We’d heard a lot about Fado and were
excited to accept Luiz and Simao’s offer to take us. Although
Fado these days is performed mostly for tourists, they knew of
a place that was frequented more by locals, called Fermentacion.
They themselves hadn’t been to Fado in many years so it
took some meandering through the twisty alleys of the old part
of Lisbon before we found it. But found it we did, and sat down
to enjoy the show.
a slant at Fermentacion restaurant
Fado is a traditional style of Portuguese music
thought to have originated in the 1820’s possibly from a
mixture of African slave rhythms and traditional music of Portuguese
sailors and Arabic influence. It is characterized by sad, mournful
tunes, often about hardship and/or the sea. A Portuguese word
often associated with Fado is “saudade,” which translates
roughly to longing or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. So all
in all, Fado tends to be a bit heartbreaking. There is some love
thrown in there, too, but things usually seem to go wrong again
by the end of the song.
There are two main styles of Fado (Lisbon style
and Coimbra, or student style), and there’s, of course,
a good amount of variety within the styles.
one of the
singers (also cook and mother)
Fermentacion is a family-owned restaurant with
a down-home feel; it overflows with authenticity. Our table is
outside in a cobblestone area that is part of the street during
the day, but commandeered by diners/listeners at night. Not being
a proper terrace, the whole set-up is on a significant slant (like
much of Lisbon, come to think of it), so more than once we’ve
had to catch our food as it attempted to roll off the edge of
our table. Keeping our chairs upright is also a bit of a challenge.
The singers (who are the same people that take your order and
cook your food) perform at the entrance of the restaurant, leaning
dramatically against the door frame.
Over the course of the evening, we heard from at least three generations,
all of whom had obviously experienced great anguish (if the singing
was anything to judge by). It was clear from watching the youngest
singer (maybe 8 or 9 years old) that their music style and tradition
of singing Fado is passed down from generation to generation.
It could be argued that their technical skill was not top notch,
but they put their souls into it and, even though we couldn’t
understand a word, the performances evoked a strong sadness in
us (and much applause from the local audience, who once in a while
would be so moved as to join in). We really enjoyed our Fado experience
and we’re glad that we had the privilege of seeing the real-deal
So if you’re down and out and without
hope, go listen to some Fado and either you’ll realize that
your situation isn’t as bad as the protagonist in the song
or you’ll really sink down into the depths of despair.