Fado is a mystery, said the great singer Amália Rodrigues. This musical style emerged in Lisbon’s old neighborhoods in the 19th century. Its unique character comes from the Portuguese guitar, a twelve-string instrument with a haunting, melancholic sound. No one knows who invented it.
Female singers dress in black, as if they are in mourning. When their voices soar, they express ancient sorrows that don’t fit in the 12-tone scale of western music. So, they reach for the microtones of old Arab prayers. How do they remember these sounds?
Fado is Amália Rodrigues, a singer who could express the inexpressible. When she died, in the last year of the 20th century, fado seemed to die with her. But singers like Carminho and Mariza picked up where Amalia left of, singing with voices that have one thousand trills. Where did they learn them?
You can hear Amalia Rodrigues here. Click here and here for Carminho’s and Mariza’s web sites.
5 thoughts on “What is Fado?”
One of the things we regret missing on a recent visit to Tavira was an opportunity to visit the Fado museum which explains this Portuguese music style. We plan, however, to make this a top priority when we return to Portugal. Sounds amazing! Anita
If you listen to the recordings from the early 1900s you will hear that fado music was syllabic not melismatic. It did not sound arabic at all. Amalia (who I met) started to add some flamenco tricks to her singing which began in the 1930s. The history of the guitarra portuguesa is documented in Pedro Caldeira Cabral’s 1999 book, A Guitarra Portuguesa. We know the names of individual guitarra makers back for hundreds of years. There is an annotated bibliography at the end of my free lesson for the Portuguese Guitarra at http://www.fernandezmusic.com
Hi Ron: thanks for the great comments and references. We will follow up on them!