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Thursday, November 11, 2010


"Fado" by Jose Malhoa (1910)
All the Love that had tied us,
As if it was of wax,
Was breaking and crumbling down.
Ai, tragic Spring,
How I wish, how I wish that we
Had died on that day.
And I was condemned to so much.
To live with my crying
To live, to live, and without you.

Longing.  We have all felt this at times.  The Portuguese have a name for it:  saudade.  It doesn't translate well in words, but it is the sad and nostalgic longing for someone or something lost; a remembrance of feelings, experiences, people, or places that was once pleasurable, but all that remains is a deep longing or yearning for what no longer exists.

Saudade by Almeida, Jr.
This wistful and sad mood is the key element of fado, a music genre that can be traced to 1820s Portugal, but probably goes back much farther in time.  Fado means "fate" in Portuguese.  Some say that fado came from homesick Portuguese sailors, their songs later mixed with African slave rhythms, with Arab influences.  Like rembetiko or the blues, it came from poor areas, the slums of Lisbon, associated with taverns and brothels.  As it grew in popularity a slightly different type of fado branched off, Coimbra fado, which became popular among university students.

Characterized by mournful singing, fado is meant to be felt and experienced, and is not just for listening.  In fact, if an audience is not moved to tears, a performance is not successful and may be stopped. Although it is performed by both men and women, women singers, fadistas, are usually preferred.  It is a tradition when listening to fado in Lisbon that you clap your hands after a performance.  With Coimbra fado one coughs, as though clearing one's throat.

Although the number and kinds of instruments used today are varied, traditionally the accompaniment was a 12-string guitar, called a guitarra in Portugal, and a viola or a bass guitar.  Sometimes piano, accordion, or violin were added.  The most famous "diva" of fado was Amalia Rodrigues, who died in 1999.  The prime minister of Portugal ordered three days of mourning, so well-loved were both she and fado.

Saudades de Napoles (Missing Naples)
Bertha Worms, 1895
Fado has spread from Portugal all over the world, although younger generations are not as into it as their elders have been.  Australia has a lot of Portuguese who migrated there and fado is popular. Toronto and Montreal in Canada also have large Portuguese communities.  In the Central Valley of California there are a lot of performances that draw crowds from all over; spread by word of mouth they offer fado and feasts of Portuguese food.

There are days that seal our soul and life,
And the one that you've left me I can't forget.
The rain wet my face that was frozen and tired.
The streets of the city I've already crossed.
Ai.. my cry of young lost girl screamed to the city
That the fire of love under the rain had just died.
The rain heard and kept silence about my secret to the city
And then it knocks on the window bring saudade.
Song lyrics from Lyrics Translate


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