Fado music, quintessentially Portuguese and the country’s blue-collared version of soul, had humble beginnings.
Una musica del pueblo, goes a certain song with well-known fadistas Mariza and Jose Merce.
It is a good example of how these niche singers pride themselves for singing about folk-like themes, often without formally noting the music because the music was shared orally.
Lisbon has two areas with cafes and restaurants that regularly have fado: Alfama, which is the oldest district and means “hot fountains” or “baths” in Arabic; and Bairro Alto, a central district with a hilly disposition.
You won’t typically hear fado during the day: this soulful and mostly vocal style of music is an evening affair and rightfully so. I was so surprised and delighted to discover a museum entirely dedicated to the art of fado in the Alfama district, with audiovisuals and exhibits.
Initially, fadistas were considered rowdy and were going to be arrested in the 1800s, and grew in popularity from the tolerated margins of society to being performed in concert halls with the intellectual milieu.
The world-class museum, located in the country’s first water pumping station, is in so many ways the country’s identifying symbol. Audiovisual displays are everywhere and you can listen to music as you go, marvel at the entrance sculptures of the Portuguese guitars (or guitarra portuguesa) or take in a documentary on the music’s history in the auditorium on the second floor. There is also a café tucked at the back, which houses concerts, and a great gift store.
I buy a four-stringed cavaquinho to take home for my daughter; it is a beautiful, curvaceous piece, as polished and soulful as fado music itself. There’s more information at www.museudofado.pt and the cost of admission is €5.