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Translation Embassy | The magic of Fado
Translation Embassy | The magic of Fado
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The magic of Fado

24 Jul The magic of Fado

As my apartment was located just above a live music restaurant in the old town, Fado was the first Portuguese cultural element I came across on my very first day there. It is a sort of traditional music, like rebetiko in Greece or Türkü in Turkey. The Fado museum of Lisbon was in the nearby area and I visited it at my earliest convenience to learn more about the history of this genre. In this article I’ll introduce the music of fado, which will enchant the readers with its notes and magic!

Portuguese guitar – Fado

 

Fado appeared in the 19th century for the first time. Portugal was undergoing a big institutional and political turmoil then. Napoleon had just invaded the country and the royal family had to flee to Brazil. A period of instability dominated until the middle of the 19th century.

Fado started from marginal groups. The social classes, among which it first became popular, were often involved in violence, offences or crimes. Since the music was associated with such environments, there was a prejudice against it and sometimes male singers were treated as offenders and were even sent to prison. However, fado was gradually politicized and through intellectual milieus it reached upper classes of the society, like the bohemian aristocracy. Furthermore, it formed an important means of communication for trade unions, since it was used to promote protests and an active participation in the social field.

Fado songs tell about the daily life of people in Lisbon. The music of fado was played in folk festivals, in the street and in bars for entertainment. In 1910 it was evidenced for the first time in painting with the work of Jose Malhoa titled “O fado”. The painting pictures a bohemian man coming from low social classes, who sings a song to a woman holding a fado in his hands. It is said that the male and female models in the picture are real persons.

 

O fado – Jose Malhoa

 

An official law, which entered into force in 1927, caused fado to undergo major changes. These included the following:

  • The lyrics were censored and songs were banned.
  • Appropriate bars were determined, in which fado could be played.
  • Singers were obliged to issue licences from the authorities.
  • Singers and musicians gradually started to wear suitable costumes.
  • Fado could not be played everywhere anymore. It could only be performed in special places, called “casas de fado”.

Lyrics are censored

The above changes left no room for improvisation in fado. Singers and musicians were professionalized and audiences gradually increased. Later fado became even more widespread thanks to the advancement of television and radio. Fado songs conquered the screen and were presented in cinema, theatre, films and live shows in television. They even managed to spread from Portugal to the Portuguese colonies around the world.

Today tourists and locals in Lisbon are still fascinated by the melody of fado in the narrow streets of Alfama. Fado singers are many. One of the most important ones is Amalia Rodrigues, who was considered to be the “voice of Portugal”.

Amalia Rodrigues

Finishing this presentation I’ll add some more videos of the concerts in the small restaurant below my window. Enjoy yourself!

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