Fado has long been a fascination of mine for several years. The fascination grew while researching my mother’s heritage and culture. As her parents were both half Portuguese, she has a direct connection to Portuguese culture. Sited as a piece of UNESCO World Heritage; the singing of traditional Portuguese Fado goes back to the 19th century. As such, Fado takes on a bizarre summary that intertwines with African heritage, the voice of the common people and commercialism.

IMG: Jeanne Menjoulet. Fado wall. Street Art Lisbon. Flickr. CCBY

Prostitutes, farmers, and laborers originally sang Fado as an oral tradition. As it gained in popularity and songs were passed down, it began to gain momentum in the beginning of the 20th century. Eventually, people would come out to see performances of Fado, which often tell of not only the conditions of life in Portugal but also the tragedy of nostalgia or struggle that comes from working in one’s homeland.  This movement would give birth to famous singers, recordings, and performances throughout the turn of the 20th century Portugal.

All of this would change with the dictatorship of Antonio Salazar, which my mom lived through. Salazar was highly conservative, tried to maintain strict orders and even tried to hold onto previous colonies in Portugal such as Brasil and Angola.  Under his strict regime, Fado was limited and regulated.  At first, it seemed a loss, as many great artists couldn’t be heard in performance halls anymore. However, this turned into a positive with the movement of Fado to Brasil and many countries in Africa (especially Angola and Mozambique). As such, Fado has permeated outside of Portugal which helped stabilize its popularity and oral tradition which gave way for Afro-Portuguese communities to pick up Fado for themselves in song, writing and eventually film.

In researching and learning about the popularity of Fado today, my discoveries would culminate in a trip to Lisboa (Lisbon). I was able to go to the Museu do Fado and watch a performance of Fado in Lisboa. The museum, while small, has real recordings from past artists, along with guitars – a major component of Fado singing and a complement to many Fado singers – that had their own history, and several portraits. However, the best part of my Fado experience was the live performance; in which the singer gave off the sadness of nostalgia and the passion in the pride of Portugal in her signing. It was the composition of what I had been looking up as a true part of my mother’s culture ended up coinciding with African culture as well. Before we headed out from Lisboa, we grabbed a CD of the most famous Fado singer of all: Mariza. Every now and then when I’m home with my mom, she puts on the CD and I drift back to the bonding experience of my mother’s Portugal through the music of Fado.



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