Its history remains to be written; however, some people took the first steps in the musical genre, among them Maria Severa.
Maria Severa Onofriana was born on 26 July 1820, in Madragoa, Lisbon, later staying in the Mouraria area. Little is known about this woman who enchanted the Portuguese in the 19th century, at a time of political tension, when the Portuguese absolutist monarchy was at an end, giving way to a constitutional monarchy.
The memories that are known are the result of reports left by artists of the time, who, having crossed paths with Maria Severa, felt the need to immortalise her. According to the poet Bulhão Pato, Severa was “a very interesting Fado singer”, even mentioning that in Mouraria there would never be a Fado singer like her again. According to the poet, the young Fado singer was as generous as she was outrageous and had no problem in caring for those she liked, as she could be seconds later in the face of a violent brawl, where she defended herself and those she liked. She was physically described by everyone as “slender”, and as a tall woman with a piercing gaze.
Little is known about her origins either. She has always been portrayed as the daughter of a gipsy father, however, as time goes on, new clues have emerged. Público newspaper recently published an article in which it reported that Maria Severa may have had African origins, with her ancestors having been brought to Portugal in the 17th century.
However, the voice has always been the most mythologized feature of this woman. A warm voice, full of hurt and pain, combined with Severa's sensuality, did not allow men to approach her. Her strong voice and jerky movements suggested that Severa just wanted to be heard and not touched. Little is also known where the young Fado singer sang, it is speculated that she was in prostitution circuits, in Bairro Alto and Mouraria, however, Maria Severa also performed for some aristocrats.
In the newspapers of the time, there are reports of Maria Severa's performances at the Palácio do Conde, as well as the singer's romantic relationship with the Count of Vimioso, whom she eventually met while singing at the Rosaria dos Óculos tavern, on Rua do Capelão. The love relationship with D. Francisco de Paula Portugal e Castro brought even more visibility to the singer who echoed her voice in the streets of Lisbon while playing her guitar.
An early death
Maria Severa Onofriana died at the age of 26, an early death, leaving no record of her voice. Some say that Severa, as she became known, was the founder of Fado as it is known today. Her story was immortalised by Júlio Dantas who, in 1931, had the work adapted for cinema, in what was the first Portuguese sound film. In 1990, the work of Júlio Dantas was adapted to the theatre, with Lena Coelho, former singer of Doce, playing Severa. The acclaimed Fado singer Amália Rodrigues, in 1955, represented Severa in a musical, a play staged by the company of Vasco Morgado.
In Mouraria, on Rua do Capelão, is Largo da Severa, where the Fado singer used to live, there is an old house which is marked “Casa da Severa” and, on the floor the shape of a guitar is represented in the calçada.