After already blogging about my first day in Lisbon and exploring Belém, I’d like to shift the focus onto another highlight from last weekend, seeing a live fado performance. It was a beautiful experience that I would highly recommend, especially if you enjoy live music and would like to experience some authentic Portuguese culture during your trip.
Fado always comprises of a solo singer, male or female, accompanied by two guitarists, one playing the melody on a twelve-stringed Portuguese guitar. The intensely melancholic songs focus on love, woes, sadness and longing for things that were lost or never accomplished. This can all be put under the umbrella of the Portuguese term ‘saudade’ which is a major part of Portuguese culture.
After exploring Alfama, the supposed birthplace of fado, during our Free Walking Tour earlier that day, we decided that we would like to spend our one and only evening in Lisbon seeing it for ourselves.
We asked our hostel for recommendations for any fado bars that evening, and we were given an address for one in Bairro Alto, although we were expecting to go to Alfama for a more authentic experience. We went ahead with the recommendation and found ourselves in a nice little bar, but looking back I think we should have just headed to Alfama and stumble across somewhere by chance. Or better yet, actually done some online research!
We ordered our drinks, Carrie opting for a vinho verde (green wine) which we were recommended to try. Vinho verde is disappointingly not green, but it is only produced in Portugal, so it’s worth ordering as it is difficult to obtain elsewhere. Normally, I don’t actually like wine, but I had a try and surprisingly liked it which was a nice change! I would definitely order it next time I am in Portugal. It is a light white wine, smooth and a little sweet that doesn’t taste strong. Before the train journey to Salamanca, I purchased the most expensive label in the supermarket to consume for a later date, to ensure I had chosen the best quality, which came to a very reasonable 3€…
Unfortunately, the bar we were at apparently didn’t have a fado event on that evening which was very disappointing as we were quite comfortable were we were, so after finishing my orange juice, we had to walk around a bit to find another bar. Some fado bars had proper sit-down meals which were quite expensive, and with 10€ in my pocket, that didn’t seem like such a good idea. We managed to find somewhere eventually and they seemed very eager for us to come inside. We accepted we would have to have a meal there, although for 10€ I could just about afford the vegetable soup and a side of chips, no drink… They were not very impressed. Luckily Becca ordered a steak which made the waiter happy and I felt less self-conscious about my order of just a starter. He insisted on putting a bread basket, a paté thing and some strange yogurt cheese pot on the table, but we knew that if we were to touch any of it, we would have to pay. After saying several times that we didn’t want any of this extra food, after about an hour, the waiter seemed to give up on trying to make us pay extra and eventually took it away. It was a good trick but luckily we didn’t fall for it. The restaurant obviously catered more for tourists and it wasn’t the most friendly of experiences. But at last, the lights dimmed and the fado started…
During the evening we heard a total of three fado singers, two men and one woman. It’s a very intense experience because the voice and lyrics are so woeful and powerful, it feels very serious.
On the wall behind the performers were tiles with lyrics to a fado song, ‘Tudo isto é fado’ by Amália Rodrigues (well known as the ‘Queen of Fado’) and the atmosphere was just right. These were the lyrics:
Almas vencidas, Noites perdidas
Sombras bizarras, Na Mouraria
Canta um rufia, Choram guitarras
Amor ciúme, Cinzas e lume
Dor e pecado, Tudo isto existe
Tudo isto é triste, Tudo isto é fado
Defeated souls, Lost nights,
Bizarre shadows, At Mouraria,…
the pounce sings, the guitars cry.
Love, jealousy, Ash and light
Pain and sin, All this exists
All this is sad, All this is the fado
They even performed this song which I now really liked:
The first singer however kept stopping mid-verse and shouting a bit to the guitarists about something or other, before restarting again, which felt extremely unprofessional. He also kept walking around the room which was very difficult as the tables were very close together, All this upset the magic of the music which I did not appreciate personally. I think he was experiencing a problem with his voice as he couldn’t reach the high notes. He eventually gave up, did a bow and went to sit back down again. Afterwards, the female singer and second male singer took to the microphone one after the other and I was blown away by them both. Their voices were absolutely mesmerising and pouring with emotion, I could have sat listening to them for hours, it felt so soothing to the ears. Soon enough, we were the final table left in the bar other than the fadistas and we thought it was probably about time we had left.
If you find yourself for one night only in Lisbon, don’t miss out on the opportunity to listen to fado. Although, I’d recommend you to do some more research than what we did, so hopefully you would get a better, more authentic experience!
When I am in Lisbon again I will definitely be going back to experience more fado, but in the meantime, Youtube will have to do.
What to you think of fado? Do you also think it’s beautiful or is it just depressing?