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Stylistic origins Portuguese music
Cultural origins Early 19th century Lisbon, Portugal
Typical instruments Portuguese guitar
Mainstream popularity Much in Portugal; sporadic elsewhere, especially France, UK, Netherlands and Japan
Derivative forms Coimbra Fado

Fado (Portuguese:destiny, fate) is a music genre which can be traced from the 1820s in Portugal, but probably with much earlier origins. In popular belief, fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor. However, in reality fado is simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain structure.

The music is usually linked to the Portuguese word saudade (that has no match in English but it could be understood as nostalgia felt while missing something or someone important), a word describing a sentiment.

Some enthusiasts claim that fado's origins are a mixture of African slave rhythms with the traditional music of Portuguese sailors and Arabic influence.

But fado only appeared after 1840 in Lisbon, at that time only fado marinheiro (sailor fado) was known and was sang, like the cantigas de levantar ferro, only by sailors. Fado was not known in the rest of the country, not even in the Algarve, and it was not known in the south of Spain where the Arab influence stood until the end of the 15th century. Until the beginning of the 19th century there was no written record of fado.

The 19th century most renowned fadista was Severa.

Mainstream fado performances during the 20th century included only a singer, a Portuguese guitar player and a classical guitar player but more recent settings range from singer and string quartet to full orchestra. Known as the "Rainha do Fado" ("Queen of Fado"), Amália Rodrigues was most influential in popularizing the fado worldwide. Other famous fado singers include: Carlos do Carmo, Cristina Branco and Mariza.


Varieties of fado

There are two main varieties of fado, namely those of the cities of Lisbon and Coimbra. The Lisbon style is the most popular, while Coimbra's is the more refined style. Modern fado is popular in Portugal, and has produced many renowned musicians. According to tradition, to applaud fado in Lisbon you clap your hands, while in Coimbra one coughs like if clearing one's throat.


Coimbra fado

Fado group Verdes Anos (from Coimbra)

This fado is closely linked to the academic traditions of the University of Coimbra and is exclusively sung by men; both the singers and musicians wear the academic outfit (traje académico): dark robe, cape and leggings. It is sung at night, almost in the dark, in city squares or streets. The most typical venues are the stair steps of the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Old Cathedral of Coimbra. It is also customary to organize serenades where songs are performed before the window of the woman to be courted.

The Coimbra fado is accompanied by either a Portuguese guitar or by a classical guitar; the tuning and sound coloring of the Portuguese guitar in Coimbra are quite different from that of Lisbon.

The most sung themes: student love, love for the city and bohemia, and the ironic and critical reference to the discipline and conservative nature of the professors and their courses. Noted singers of this style are Augusto Hilário, António Menano, and Edmundo Bettencourt.

In the 1950s, a new movement took the singers of Coimbra to adopt the ballad and folklore. They began interpreting lines of the great poets, both classical and contemporary, as a form of resistance to the Salazar dictatorship. In this movement names such as Adriano Correia de Oliveira and José Afonso (Zeca Afonso) had a leading role in the revolution taking place in popular Portuguese music.

Regarding the Portuguese guitar, Artur Paredes revolutionized the tuning and the accompaniment style to the Coimbra fado, adding his name to the most progressive and innovative singers. Artur Paredes was the father of Carlos Paredes, who followed and expanded on his work, making the Portuguese guitar an instrument known around the world.

Some of the most famous fados of Coimbra include: Fado Hilário, Saudades de Coimbra (“Do Choupal até à Lapa”), Balada da Despedida (“Coimbra tem mais encanto, na hora da despedida”, the first verses are more recognizable than the song title), O meu menino é d’oiro, and Samaritana. The "judge-singer" Fernando Machado Soares is an imporatant reference, being the author of some of those famous fados.

Curiously, it is not a Coimbra fado but a song which is the most known title referring to this city: Coimbra é uma lição, which had success with titles such as April in Portugal.

Fado in North America

Fado singer Ramana Vieira, San Francisco, USA

Several singers of the traditional Portuguese fado have appeared in Canada and the United States.

One of these, Ramana Vieira, regularly performs in the San Francisco Bay Area without a traditional fado ensemble. Ramana received her formal voice training at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater and is self-proclaimed to be "The New Voice of Portuguese World Music."[1]

San Francisco's Brava Theater often hosts fado performances. Since its founding in 1986, Brava has invited a number of fado singers to perform, including Dona Rosa, Cristina Branco and Ramana Vieira.[2]

California's Central Valley also offers a variety of almost secretive fado performances. Spread only by word of mouth, these shows attract listeners from all over California for a night of music and traditional Portuguese food.

In Canada one can look to Vancouver based Salome[3]. The large Portuguese communities in Toronto and Montreal are also home to local fado singers that perform regularly in community events in these two cities.

The Northern California-based band Judith and Holofernes blends fado with indie and punk rock[4]. The group's interpretation, referred to as "fadocore," is also a representative of Northern California's own blend of Portuguese and American cultures that resulted from the mass migrations of the 1950s and 1960s. Other blendings of fado exist in the music of Mil i Maria [5], whose 'nu-fado' takes elements of the style and merges them with modern musical influences.

Fado in Australia

Fado's popularity also extends to Australia. Generations of Portuguese have migrated to Australia, and the traditions have continued. One popular Australian Portuguese fadista is Melbourne based Olivia de Sousa ( She has sung for many years for the Portuguese communities and also for the wider Australian audiences. She was discovered by top Portuguese performer Quim Barreiros ( in 2008, and was invited by him to appear with him in live performances in Portugal, and on the internationally broadcast Portuguese television programs Praça da Alegria, Portugal no Coração, Fatima e Portugal sem Fronteiras. She also sang in Lisbon at Clube do Fado with top Portuguese guitarist Mario Pacheco.


  1. ^ Ramana Vieira website
  2. ^ Brava Theater
  3. ^ Salome
  4. ^ Fadocore
  5. ^ Mil i Maria

See also

  • Fados - a 2007 movie about fado by Spanish director Carlos Saura
  • Morna - is a Cape-Verdean close relative of fado.

External links


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