Sound Travels Wednesday: Fado

Marcus here with your Sound Travels run-down for Wednesday’s show– Portuguese Fado. When thinking about this week, I had originally intended to do the women of Fado on Monday and then move into some warm weather music for spring… Well spring ain’t here, and after seeing the film “Fado,” by Carlos Saures, I thought why not just delve deeper into this awesome art?

If you didn’t make it to Mequon for the advance screening Milwaukee Film showed, too bad! The soundtravels_logo1film was fresher than anything I’ve seen in awhile, a musical that in its own incredibly beautiful way told the story of this amazing style of music. While I am not reviewing the film here, I will strongly recommend it to anyone intrigued by fado.

Fado, as I mentioned, is distinctively Portuguese and to my ears, the soul of Lisboa, Portugal’s beautiful capital. I can say that, I’ve been there and felt that straight to my core. Of all the Euopean cities I’ve seen, Lisboa is the most mysterious, whose secrets are the most rewarding. A city that respects your need for space and parties on the street all night. A city that was at it’s height in the early 1700’s, overseeing an empire that was in many ways a rival to the English, with colonies in Brazil, Goa(India), Angola, Mozambiqué and… well, all over the world really.  And a city that bore the brunt of an earthquake that in 1755, leveled it and brought an effective close to a golden age in Portuguese history. Needless to say, Lisboa has had some hard times.

800px-lisbon_3_of_31The sadness inherent in fado seems an appropriate expression from this city, its birthplace. The story of fado’s origins begin around the 1820’s, with a woman named Maria Severa. Maria Severa was many things: a Gypsy, she was tall, graceful and apparently, a prostitute. Despite her nickname, “barbuda,” or the bearded one, she was reputed to have charm and could certainly sing and play well enough to attract a member of the landed gentry, a certain Count de Vimioso, into a notorious love. Together they had an affair that was forbidden because of their classes and, as with most relationships of its kind at the time, hopeless.

Maria would find comfort in belting out her sorrows in the bars and clubs of Lisbon’s Barrio Alto, while strumming along on her guitarra Portuguesa (a twelve-string, mandolin-like instrument, possibly of Moorish origin). She started a tradition with her simple chord progressions and heartfelt cries and moans. A tradition that is very alive and well to this day in clubs and bars in the same areas of Lisboa.

People began to call this music fado. Literally, fado means fate but, as with many other Portuguese words, it implies so much more. Life, love, death, sorrow, betrayal, revenge, friendship–the very nature of life and those things that evoke saudade, another word that has no direct translation to English. Saudade is a yearning for something, some direction life was supposed to take, a love that chose another, betrayal, loss…things that cannot be or that never were, fado is what’s left. Everyone has their own fado, it’s a personal thing.

And a global one too, fadistas today, come from all over the Portuguese speaking world. I started the set with one such as that– the new queen of the fado, Mariza, whom I also played on Monday. This time it was her sombre “Meu Fado Meu” that I worked into the deep baritone of Carlos Ramos’ “Valeu a Pena” to show the fine work the gents bring to the genre. Ana Moura’s “Fado Menor” shows a diverse side to the genre, as Moura is of Angolan-Portuguese origin and is part of the young vanguard of singers who are keeping the tradition alive. She was ‘discovered’ by the legendary Maria Da Fé who I also have in the set with her crucial, “Fado Alfama.” The Alfama is not only the subject of her fado, it is the legendary birthplace of the genre as well as being the oldest part of the city; and very appropriately played today. Da Fé, y’all’ is one of my all-time favorites…something about the voice.

Voices which all of these performers have in reserve and few as stylish as the great Carlos do Carmo, whose “Barrio Alto” ends the set today. The Barrio in question the same where Maria Severa sang, immortalized in his song. Barrio Alto is also one of my favorite spots in the city, perched above the Rossio and the Baixa Chiado and accessed via antique elevadores and electric trams, a trip so quaint I get all nostalgic… perhaps I have a fado in me to sing too… In any case I played some beautiful music today, if you missed it, here it is. Tune in on Friday for a fado finale!

Sound Travels Wednesday : Portuguese Fado



1. Mariza : “Meu Fado Meu”

2. Carlos Ramos : “Valeu a Pena”

3. Ana Moura : “Fado Menor”

4. Celese Rodriguez : “Vinte Anos”

5. Maria Da Fé : “Fado Alfama”

6. Carlos do Carlo : “Barrio Alto”


2 Responses

  1. I’m about 4 weeks late, but I remember listening to the first track of this Sound Travels in my car on lunch. I tend to be one that immerses myself into the music that’s playing and that Mariza track absolutely transported me to another world. Keep up the excellent work on Sound Travels Marcus.

  2. Just wanted to tell you all know how much I appreciate your postings guys.
    Found you though google!

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