The Kennedy Center

Fado from Portugal

About the Work

 Various Composer: Various
© Rui Vieira Nery

The history of Portuguese Fado is a long process of continuous cross-cultural exchanges. In the multi-cultural context of late 18th-century colonial Brazil, African rhythms and dance patterns combined with European harmonies and forms to generate a sung dance of strong sensuality. This was carried across the Atlantic to the popular neighbourhoods near the harbour of Lisbon in the second quarter of the 19th century. The interaction between the Brazilian pattern and the local Portuguese song traditions gradually led to a loss of the dance element and to the softening of the original rhythmic syncopation, which then gave way to a nostalgic, lamenting atmosphere, with strong rubato in the word enunciation. When the bohemian aristocracy and the urban middle classes "rediscovered" this genre, by the 1860s and 70s, Fado had found a place in the popular music theater, began to be published in sheet music for domestic use and ultimately became a favourite of the early music recording industry. But at the same time, in its original working-class context, it was used as a fighting song associated with the early labour union and socialist movement. From 1926 on, Fado was subject to the stern censorship and the rigid regulations imposed by the Dictatorship, but prospered within a growing network of restaurants with a resident artistic staff of professional singers, known as "fado houses," as well in the theater, with such acclaimed exponents as Alfredo Marceneiro, Hermínia Silva or the guitar player Armandinho. It was also disseminated nationally by via radio and cinema. Starting in the mid-1940s, singer Amália Rodrigues' career throughout Europe and in the Americas gave the genre an international exposure, and in the 1960s and 70s she and Carlos do Carmo played a decisive role in its poetical and musical renovation. Often accused by the Democratic Opposition of being manipulated by the Salazar regime as a propaganda weapon, Fado faced a period of considerable hostility from the new authorities after the Democratic revolution of 1974. The late 1980s, however, witnessed a renewal of the genre with a new generation of singers, both internally, attracting younger Portuguese audiences, and in the World Music circuit, with an expanded repertoire and an increased interaction with other musical traditions. On November 27, 2011, Fado was inscribed in UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.