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Fado – The Soul of Portuguese Music

Fado – The Soul of Portuguese Music

by Tony Coelho

Fado music - Portugal

Fado music – Portugal

Fado music is a form of Portuguese singing that is often associated with pubs , cafés and restaurants. This music genre has much earlier origins but is generally placed as being originated in the 1820’s in Portugal. Fado is generally known for how expressive in nature it is, as well as being profoundly melancholic.

Generally in fado music, the singer will sing about the hard realities of the daily life, balancing both resignation and hopefulness that a resolution to its torments can still occur. It can be described by using the Portuguese word “saudade”, which means “longing” and stands for a feeling of loss. This loss is generally a permanent loss and of long-term consequences. Fado music often has one or two 12 string guitars, one or two violas, and sometimes a small 8 string, bass.

Fado music has two main varieties:

Lisbon Fado

Lisbon Fado is the more well-known of the two styles of fado. This style has roots in social contexts that are set in marginality and transgression. It was frequently found in locations of sailors and prostitutes. In the early 1900’s, it found a popular following that would continue to follow today. It came across some difficult times in 1926, when censorship caused major changes to urban entertainment and placing hefty requirements on any shows and venues. Thanks to the popularity of the radio, fado found its place in homes across Portugal. In the 1990’s, fado found its place in the World Music circuits. In order to applaud fado in Lisbon, you are to clap your hands.

Coimbra Fado

Coimbra fado has ties to academic traditions of University of Coimbra. The singers and other musicians will wear the tradition academic wardrobe that consists of dark robes, capes, and leggings. They will sing this fado at night time on the streets or in the city square. While Lisbon often appealed to those in the working-class fields, Coimbra appeals to the more privileged classes.

There are a few other differences between Lisbon and Coimbra, aside from the group of people the music appeals to. Lisbon fado can be sung by anyone regardless of gender, while Coimbra is only sung by males. Coimbra fado generally is about finding hope in the everyday hardships that people live through. In contrast, Lisbon fado would suggest surrender when being faced with those hardships. Lisbon style often features improvisation during performances, whereas Coimbra is constantly rehearsed before performances.

Fado, Modern Fado and Amalia Rodrigues

The fado genre was brought to the music world mainstream by Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado) Amalia Rodrigues (July 23, 1920 – October 6, 1999). Known as Amalia do the world she became one of the most important personalities for the genre and the main inspiration for contemporary and modern Fado. Amalia had a personality, charisma, extraordinary timbre of voice, and beauty that made her an acclaimed artists whose services were requested by Monarchs and Presidents. By the time of her death Amalia had received over 40 decorations and honors for her music, stage presence and philanthropy including the Legion d’Honneur by the French government. She was given a state funeral and her remains are in Lisbon’s National Pantheon (the only woman to have the honor). Amalia single-handedly placed Fado in the world map.

Since the early 21st century, and influenced by Amalia Rodrigues there is a new found popularity in this type of music due to Modern Fado. Modern fado has incorporated new instruments including piano, violin, accordion. They have also begun combining fado with other popular genres. Some current artists of this genre include Madredeus, Ana Moura, Dulce Pontes and Mariza. Mariza in particular is highly popular, winning numerous awards in the World Music category and has been feature in the David Letterman show.

Popular Fado Restaurants

In Lisbon two of the most popular Fado Restaurants (Casas do Fado) we recommend include:

Casa de Linhars
Food: Portuguese with some French influence
Decoration: Fado Restaurant – Manor House

O Faia
Food: Traditional Portuguese
Decoration: Fado theme


Have something to say? Share it with us here.


  • Mariateresa Pereira says... November 11, 2016   Reply →

    I love Portuguese

  • manuel gomes says... April 24, 2017   Reply →

    W hat is the word that expresses the innate psyche of the portuguese state of mind dealing with the somewhat hopeless human existence ? This was expressed by writers, singers, and some in general society….?????? A lot of the old writers dove into this syndrome..

    • Mitch says... May 14, 2017   Reply →


    • Mohanish MMus Ethnomusicology (ongoing) says... November 10, 2018   Reply →



  • Robert Done says... September 16, 2017   Reply →

    Dear sir,

    I am intrigued by the words of a fado song that I have heard, recorded by Germano Rocha. It is called ‘Os Meus Olhos’. The words are as follows:

    “Os teus olhos não são teus,
    são duas ave Maria do rosário da amargura, que eu rezo todos os dias.
    Os teus olhos não são teus, desde o dia que te vi.
    Os teus olhos são os meus, que os meus cegaram por ti.”

    I hope it isn’t impertinent but I would be most grateful if it is possible if you could direct me to a good and meaningful translation of these lyrics into english, or to somebody who could do this. I have studied the Portuguese language a little but this is very difficult to make sense of for me. The last line is particularly dramatic : ‘Os teus olhos são os meus, que os meus cegaram por ti.’. Is this a romantic song or is there some religious significance here?

    Sorry if this is inappropriate but I can’t find any information on the web that explains this song to myself as an English person.

    Hope you can help but, if not, I wish you well, and all the best to Portuguese people and hope that you benefit from your continued membership of the EU. I wish we in Britain had stayed in the EU with you and I hope we don’t regret our decision to leave (although I have not read or heard anything that gives me any reason be optimistic about the consequences of our decision)

    Muitas felicidades,

    Robert Done

    • Robert Anderson says... October 12, 2017   Reply →

      Dear Mr. Done,

      My version of the stanza you ask about:

      Your eyes are not yours,
      They are two Hail Marys on the rosary of bitterness that I pray each day.
      Your eyes are not yours,
      Ever since I laid eyes on you,
      Your eyes are mine, since mine were blinded by you

      Catholic religious imagery is used in a romantic context here–the flip side of using romantic/sensual imagery in religious devotional poetry.

      I too wish the best for the EU. I hope (and I am under the impression) that, on balance, being in the EU has been good for Portugal.

      Robert Anderson

  • Tony says... January 29, 2018   Reply →

    Traditional student groups go around singing these fados. This has spread across european countries and they somtimes have festafals where they come together and sing. I think those student groups have a name but I cannot remember anymore. They used to go around in Portugal and sing to make a living.

  • Aubrey Cohen says... March 14, 2018   Reply →

    I do not understand a WORD(for me not really important), even though the Words are PERHAPS the MOST IMPORTANT part of FADO, “BUT” the whole “Musical Experience” listening to FADO and Coimbra Fado is just WONDERFUL.The beautiful VOICES of women and men and the EXQUISITE instruments.JUST HEAVENLY and warm,like the Iberian Peninsala.

  • Larry Wolfe says... November 18, 2018   Reply →

    Robert Anderson’s elegant English translation of the Fado “Os Meus Olhos” beautifully captures the ‘saudade’ of the sting in the
    heart expressed by o fadista Germano Rocha..

  • joseph salvatore says... December 31, 2018   Reply →

    I visited Portugal in 1985 and discovered fado music.
    I have acquired recordings by Amalia Rodrigues
    and regularly listen to the beautiful and fateful
    fado songs.
    I never tire of listening to her beautiful rendition
    of the fado songs of her native portugal

  • DAVID PICOU says... February 13, 2019   Reply →

    I first heard fado being sung in a tiny restaurant in Oporto, Portugal in 1962 when I attended the International Pediatric Congress (in Lisbon). I was captivated by the mournful melodious and expressive voice of the singer (a female). I have since learnt much more about fado, Amalia Rodrigues, and its resurgence. I have not been back to Portugal, but that fado I heard so many years ago still haunts me.

  • NORMAN WARWICK says... March 14, 2019   Reply →

    I write reviews ´all across the arts´ in English on Lanzarote Information web site to encourage new residents from abroad, like ourselves, to engage in the island´s arts and culture. Tomorrow night I am going to see Sara Correia in concert, singing Fado music, a genre I have not previously heard of. Tony´s article and some of the responses to it, like Paul speaking of how the music still haunts him after first hearing it years ago now have me greatly looking forward to the concert. The review will be published on the web site on either Friday22nd march or Friday 29th march and Tony will be acknowledged for his article here.

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