13 months
Jun 25:
luis & simao
Jul 10:
clean clean clean
Jul 17:
diary of a boogie board
Jul 20:
the low down
portugal gallery
all galleries
next location

one of several sandy coves (this one frequented by locals) south of town
Lagos, Portugal; Jul 19, 2005

woeful tunes

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.

seating on 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 version.

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.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved