Fado is the best-known Portuguese popular music style, both nationally and internationally. Considered an urban music, it is commonly accepted that the epicenter of this musical movement took place in Lisbon in the first half of the 19th century.
About the origin of fado, there is no certainty. The most accepted theory is that fado was a popular adaptation of modinhas and lundus, trendy in Brazil in the 17th and 18th centuries. Another theory is that fado is born from the coexistence of different regional musical subcultures that meet in the cities due to migratory movements resulting from the industrial revolution.
The term fado comes from the Latin “fatum”, which means fate. It is not known precisely why this music is called fado, but Fernando Pessoa gives us a clue:
“All poetry – and the song is an aided poetry – reflects what the soul does not have. That is why the song of sad people is happy, and the song of happy people is sad. The fado, however, is neither joyful nor sad. It is an interval episode. The Portuguese soul formed it when it didn’t exist and desired everything without having the strength to desire it. Strong souls attribute everything to Fate; only the weak trust in their own will because it doesn’t exist. The fado is the weariness of the strong soul, Portugal’s contemptuous look at the God in whom it believed and also abandoned it. In fado, the Gods return legitimate and distant. That’s the secret meaning of the figure of El-Rei D. Sebastião”.
About Portugal – Introduction to the National Problem. Fernando Pessoa (Collection of texts by Maria Isabel Rocheta and Maria Paula Morão. Introduction organized by Joel Serrão) Lisbon: Ática, 1979 – 98.
As a musical style, fado gained an autonomous dimension, since it’s of relative importance to understand its historical origin and the meaning of its name to understand what fado is today. It is more important to understand that the style of music called fado is different from the current musical movement called fado.
The musical movement called fado is what we usually hear in fado concerts, that is, the repertoire of fado singers. This musical movement encompasses other musical styles that are not fado. Currently, most fado singers sing Traditional Fado (pure fado), Fado-Canção (a fado style that incorporates aesthetic and formal elements from other styles of music), Marchas (from Santo António), Portuguese folklore, and other songs that have become part of the fado singers’ repertoire.
Fado Canção results from incorporating aesthetic and formal elements (such as the refrain) into fado from other musical languages. For this reason, it is also usually called “musicated fado”: Simply, one can say it is a mixture of fado and other musical genres. Sometimes it comes closer to the fado aesthetic, but other times it distances itself completely. Unlike Traditional Fado, and similar to other songs, the theme’s name refers to the music and lyrics as a whole. Some of the best-known creations of this genre are Nem às Paredes Confesso, Ó Gente da Minha Terra, and Tudo Isto é fado.
The Marcha is a popular style associated with summer celebrations of popular saints, the best known being the Santo António festivities in Lisbon. Some of the best-known marches are Lisboa Antiga, Marcha d’Alfama, De Rosa ao Peito, Cheira Bem Cheira a Lisboa.
Folklore encompasses several traditional styles of Portugal. In the fado movement, they can be adaptations or folklore-inspired creations. They are primarily festive songs in a major key. Some of the best-known folklore themes are Fadinho Serrano, Bailarico Saloio, Fadinho da Ti Maria Benta, and Sr. Vinho.
In the fado singers’ repertoire, other songs have gained much popularity. However, they do not fit into the Fado-Canção category because they are too far away from the fado language or initially created in other musical styles. Examples of this style are Uma Casa Portuguesa, Abril em Portugal (” Coimbra”), Chuva, Dia de Folga, Meu Amor de Longe, Barco Negro.
However, fadistas also sing what is called Traditional Fado, the most authentic Fado tradition. This kind of fado has characteristics that make this style unique. It is a music of freedom:
In this more traditional approach, each fado requires a specific poem structure, not an exact poem. We can sing Fado Cravo with any poem as long as it is organized in groups of 6 verses, each verse containing exactly 7 metric syllables, and the rhyme scheme is abcabc or aabccb. In Fado Alberto, on the other hand, we can sing any poem as long as it is composed of groups of 4 verses, each verse with 10 metric syllables, and the rhyme scheme is abab or abba. Thus, thematic freedom is total, and fadistas are free to sing poems that are meaningful to them and not the poems that others sing.
On the musical level, Traditional Fado performances are primarily improvisational. As in jazz, each fado is a harmonic and melodic structure upon which each musician must create and recreate in real time each time he or she performs it. The more traditional side of fado lives from the spontaneity of improvisation, which explains the intense and authentic emotions that are experienced in the performances.
With the radio and the invention of the records, fado quickly became a national song. There isn’t a fado from Porto, a fado from Lisbon, or a fado from Coimbra. However, the style that, strictly speaking, is called “Canção de Coimbra” is, in common sense, called fado from Coimbra.
There are currently 3 models for Portuguese guitars: the Coimbra, Lisbon and Porto models. They differ mainly in the proportions, harmonic crossbars, and head: the Lisbon model is snail-shaped, the Coimbra model is tear-shaped, and the Porto model is dragon-shaped.
Notably, it was in Porto that the first Portuguese guitar method was published. It was written by António Silva Leite in 1976. The first Fado recording also took place in Porto in 1900 – Fado Hilario, by “señor Duarte Silva, baritone Portuguese.”
Some of the most important names in the history of fado were also from Porto: Gabino Ferreira, José Fontes Rocha, Beatriz da Conceição, and Maria da Fé, for example. Nowadays in Porto, fado is the music style with more concerts. Every day there are professional and amateur fado events in the afternoon and evening.