For the older generation of Portuguese, especially those who remember the dark days of the Salazar dictatorship which ended in the 70’s Amalia Rodrigues reigns supreme as the Queen of Fado. She is the Portuguese Aretha Franklin, sometimes known as “the voice of Portugal”; an undisputed deity of this musical art form, often based on “saudade”. All in all, we say to all hens: “Respect to Amalia”
Amalia lived in the Alfama area of Lisbon and her voice and music still appear to haunt the streets and coloured tiles. She was considered one of the greatest singers of the 20th century and had some of the best contemporary Portuguese poets writing for her. With over 170 albums and 30 million records sold, Amália is buried at the National Pantheon –(along with legendary Portuguese footballer Eusebio – possible the only male counterpart in the modern era).
Just like the blues, or Spanish flamenco this is truly heartfelt music with roots in the struggle of oppressed or forlorn people. The lyrics can be about just about anything, although the sense of missing something is always there. It is music of the urban and maritime Portuguese proletariat and roots can be traced to the Portuguese colonies in Africa, Brazil and Indonesia.
You could say it was the world’s first global soul music. You an imagine it in the heart of every mother and lover of a sailor gone to sea in seafaring communities from ancient Greeks onwards, and one every continent and language. The words are in Portuguese but the feelings and emotions can be picked up by even the most linguistically challenged among us.
But to be the Queen of Fado is also to be the Queen of saudade: to touch a nerve that some say is in every Portuguese: a prefound sentiments and aadness casied by absence and estrangement.
It was Lisbon’s population and ancient back streets that nurtured fado. This makes the capital by far the most authentic city to hear it performed. And Lisboetas are sure to spend more time listening to this performed live than their counterparts in Porto or the Algarve.
Especially in the older districts of Lisbon, such as alfama, you will hear it echoing, with its full beguiling melancholy from closed or curtained doorways in small Fado bars. To hear this music, book a Lisbon fado show here.