhadores', cultural events broadcast by radio and promoted by FNAT since 1942. Fado programmes were also promoted by the Secretariado Nacional de Informação, Cultura e Turismo which became the responsibility of the Emissora Nacional and Inspecção Geral dos Espectáculos in 1944. In the 1950s, the international success of Amália Rodrigues attracted the regime's attention with unfortunate consequences for her after its collapse.

The simplicity of Fado’s melodic structure values the voice interpretation, and also sublimes the sung repertoires. With a strong evocative inclination, fado’s poetry appeals to the communion between the interpreter, the musicians and the listeners. In quatrains or improvised quatrains, five-verse stanzas, six-verse stanzas, decasyllables and alexandrine verses, this popular poetry evokes themes related to love, luck, individual fate, and the city’s daily narrative. Sensitive to social injustice, Fado gained interventionist contours on many occasions.

And although the first Fado lyrics were mostly anonymous, successively transmitted by oral tradition, this would definitely be reversed in the mid-1920s, when several popular poets emerged, such as Henrique Rego, João da Mata, Gabriel de Oliveira, Frederico de Brito, Carlos Conde and João Linhares Barbosa, who gave special attention to fado. In the 1950s, fado would definitely cross the path of erudite poetry in the voice of Amália Rodrigues. After the decisive contribution of the composer Alain Oulman, fado began singing texts of poets with academic education and published literary works, such as David Mourão-Ferreira, Pedro Homem de Mello, José Régio, Luiz de Macedo, and later Alexandre O.Neill, Sidónio Muralha, Leonel Neves and Vasco de Lima Couto, among many others.

The international divulgation of Fado had begun in the mid-1930s. Fado spread towards the African continent and Brazil, preferred performing destinations of some artists such as Ercília Costa, Berta Cardoso, Madalena de Melo, Armandinho, Martinho d’Assunção and João da Mata, among others. However, the internationalization of fado would only consolidate in the 1950s, especially thanks to Amália Rodrigues.

Surpassing the cultural and language barriers, Fado would definitely become a national culture icon with Amália. For decades and until her death, in 1999, Amália Rodrigues was its national and international star.

Second Republic

Mariza, the major name in modern fado.

The April 1974 Revolution instituted a democratic parliamentary republic in Portugal. Founded on the integration of public liberties, respect and guaranty of individual rights (with the inherent opening of a more active civic, political and social participation to citizens), new global influences would be felt progressively over the following decades. This context modified fado’s relation with the Portuguese market, centred on popular music with an intervening character while simultaneously absorbing many of the musical forms created abroad.

Madredeus Concert in Aveiro

In the years immediately after the revolution, the two years interruption of the contest Grande Noite do Fado and the radical decrease of fado’s presence at radio or television broadcasts testified to a public hostility towards fado that even Amália Rodrigues was not immune from because of association with the time of Estado Novo.

In fact, only when the democratic regime became stable, in 1976, would fado regain its own space. The following year the album Um Homem na Cidade was released by one of the biggest names of Lisbon’s urban song, a central figure of fado’s internationalization. As no other, the owner of a solid 45 years career has articulated the most legitimate fado tradition to an unending ability to recreate it.

As the ideological debate around fado gradually comes to an end, it was mostly since the 1980s that fado consenso is recognized its central position in the scene of the Portuguese musical patrimony. The market showed a renewed interest for Lisbon’s urban song, as testified by the increasing attention given by the discographic industry through the re-edition of recorded registries, fado’s gradual interpretation in the popular festivities circuits at a regional scale, the progressive appearance of a new generation of interpreters, and even the approach of singers from other areas to fado such as José Mário Branco, Sérgio Godinho, António Variações and Paulo de Carvalho.

Internationally there is also a renewed interest in local musical cultures. Amália Rodrigues and Carlos do Carmo are among fado's most famous names in the record industry, the media and live shows.

In the 1990s, fado would definitely cement its position in the international World Music circuits with Mísia and Cristina Branco, in the French and the Dutch circuits, respectively. Another emerging name in fado's panorama is Camané. In the 1990s and the turn of the century a new generation of talented interpreters appears: Teresa Salgueiro of Madredeus, Mafalda Arnauth, Katia Guerreiro, Maria Ana Bobone, Joana Amendoeira, Ana Moura, Ana Sofia Varela, Pedro Moutinho, Helder Moutinho, Gonçalo Salgueiro, António Zambujo, Miguel Capucho, Rodrigo Costa Félix, Patrícia Rodrigues, and Raquel Tavares.[10] In the international circuit, however, it is Mariza who conquers an absolute protagonism, drawing a fulgurant pathway during which she has won successive prizes in the World Music category.

Coimbra fado

Main article: Coimbra fado

This fado is closely linked to the academic traditions of the University of Coimbra and is exclusively sung by men; both the singers and musicians wear the academic outfit (traje académico): dark robe, cape and leggings. It is sung at night, almost in the dark, in city squares or streets. The most typical venues are the stairsteps of the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Old Cathedral of Coimbra. It is also customary to organize serenades where songs are performed before the window of the woman to be courted.

As in Lisbon, Coimbra fado is accompanied with the guitarra portuguesa and viola (classical guitar). The tuning, sound coloring, and construction of the Coimbra guitarra has evolved into a different instrument from that of Lisbon. Artur Paredes revolutionized the tuning and accompaniment style to Coimbra fado, adding his name to the most progressive and innovative singers. Artur Paredes was the father of Carlos Paredes, who followed and expanded on his work, making the Portuguese guitar an instrument known around the world.

In the 1950s, a new movement led the singers of Coimbra to adopt the ballad and folklore. They began interpreting lines of the great poets, both classical and contemporary, as a form of resistance to the Salazar dictatorship. In this movement names such as Adriano Correia de Oliveira and José Afonso (Zeca Afonso) had a leading role in popular music during the Portuguese revolution 1974.

Some of the most famous fados of Coimbra include: Fado Hilário, Saudades de Coimbra (“Do Choupal até à Lapa”), Balada da Despedida (“Coimbra tem mais encanto, na hora da despedida” - the first phrases are often more recognizable than the song titles), O meu menino é d’oiro, and Samaritana. The "judge-singer" Fernando Machado Soares is an important figure, being the author of some of those famous fados.

Curiously, it is not a Coimbra fado but a popular song which is the most known title referring to this city: Coimbra é uma lição, which had success with titles such as April in Portugal.

See also


  1. http://www.fnac.pt/Para-uma-Historia-do-Fado-Rui-Vieira-Nery/a306961
  2. "Fado, urban popular song of Portugal". UNESCO Culture Sector. Retrieved 2011-11-27.
  3. "Cante Alentejano, polyphonic singing from Alentejo, southern Portugal". unesco.org. UNESCO. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  4. Online Etymology Dictionary: fado
  5. Online Etymology Dictionary: fate
  7. Teófilo Braga. Epopêas da raça mosárabe
  8. Rohter, Larry (March 25, 2011). "Carving Out a Bold Destiny for Fado". The New York Times.
  9. Gabriela Cruz, 'The Suspended Voice of Amália Rodrigues'. In: Music in Print and Beyond, pp. 180-199. ISBN 9781580464161
  10. For an attempt to explain the aesthetics of fado at the beginning of the 21st century see Andreas Dorschel, 'Ästhetik des Fado.' In: Merkur 69 (2015), no. 2, pp. 79–86 (article online)

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