Portuguese Fado

Fado and Saudade in Lisbon

Last updated on September 7th, 2017

Fado is part of the Portuguese soul, fado tells life as it unfolds. It may sound a cliché, but be warned, it is not. Influenced by Latin American and African ties, fado was born sometime at the beginning of the 1800. Fado is sung life and fate as the lights are low and the audience and the performers share an understanding of music and poetry.

Fado can be popular or exclusive, sung for rich merchant princes or poor toiling farmers. Fado is melancholy. Even if you don’t understand the words, you understand the meaning. Being away from home, from loved ones, waiting for better days. For a few fleeting instants, you feel something different before you got back to the daily reality of austerity measures.

You can hear fado done up, in special fado houses which are first rate and highly expensive restaurants, or go to some smaller, cheaper places where the fado is sometimes of dubious quality and where you get a mix of good and not-so-good singers. These smaller fado houses are also little restaurants, but you don’t go there for the food. The food is better and cheaper at the usual restaurants next doors. Go have a big fat tuna steak at the usual corner restaurant, then go to the fado house for a bottle of wine, some bread and olives while listening to fado.

Head out for Bairro Alto and gritty Alfama. Roam the streets and maybe you will come across hidden treasures, nondescript fado houses, unknown singers with golden voices. Some lights, some voices and music, take a seat if you like. We don’t bother booking seats for fado. Let fado and serendipity book you. Try Rua Sao Miguel, maybe around number 20, You would walk past this casa do fado without giving a second glance. Located opposite Sao Miguel’s church, the small establishment remains unchanged and traditional, yet truly modern in its identity. You need a heart and a brain to be a good fado performer. The star singer of the evening is an enigmatic Lady who has consistently dazzled audiences of Lisboans. Where is she from wonders Pedrito…

A word from Pedrito and chum about etiquette: when the music starts the chitchat stops and the cell phones are off. The fadistas (fado singers) are singing to you, sharing songs of sorrow, and they are not in the business of doing background music.