Scene 1 : Mid 20th century Lisbon , city of intrigue and espionage. A candle lit, smoke filled cellar bar in the Alfama district with a small stage on which two musicians strum Viola and Portuguese Guitar to compete with the raucous chatter and chink of glasses. Enter a sombrely clad brunette to polite applause; her hands nervously twitch a shawl, her bosom heaves and a hush greets a swelling magnificent contralto voice which sings a story of lost fishermen and their lovers
Scene 2 : Early 21st century Porto. A brightly illuminated, smoke free recording studio. The two musicians now backed by a small orchestra. A blonde enters with hair tightly coiffured and wearing a close fitting, glittering gown. The voice swells and we hear a tale of passion and unrequited love.
Scene 3 : A busy street in Coimbra thronged with tourists who hear the strident music belted forth from a “ghetto blaster” on a cart from which genuine fake CDs of pirated tracks featuring mainly female vocalists are cheaply offered as being true examples of traditional Portuguese music.
This is Fado – old , new and popular styles.
No-one is quite sure of its derivation. Some say it evolved from the Afro-Brazilian culture of modinhas and lundu which combined into “fado-dança” . Others that it has roots in the music of the Judeo-Arabic Moors who brought a Sephardic culture to the south. Still more claim an origin from the former African colonies. What is probable is that all three sources were interlaced during the past two hundred years of Portuguese history as a maritime power bringing together a musical melting pot of folk song and sea shanties .
At the end of the 19th century, the genre was to be found mainly in the major ports of Lisbon and Porto . The musicologist Ernesto Vieira (1890) tells us that outside of these two cities (and Coimbra) countryfolk preferred music which was “very different” and that in the southern provinces fado was almost unknown.
With the advent of radio and gramophones, the popularity of fado spread quickly both among the Operarios (workers who introduced socialist themed librettos !) and the bourgeoisie who added the repertoire to the entertainment in their salons.
More recently, the Portuguese State has enshrined Fado as a symbol of national identity and this classification has strengthened institutional support. In 2011 UNESCO declared the musical genre as being an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Scene 4 : The grand auditorium of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon on 14 December 2016. The highly accomplished group Os Músicos do Tejo is giving a performance using period instruments entitled “From Baroque to Fado - A Journey Through Portuguese Music” . The vocalists are Ana Quintans and Ricardo Ribeiro whose interpretations are superb. If you wish to broaden your knowledge of Portuguese music , I recommend the acquisition of the CD – reference 8.573875 Naxos .
To be continued with biographies and discology.