An evening in Bairro Alto and a performer regales guests at Adega Machado, Lisbon’s oldest fado house. Emerging in Lisbon’s 18th century working class districts, fado, which means “fate” in Portuguese, consists of soulful, angst-ridden chants. As the famous fadista Amalia Rodrigues once said, “I don’t sing fado. It sings me.”
Lisbon – Fact Check

Enjoying songs of sadness in Lisbon

Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Lisbon – Fact Check Enjoying songs of sadness in Lisbon

Emerging in Lisbon’s 18th century working class districts, fado, which means “fate” in Portuguese, consists of soulful, angst-ridden chants. As the famous fadista Amalia Rodrigues once said, “I don’t sing fado. It sings me.”

Daphne Huineman
Daphne Huineman Travel Writer

In a club in Bairro Alto we sit and enjoy marinated sardines, diabos a cavalo (warm dates with bacon), and lots of wine. Listening to fado is done in an eerie, almost melancholy silence. Drumming away with your cutlery is a big mark of disrespect when a saudade – the most nostalgic and sentimental of songs – is filling the room. It alludes to a feeling not quite equalled by its peers; the blues, the flamenco, the rembetika, or the tango.

Saudade is the most magical word in Portuguese. It embodies a fragile, sad soul singing its most beautiful song, almost touching a spot you can’t quite put your finger on, something out of reach and probably something undiscovered within yourself. Undivided attention is required to fully take in the allusions to ideals and dreams just out of human reach, to allow the pain and emotion to carry from the singer’s heart and into your veins.

The well-heeled Portuguese are taught these techniques and, as we relax and breathe deeply, we find ourselves feeling something deeper as well.

Take me to a fado club!

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An evening in the Club do Fado in the Alfama district. Despite its fiercely traditional nature, fado has undergone careful innovations for contemporary audiences. Misia interwove instruments and poetic verses into her fado music, while the experimental and internationally acclaimed Mariza has emerged as another fresh fadista. Photo by Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Nikon f5

Aperture
ƒ/2.8
Exposure
1/20
ISO
50
Focal
35 mm

An evening in the Club do Fado in the Alfama district. Despite its fiercely traditional nature, fado has undergone careful innovations for contemporary audiences. Misia interwove instruments and poetic verses into her fado music, while the experimental and internationally acclaimed Mariza has emerged as another fresh fadista.

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