A shawl, a guitar, a voice, a feeling

This simple image describes Fado, the iconic music of the Portuguese world. 

In its essence, fado expresses the heartbreak of longing for someone who left; the challenges and conquests of daily life. After all, the ups and downs of life are an infinite source of inspiration. Above all, the fado style of singing values the vocal performance, which gives color to the repertoire sung and brings the interpreter, the musicians, and those listening to the same level of brilliance. 

They say that fado is fado: it comes from within the Portuguese soul and there are no distinctions to be made among its singers. Even so, some people do distinguish between professionals and amateurs. The first is sung by performers who have made singing their way of life. The second, also known as vadio, has other characteristics, although both share the same nostalgic nature. Appearing in the working-class quarters of Lisbon, vadio fado singers are never requested; they invite themselves and have no established repertoire. 

This spontaneity dates back to the mid-19th century, the beginnings of fado, which was based on life in environments frequented by the margins of society. It was during this phase that the most famous narrative in the history of Fado evolved, about the relationship between the Count of Vimioso and Maria Severa Onofriana (1820-1846), a famous singer of the time. The couple were at the root of a celebrated novel (A Severa, 1901), which is still being adapted into various media. 

Fado houses were concentrated in Lisbon’s historic quarters, mainly in the Bairro Alto, from the 1930s onward. From then on, the reputation of this very Portuguese musical genre grew, and in the 1950s the prestige of Amália Rodrigues, the standard figure of fado, crystallized. 

The song that stubbornly refused to be silenced emerged in the public arena in the 1980s as part of Portugal’s national heritage, at a time when popular interest in it was reviving. In 2011, fado, an identity symbol of the capital and the country, was classified by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, one aspect of Portugal’s World Heritage listings.   

To immerse yourself in this world, there’s nothing like visiting the Fado Museum, located in Alfama, Lisbon’s symbolic and resistant historic quarter. Thanks to a vast collection of hundreds of donations, it’s possible to see fado artifacts and learn about its history from the first quarter of the 19th century to the present day.  

Also in Lisbon near Madragoa is the house where the great Amália lived. After her death in 1999, it was turned into a museum. The most charismatic of fado singers has her final tribute here. It is to her that we owe the fado singer’s trademark image: the classic black dress, adorned with a shawl. 

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