Few national soundtracks capture the history, culture and identity of people and place like fado. This is the musical expression of Portugal, a version of the blues entrenched in working-class, seafaring folklore, yet rich with the swagger of Lisbon, Coimbra and the sun-kissed Atlantic coast.
Table of contents
- The Enduring Legacy of Fado: From its Famous Fadistas to its Notable Forms
- Where to Experience Portuguese Fado in Lisbon
- Experience the joy of Fado with Scenic
To hear fado is to feel the heartbeat of Portugal. Navigate the cobbled byways of Lisbon, slip inside a traditional tasca, and experience a rhapsody of melancholy and heartbreak. Within stands the fadista, their vocal heavy with saudade – an expression capturing the longing for something lost – belting lingering ballads of lost sailors, broken hearts and tempestuous passion, their song driven by the evocative rhythm of the Portuguese 12-string guitar.
Fado, which originates from the Latin for ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’, was first heard drifting from the raucous fisherman’s taverns of Lisbon’s Alfama district in the early 19th century. Sang almost exclusively by women, fado is said to have taken influence from Moorish folk ballads, as well as the cantigas de amigo, ‘friends songs’, of the Medieval era. It was, and remains, the musical dialogue of the working classes, and its legacy is such that, in 2011, it was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Portugal.
At Scenic, we invite you to experience the aching beauty of fado as part of our Unforgettable Douro with Lisbon luxury river cruise itinerary. Trace the legacy of the genre from its roots in Lisbon and Coimbra to its influence in the northern uplands of the Douro, savouring special experiences which unveil the cultural grandeur of Portugal from north to south, east to west.
To help inspire your next visit to western Iberia, here we explore the wonder of Portuguese fado, from its renowned performers and varying styles, to the wonderful clubs, bars and restaurants which pay homage to this captivating musical form.
The Enduring Legacy of Fado: From its Famous Fadistas to its Notable Forms
In the early 19th century, Portugal had lost much of the seafaring power amassed during the Age of Discovery, with the country weakened by Napoleonic occupation and the loss of its largest colony, Brazil. This, coupled with a powerful earthquake which all but destroyed Lisbon in 1755, cultivated a lingering feeling of melancholia across the country, a sense of wistful sadness and nostalgia which would go on to influence the earliest forms of fado.
In Lisbon’s portside neighbourhoods of Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto, women began serenading sailors and working men with songs of heartbreak and longing which captured the collective mood of the country. Accompanied by the rhythm of a 12-string guitar, these early fadistas sung of souls lost at sea and the pain felt by those left behind. One of the most famous of these early singers was Maria Severa Onofriana, a courtesan whose legacy of singing in the taverns of Alfama helped shape the fado genre so beloved today.
As the popularity of traditional fado began to flourish in Lisbon, its influence spread to Coimbra, the ancient former capital of Portugal. Here, it was adopted as the official musical form of the University of Coimbra, and went on to become an intrinsic part of the academic traditions of the university. This gave rise to two distinct forms of fado, split between the genre’s birthplace in Lisbon and its new home in Coimbra.
Below, we explore the two main varieties of fado, so you can easily differentiate between the two unique performance styles.