Formally recognized in the 19th century, and UNESCO protected as “Intangible Heritage” today, the music is filled with melancholy, deep emotional longing and evoking the multicultural influences that have formed contemporary Portuguese culture over the centuries. It's roots are in the islands of west Africa, carrying melodies influenced by Arabo-Hispanic troubadours with a residue of Ladio influences from Sephardic communities.
In recent decades scores of music lovers have been seduced by Fadistas like Amália Rodrigues, known as the "Rainha do Fado" (Queen of Fado), who cemented its position in the international World Music circuits until her passing in 1999. Today, performers like Mariza are packing theaters around the world to be seduced by her re-invented Fado, or Cristina Branco, and Ana Moura representing a new generation of talented Fado interpreters.
Catching a Fado show in Lisbon is an essential cultural excursion that everyone should make at least once. However, much like a Flamenco show in Spain, there are more than a fair share of tourist traps to avoid with over-priced, mediocre dinners and equally inferior musicians. Knowing exactly where to catch a really good Fado concert is a matter of knowing who is playing where, and what places can serve up a decent traditional Portuguese dinner at a reasonable price. This is best accomplished by asking a local who is enthusiastic about Fado, directing you to a place that hotel concierges, or a guide books won’t usually mention.
If getting high on feeling low with depressing folk music is not your thing, or if you just want to steep yourself deeper into modern Portuguese culture, than the culturally curios will be happily rewarded discovering some of our more contemporary musicians, from rock to indie-style alternative and Jazz, there is a lot for music lovers. And, true to Portuguese form, the promotion of these bands, like our wine, beaches and cuisine rarely receive the attention they deserve outside of Portugal, but for those who are brave enough to make the leap, the music of Portugal will more than satisfy.
Emblematic of this is Deolinda a quartet band founded in 2006 when brothers Pedro da Silva Martins and Luis José Martins (formerly of the band 7-Headed Beast) invited their cousin, Ana Bacalhau, to sing with them. Ana’s vocal styling brings all the syrup and tenor of a traditional Portuguese Fadista, but she and the band will surprise you with upbeat and catchy melodies, full of irony and humor without the black dress-formality of Fado. Their 2013 hit "Seja Agora" is a good example.
The Poppers in their song Drynamill will take you back to recent decades when record companies were run by music lovers, not lawyers and accountants who pursued pretty boy bands and female artists with names like Britney and Katie who count on revenue from 14 year old girls. If you want something like that, check out a young woman with some pop integrity, named Susana Félix and her track "Já foi”.
The Poppers in their song Drynamill
Madredeus is more of a musical ensemble, making music that combines traditional Portuguese elements. They came on to the wold music scene in the late 1980’s and through breakups and reformations the band still makes meaningful harmonic and rhythmic tunes that will haunt you.
For those who like their folk music a little more grungy and understated, Dead Combo is a dou dressed as a caretaker and a gangster who mix fado with spaghetti western-inspired music that you might imagine in a Quentin Tarantino film. You just have to listen to appreciate, because words can’t do justice.
The next time you are surfing iTunes, or in Lisbon, give them a listen and take your time talking to locals about where they go for Fado.