Lisbon Fado

Fado is the Portuguese blues — hurtin’ songs that are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Apparently they were originally sung by the women waiting for the sailors to get back from their long voyages. I had expected fado to sound like the flamenco singing but it is totally different.

We went out to a fado club up in the Bairro Alto neighbourhood (near where we first stayed in Libson) for an evening of dinner and fado. The three course dinner included wine or beer and was plentiful and quite tasty (except for the cabbage soup!). About every 20 minutes throughout the evening, the lights dimmed, the two or three guitar places tuned up and a fado singer started to sing.

The passionate tremelos and quavers of the voices combined with the guitars reminded us of a strange conglomeration of Greek, Russian, Italian, and a bit of Spanish that was ultimately like none of them because it was uniquely Portuguese. We were sitting about a meter from the singer and musicians and so really felt part of the performance. I was totally entranced.

Three fado singers performed over the course of the evening. We bought a CD from the first singer who turned out to be the best. We’ve been playing it in the apartment while looking out over the rooftops of Lisbon. How romantic is that!

Here’s one of the singers.Note the special Portuguese guitar at the left.

Fado singer in Lisbon

In the breaks between the singers, we had a great conversation with a man seated at the table next to us. He was a physician from St. Louis who was in Lisbon for a conference. It was interesting to catch up on the latest health care debates in the US! Funnily enough we saw the same man three days later on our outing to Sintra (more on later).

We hope to take in one or two more evenings of fado before we leave Lisbon. It definitely grows on you!

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