Fado is the musical expression of Lisbon and Portugal. The word “Fado” comes from “fatum” in Latin, which means destiny. The frustration and fatalism felt by the inhabitants of Lisbon’s humble fishing neighborhoods, ports, and taverns are reflected in this melancholic and nostalgic music.
Fado can be traced back to the first half of the eighteenth century, as a force from the city’s most humble districts that slowly but surely penetrated the whole of Lisbon. Its creation is very similar to Argentina’s renowned tango music. It has the same passion and the songs are often about women or the sea. But unlike tango, Fado doesn’t have dancers that sway to the music and is somewhat more introvert, secluded, intimate in essence and “saudade” as the Portuguese say: a tough to translate term encompassing melancholia, longing and nostalgia.
Fado remembers what is lost, Portugal’s lost empire, the country that could have been, the man that lost his glory. Fado’s lyrics look back on the country’s history and its scarred soul, which are sung so well by great poets like Pessoa or Camoens.
After years of associating this music genre with Salazar’s dictatorship and a tourism attraction, nowadays Fado is reawakening. It has found a space in the country’s hearts and its lyrics are written by the best poets.
Fado is largely attributed to the collective memory given by Amália Rodrígues (1920-1999), considered to be the country’s best singer.
You can listen to Fados in the Fado Clubs (Casas de Fado) and you’ll find authentic Fado in the Lisbon neighbourhoods of Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto.