The feelings of fado

Sadness, melancholy and longing, but also happiness and love. A whole range of sentiments are expressed in Portugal’s most popular folk music. Because fado is way more than singing and playing the guitar; it’s telling a story of emotions. Enjoy the Algarve listens.

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017

The moment Helena Candeias opens her mouth to sing, she transforms. Gone is the 27-year-old woman from Lagos; in her place a fado star. Within the first words, the environment changes as well. Yes, we’re still in Faro’s municipal museum, but somehow we’re also in Lisbon by night, half a century ago. Although the majority of the audience doesn’t understand the Portuguese words, the longing and melancholy is transported straight through the language barriers, as clearly as the emotions that are etched on Helena’s face, strengthened by the gestures of her hands. You feel her passion, her pain, her anger and her sadness.


Fado is traditionally accompanied by guitar music. In the corner of the room Valentim Filipe (60) from Boliqueime plays the classic guitar (called viola in Portuguese), while Jorge Franco (70) strums the 12 strings of the Portuguese guitar. Both men have things tied to their fingers. Looking like fake nails gone horribly wrong, these plectrums are a big help when playing the instrument.

Jorge is originally from the Alentejo and has been playing the Portuguese guitar for already 50 years. “Always the same guitar, always fado,” he comments. An autodidact, he has performed in many different groups, also internationally. Jorge: “The most important thing in fado? That’s definitely sentimentos (feelings). In fado, you have to play with the heart.”


With over 40 years of experience, fellow guitar player Valentim is also the founder of the Associação de Fado do Algarve. His aim: to bring more quality fado to the south of Portugal. He started 25 years ago by organising amateur contests, the first one in Albufeira. “In Lisbon, there’s a whole fado culture, so there are many places for novice fado singers to practise and perform. But back when I set up the Associação, there weren’t any such opportunities in the Algarve.”


Nowadays, there are many Algarve-based fadistas. Like Helena, who’s won two singing competitions in the Algarve this year; in Vila do Bispo and in Lagos. “Fado is all I think about, I sing every day. Mostly alone in my room, listening to videos: I first put the song in my head, and then in my heart.” The passion runs in the family; her mother, grandmother and cousins all sing fado as well. But although Helena has already been singing since the age of 5, she only started singing fado when she was 16, and performing some years later. “With fado, it’s my task to transmit all the feelings from the song to the public, something you can’t do when you haven’t experienced them,” she explains. Valentim adds: “You can only talk about pain if you’ve felt it before.”


There’s a huge link between fado and to the quintessential Portuguese feeling of saudade, which describes a longing for something or someone you love and have lost. Although there are happy songs as well, in popular belief fado generally consists of mournful lyrics, about the poor, lost love and life at sea. In 2011, fado was inscribed by UNESCO on the list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity; its origins go way back, to the ports of Lisbon in the 1800s. Valentim, however, doesn’t think fado originated in Lisbon. “I think it was born in the entire country of Portugal, with people selling and singing their poems at local markets. At night, these singers would earn their dinner by singing in a restaurant, accompanied by someone playing on a piano, and that’s how fado was born,” he states.


It’s Valentim’s dream to give fado the dignity it deserves. “Nowadays it’s sometimes performed in a corner of a restaurant, while in the other corner football is played on the TV. Impossible! Creating the right atmosphere is extremely important in fado, sometimes even more important than the quality of singer and musicians.” In the Museu de Faro you’ve got both. The low lighting in the small room creates the cosy ambience of a fado house. The men sit bent over their guitars, their eyes closed while their fingers move seemingly by themselves. Helena stands up straight as she performs ‘Uma casa Portuguesa’, a popular song also sung by Amália Rodrigues. Just like Portugal’s best-known fado singer, Helena has a xaile (shawl) hanging over her shoulders: “I can’t sing without it.” After her performance, she tries to put her passion into words: “I simply love fado; it’s my life. Fado is feelings.”


Both this music and these feelings are part of Portugal’s identity, closely linked with the country’s culture heritage. Although there are some good foreign fado singers, the trio states that singing in Portuguese is essential. “It’s impossible to transmit the right feelings if you don’t know the right words,” they explain. While passing on those emotions might be impossible for a non-native Portuguese speaker, comprehending them certainly isn’t. To truly understand the Portuguese culture, listen to fado.

Fado no Museu is held in the Museu Municipal de Faro on Wednesdays and Thursdays all throughout the year. Sessions start at 11.30h, 14.30h and 16.00h – no need to reserve in advance. Price: €8, including entry to the museum.  



See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2017

The feelings of fado

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