Sunday, November 27th, 2011 — a historical day for the Portuguese culture. UNESCO finally proclaimed Fado as an Intangible World Heritage. Now, Fado is not only for the Portuguese. Fado belongs to the whole world.

You have probably heard of Fado before, but if you haven’t, here is a small introduction.

For many, Fado is an anguished song that sings about suffering, the longing of the past, fate, pain, love and jealousy, the typical neighborhoods of the city and it is often an instrument of social criticism. It has many faces: from Fado Vadio, non-professional, to Fado Castiço, the most traditional in Lisbon neighborhoods, and Fado Moderno. The highest expression of Fado Moderno and one of the biggest icons of Portuguese culture was Amália Rodrigues, considered the greatest Fado singer of all time.

However, even if you know what Fado is, you probably don’t know anything about its history. That’s  what we are going to talk about today.

O waves of the salty sea........

Fado is in our hearts, it runs inside our veins. Fado is the essence of being Portuguese. Its origins got lost in time and no one knows for sure when it first appeared. Although, the first documented description came from the end of the XVIII century referring to a Brazilian dance, with African inspirations.

Jef Aérosol - Lisbon 2007 - Amalia Rodrigues

Fado as we know it appeared in Lisbon, during the XIX century, mainly in not-so-good-neighbourhoods and was associated with prostitution. In that time, saying someone was a fadista was actually an insult and could put you in trouble. Fado was related to a marginal society and rejected by intellectuals and “good families”. In fact, some of the greatest figures of the Portuguese literature wrote badly about Fado and its singers and guitar players (and listeners).


A Fado Fairy Tale 

Maria Severa, one of the greatest myths of Fado’s history, was a prostitute and a great fadista. Count Vimioso fell in love with her and their (long) story became famous, opening the doors of the aristocrat and intellectual world to Fado. She died at 26 and was immortalized by paintings, poems, films and theatre plays. The first Portuguese sound film, directed by Leitão de Barros, was based on the novel Severa written by Júlio Dantas.

Fado became more popular and gained popular consecration in the first decades of the XX century. With Estado Novo, the Portuguese dictatorial period, all singers were obliged to have a professional registration, as a way to control a potentially subversive world. Fado changed profoundly and became how we know it today, ritualized at Fado houses, in historic neighbourhoods. The way Fado was associated with Estado Novo, which used it as a national icon for propaganda, gave it a bad reputation and it was almost marginalized after the Revolution of 1974 that ended the dictatorial regime.

Fado’s image have slowly changed in the following decades and now there is a new and successful generation of fadistas following the steps of Fado’s greatest names and giving it a new vibrant life, like Mariza and Ana Moura.


The Future of Fado

As we told you before, you can learn more about Fado in its Museum website or, even better, visiting it! Let our Olisipo Tour take you there, with a 30% discount on the entrance. And if you want to know where to listen to good Fado, check our article, "5 Places to Listen to Good Fado" or have a look at our Tramcar + Fado tour, with a daily live Fado show at Chiado.


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