Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dom António de Bragança, the Author of the “Fado das Horas”

One of the readers of All This Is Fado, who has been a long-time follower of the music of Maria Teresa de Noronha, recently inquired whether it would be possible to find out more information about Dom António de Bragança, the author of the famous “Fado das Horas.” After carrying out a little research on this aristocratic fado poet, with some help from my good friend Ofélia Pereira, this is what I have been able to compile.

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Over the course of its history, fado has appealed not only to the working classes, but the nobility has also shown a pronounced interest in the genre, enabling it to move freely across social boundaries. In fact, the foundational myth of fado, dating back to the 1820s, has to do with the illicit love affair between the prostitute Maria Severa and the Count of Vimioso, an aristocrat who excelled at bullfighting and enjoyed fado singing. Many have been the members of the upper classes that have fallen prey to the lure of fado, from nineteenth-century noblemen such as Dom José Almada e Lencastre and the Count of Castelo Melhor to more contemporary singers like Maria Teresa de Noronha and Vicente da Câmara, who belonged to the privileged classes and decided to pursue a career in fado.

Dom António José Manuel de Bragança is actually related to Vicente da Câmara, and his love of fado goes back to the years of his youth. Born in 1895, Dom António soon followed in the footsteps of his brother Dom Pedro de Bragança, who was ten years his elder and was known for his rowdy, fun-loving ways, as well as for his eccentricities. Dom Pedro was very adept at hunting and bullfighting, but he also had a talent for songwriting and even got around to making some records accompanied by Raul Nery on the Portuguese guitar and Júlio Gomes on the guitar. As for Dom António, he concentrated on songwriting and soon emerged as a magnificent poet, penning the lyrics of fado classics such as “Fado Rosário” ("Fado of the Rosary") and “Fado das Horas” (“Fado of the Hours”), the latter recorded by Maria Teresa de Noronha, who counted him among his favorite lyricists.

The poems of Dom António de Bragança, usually full of witty rhymes, are inspired by the spontaneity and lightheartedness of folk poetry, but they are always very carefully constructed. Many of them explore the ubiquitous theme of love, but some others are highly self-referential and attempt to depict what fado means. For instance, Eduardo Sucena (1) claims that his “Fado da Verdade” (“Fado of Truth”) is a defense of fado against the fierce criticism of the genre made by Luís Moita in his famous 1936 book Fado, Canção de Vencidos (Fado, Song of the Defeated):

Once someone said
That fado put to sleep
Those who heard its moaning
That fado takes away our energies
That it takes away our happiness
That it is a song of the defeated

It is a heresy, it is a sin
To say such things about fado
To make such a statement
If fado is sad, when it is sung
It only brings to tears
Those who have a heart

The connection with Moita’s book, a collection of lectures read over the airwaves in which he blames fado for many of the social problems that were plaguing Portugal at the time, is obvious here, and Dom António’s very poetic reply in the second stanza speaks for itself. When dealing with the topic of love, however, Dom António favored a much more playful approach, as in the first stanza of his “Fado Rosário”:

When she gave me a rosary one day
My mother asked me
To pray for everyone
Yet I committed a great sin
For I completely forgot her plea
And only prayed for you.

The great aristocratic fado singer Maria Teresa de Noronha.

In the “Fado das Horas,” one of his masterpieces that will be forever associated with Maria Teresa de Noronha, he achieves a highly dramatic effect by virtue of his use of the oxymoron, thereby illustrating the paradoxical nature of love and the fugacity of life. It is worth translating the poem in full because of its lyricism and poetic quality:

I used to cry because I did not see you
Now I cry because I see you
But I am simply crying because
I want to see you all the time

Time flies by in a whirl
When you are talking, I listen
In the hours of our lives
Each hour lasts just one minute

When you are by my side
I feel that I rule the world
But time is so cruel
Each hour lasts only one second

Stay very close to me
And do not ever go away
So that my poor heart
May live at least for an hour.

Dom António de Bragança passed away in 1964, at age 69, leaving behind an important legacy of poems, many of which have become fado classics and entered the repertoire of some of the great performers of the genre. He ranks high among the several aristocrats that have paid heed to the calling of fado and devoted their artistic efforts to increasing the fame and reputation of the style. Although he never made any records, Dom António will always be remembered as one of the top songwriters of the fado aristocrático.

Links: For more information in Portuguese about Dom António de Bragança and other renowned aristocrats whose lives crossed paths with fado, click on Fadistas Como Eu Sou: Fidalgos Poetas e Fadistas.


(1) Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Edições Vega, 1992: 139-40. This book includes an entire chapter devoted to the so-called aristocratic fado, featuring a basic analysis of the relationships established between fado and the upper classes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fernando Farinha, the Kid from Bica

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Fado critic Daniel Gouveia once summed up the enormous popularity of Fernando Farinha in these words: “Even today, if we were to ask fado aficionados who the all-time best fadista is, many would not hesitate: Farinha!” (1). Indeed, Farinha’s powerful, high-pitched voice, graced with an incomparable depth and richness, is synonymous with high-quality fado. He was never too dramatic on stage, much preferring to stand rigidly gazing into the horizon as he performed. But when Farinha sang, the audience was mesmerized by his very personal singing style, which was always unmistakably his own. His long career spanned four decades, during which he gained great success on radio, records, television, and even movies, becoming one of the most respected fadistas in the history of the genre.

Born in Barreiro in 1928, Farinha moved to Lisbon’s Bairro da Bica with his parents when he was five, and there he stayed the rest of his life. Even when he achieved fame and fortune as a singer, he still chose to make that legendary neighborhood his home. Farinha was an easy-going, down-to-earth man, always proud of his humble origins, which he celebrated in many of his self-referential fados. Among these, “A Minha Apresentação” (“My Introduction”), a sort of musical calling card (2), is one of the most telling:

If by chance you might
Want to know where my house is
Ask any neighbor
Where Farinha lives
And she will reply, “Over at Bica!”

When he was only seven, Farinha showed off his singing abilities at a fado contest. Not only did he take the prize that night, but he also acquired the nickname “the Kid from Bica,” which would remain associated with him for the rest of his professional career, a fact that was celebrated in some of his song lyrics. He cut his first records in 1940, and very soon he began appearing on the revue stage with the likes of Hermínia Silva and singing at the most renowned fado houses in Lisbon, namely at the Adega Mesquita, where he appeared throughout the 1950s. Farinha also became a regular on radio and television, and his popularity secured him live gigs not only in Portugal but also abroad. Many were the awards that he received over the years, but one of the most important came in 1962, when he was named King of Portuguese Radio. Farinha was one of the few fadistas to earn this prize, which was usually awarded to more pop-sounding artists, and this is ample proof of the wide appeal of his singing style.

In the 1960s, Farinha starred in a movie entitled O Miúdo da Bica (The Kid from Bica). The plot was loosely based on his own life, and he played himself and performed several songs. Incidentally, its title is yet another example of Farinha’s pride in his nickname. Due to the success of this film, Farinha appeared in A Última Pega (The Last Magpie) opposite Vicente da Câmara, one of the great names of the so-called aristocratic fado. However, even though he proved to be an adept actor, his appearances on the silver screen are not necessarily among the highlights of his remarkable career.

The two movies in which he starred underscore a fact that is sometimes overlooked when considering the artistic legacy of Fernando Farinha. While we tend to think of him mainly as a performer, that well-known side of his artistry often overshadows the fact that he was also an outstanding songwriter with a sharp sensibility for poetry. All the songs that he sang on the soundtrack to both pictures were his own compositions. Farinha showed an interest in poetry early on, and he actually penned the lyrics (and occasionally the music) of some of his biggest hits, as well as producing hits for other artists such as Amália Rodrigues, Fernanda Maria, Alice Maria, and Carlos Macedo. Some of his lyrics can be counted among the best-crafted and most powerfully poetic efforts in fado history. Thus, in the witty “Beijo Emprestado” (“Borrowed Kiss”), he urges his lover to return a kiss that he gave her in these terms: “Give me the warmth / Of that kiss that I loaned you / I want to see if your love / Is the same as the love I gave you.” And then he reminds her that “those who pay their debts / Are more satisfied / For after paying what you owe / You do not owe anything.” In “Maldição” (“Curse”), after parting with his lover, he regrets having first laid eyes on her:

Cursed be my eyes
When they encountered yours
And for them I lost my sense
If my eyes had not seen you
Perhaps they would still be smiling
And would not cry for you

But in “O Teu Olhar” (“Your Eyes”), Farinha undoubtedly achieves one of his lyrical heights by exploring a very similar theme and using visually powerful metaphors:

Ever since I saw your eyes
My fate is doomed
My fate are your eyes
Your eyes are my fate

I wanted to sing
About those eyes that enchanted me
For in them I found
An unknown inspiration
I was charmed
By the warmth of your eyes
And since then
Your eyes are the reason for this passion

Your eyes are
Two very crafty poets
And they actually dictated
The lines of this song

Other lyrics by Farinha delve deep into the typical fado themes of unrequited love, longing for the past, the suffering of immigrants, and fado tradition. The theme of tradition was clearly underscored in the course of a legendary 1962 recording session that brought Farinha together with one of the patriarchs of fado, Alfredo Marceneiro. That reunion produced one of the landmark records in fado history, “Antes e Depois” (“Before and After”), a desgarrada punctuated by the fine Portuguese guitar work of Raul Nery in which the Kid from Bica and the elder statesman combine tradition and modernity.

Fernando Farinha passed away in 1988, at age sixty and well before his time. In spite of his fabulous career and long-standing success, no official tribute was held to commemorate his passing. Fortunately, many of his recordings have been reissued and are now available on CD. Farinha was not merely a fado performer: rather, he was a multi-faceted artist that found success in many fields but that always remained true to the fado idiom. Fado was, in fact, the outlet for his many talents, which have secured him a privileged position in the history of Portuguese music at large. And as long as interest in fado exists, the name of Fernando Farinha will always be counted among the top performers of the genre.


(1) See the liner notes to the CD Biografias do Fado: Fernando Farinha (EMI-Valentim de Carvalho, 1998), page 6.

(2) Gouveia (page 6) refers to this song as a cartão de visita (calling card) and attributes those words to Alfredo Marceneiro.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Defense of Fado: Victor Machado’s Ídolos do Fado (1937)

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Published in 1937, Victor Machado’s Ídolos do Fado (Idols of Fado) is still widely regarded today as one of the most important reference books on fado ever written. The work is certainly a product of its time: in the 1930s, the early years of the Salazar regime, several intellectuals and scholars debated over whether fado should be scorned as one of the vilest, basest products of Portuguese culture, or whether it should be praised for its positive qualities and the possibilities that it offered as a vehicle for the education of the masses. This debate was already current at the turn of the twentieth century, yet it reached its peak in the 1930s, with the appearance of texts that fiercely argued for one side or the other. In 1936, Luís Moita published Fado, Canção de Vencidos (Fado, Song of the Defeated), a collection of lectures broadcast on national radio in which he vilifies fado attributing all the evils of contemporary Portuguese society to the genre and its practitioners. Machado’s Ídolos do Fado was conceived as a response to Moita’s work, and although many of its arguments are as hyperbolic as Moita’s, it still comes across today as an unapologetic, heartfelt defense of the beauty of fado and its long tradition. Machado not only aims at exalting the virtues of fado, but he also offers short biographies of some of the best fado singers of the time originated in interviews that he personally conducted with them, along with the lyrics of songs with which they were associated. Therefore, beyond the specific historical context in which it was written, the work contains a wealth of first-hand information about classic fadistas and is profusely illustrated with photographs. For the purpose of this review, it will suffice to concentrate on the first three chapters of the book, which encapsulate Machado’s critical approach to his subject.

Entitled “Vencidos… não!” (“Defeated… no!”), a clear reference to the title of Moita’s work, the first chapter begins with a fiery defense of fado, leaving Machado’s agenda perfectly clear: “May those who do not feel, do not understand, or refuse to understand fado leave it alone” (11). Drawing from writings by authors such as Fontes Martins and Júlio Dantas [see picture above], Machado attempts to dissociate fado from its origins in roguery and crime, underscoring the fact that it is not popular merely among the working class, but also among the aristocracy. Machado attempts to debunk the stereotype of the fadista as a criminal, counteracting Moita’s conception of fado singers and aficionados as defeated, degenerate people: “A style of music does not create degenerates,” Machado quotes from Dantas, “but perhaps degenerates may have a predilection for this or that style” (13). Machado consciously characterizes fadistas as as honest, hard-working people who become successful by virtue of their artistry. Thus, he argues that Moita’s view, which identifies fado with all the problems that plague Portuguese society, is erroneous: fado is not the song of the defeated because such a thing does not exist. To illustrate his point, Machado includes a quotation from a 1937 newspaper article by journalist Norberto de Araujo: “There are no songs of the defeated; there are simply defeated people. There are no songs of the sick; there are only sick people” (15). In order to push his point even further, toward the end of this first chapter, Machado offers quotes from several important writers, actors, journalists, and even aristocrats praising fado and explaining why they enjoy it. Some of these present the style as the essence of Portugal, a very common practice when it comes to legitimizing fado as a valuable art form.

The second chapter of the book, entitled “Do Passado ao Presente” (“From Past to Present”), is much more dense than the previous one. In spite of its title, Machado does not mean to write here an in-depth history of fado: he does mention the foundational myth of Maria Severa, yet he prefers to concentrate on a more recent time period—the late nineteenth century—when fado is embraced by the aristocracy and gains access to the theater stage. Once again, Machado stresses the difference between fado, that is, the music, and fadistismo, a term that he uses to refer to the background of roguery and crime with which its detractors associate the genre. He praises legendary fadistas such as Augusto Hilário, Ángela Pinto, and Júlia Mendes, some of whom met with an untimely death, arguing that they died from sickness and not because of their lifestyle as fado performers. Here, Machado is concerned with dignifying, and thus, he describes the process of popularization of the Portuguese guitar around the turn of the twentieth century, stressing the importance of musicians such as João Maria dos Anjos [see picture below], who contributed to the adoption of the instrument by the aristocracy. Once more, Machado mentions that these artists do not devote their whole lives only to fado, but rather that they also “work and provide for their families honestly, and their contact with fado . . . does not turn them into people unworthy of our society” (25).

One of Machado’s most interesting arguments in this chapter, although not completely devoid of hyperbole, is that fado should be valued for its poetic qualities as some of the best Portuguese folk poetry. In this sense, he argues that poetry is inextricably linked with the Portuguese people: “We come to the conclusion that every Portuguese person is a poet. In Portugal, even the less cultivated social classes boast their own improvisers. The tenderness and the poetic sensibility that we find in many of the quatrains that spring from the inspiration of some of our folk poets do not exist in the folk poetry of other countries” (26). Machado notes that many of these poetas populares do not receive much income from their compositions, which he attributes to the fact that a great number of people either did not care to read or were illiterate. According to Machado, this fruitful poetic activity is the reason for the proliferation of publications on fado, most of which, however, were short-lived due to lack of funding and a reduced readership. Although he offers a thorough list of fado journals, Machado stresses the key role of two of them, Guitarra de Portugal and Canção do Sul, and ends this chapter by positing that all journals should have the common goal of defending fado against its many detractors.

Finally, the third chapter completes Machado’s defense of fado, focusing on the preservation of its generic identity. Like other musical styles such as the blues or country music, fado has always been highly self-referential and acutely concerned with its generic boundaries, which are established by contrast with other genres or cultural expressions. In this chapter, Machado takes the point of view of a purist who attempts to prevent fado from being contaminated by other styles. Just like Roy Acuff did not accept the use of drums on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Machado is wary of fadistas who also sing tango, feeling that tango should not be sung alongside fado at fado houses. He takes a nostalgic look at a distant past when “the fadista was just a fadista” and “fado was sung with more affection and enthusiasm” (33). According to Machado, the staging of cegadas (short plays performed during Carnival celebrations and usually characterized by humor and social satire) at fado houses was also a threat to the integrity of fado, as was a part of the audiences that flocked to such venues simply to socialize and utter shallow comments about the music and not because they appreciated the beauty of fado. Machado dismisses this kind of audiences as “bad fado aficionados” (34) and very categorically states that perhaps they should not be granted admission into fado houses.

Despite its exaggerations and constant sententiousness, which should be understood in the light of the context in which it was written, Ídolos do Fado remains an extremely valuable piece of criticism on fado, as well as an interesting source of information on the lives, careers, and repertoires of the most important fadistas of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At a moment when many intellectuals were criticizing fado for its alleged immorality and baseness, Machado attempted to put his point across in a very clear, simple manner, arguing for the beauty and poetic quality of fado and for the moral integrity of those who performed it. Unfortunately, Machado’s work is currently out of print: I have been able to use a copy of the first edition that I requested through interlibrary loan at Vanderbilt University, and I have no doubt that it is a book that definitely needs to be reissued.

Works Cited

A. Victor Machado. Ídolos do Fado. Lisbon: Tipografia Gonçalves, 1937.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Armandinho, the Wizard of the Portuguese Guitar

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

At a time when the Portuguese guitar was not as technically developed as it is nowadays, there appeared a man who was responsible for introducing important innovations in playing style and technique, thereby bringing the instrument into modernity. A true pioneer, Armando Augusto Freire, nicknamed Armandinho, will always be remembered as one of the best Portuguese guitar performers in fado history. His style is very lyrical and inventive, and his uncanny ability to improvise amazed audiences wherever he performed.

Born in Lisbon in 1891, Armandinho was drawn to the Portuguese guitar from an early age due to “the possibilities that it offered him in his longing for expressing his characteristic sentimentality” (1). A self-taught musician, Armandinho was deeply influenced by his admired Petrolino (2), an obscure and extravagant guitarist that is said to have performed as far afield as Czarist Russia. His first public appearance took place when he was fourteen at the Teatro das Trinas, and even back then, his style was already becoming very polished, setting him apart from most of his contemporaries. Armandinho soon became one of the most sought-after accompanists in Lisbon, and he was an integral part of many overseas tours that took him to Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. In the early 1930s, he toured Madeira and the Azores Islands with Martinho d’Assunção, João da Mata, and singer Ercília Costa, and he also performed in Angola and Mozambique with singers Berta Cardoso and Madalena de Melo. Throughout his career, he accompanied many great fadistas, including Amália Rodrigues in her early years as a singer.

Armandinho was not only an extraordinarily gifted musician, but he was also a very accomplished composer. Some of the tunes that he wrote, such as “Fado Armandinho,” “Ciganita,” “Fado São Miguel,” and “Fado Mayer,” have acquired the status of standards and are still widely performed today. Although his recording career was not very prolific, he did cut some sides for HMV that are now collector’s items and that allow us to appreciate his unparalleled artistry and the magic sounds that he could produce with a Portuguese guitar in his hands.

Armandinho was a man who devoted his whole life to fado and to the Portuguese guitar. After his passing in December of 1946, when he was only 55, he became a legend, a classic, a performer to whom virtually every Portuguese guitarist is indebted. Some of his many followers include such magnificent musicians as Jaime Santos, Raúl Nery, and José Nunes. In his very nostalgic, autobiographic fado “Belos Tempos” (“Good Times”), Fernando Farinha remembers Armandinho as “that great commander,” ranking him as one of the most versatile Portuguese guitarists in the history of fado. There is no doubt that the innovations introduced by Armandinho during the first half of the twentieth century changed the Portuguese guitar forever and played a decisive role in shaping the sound of fado as we know it now. Hence, his incomparable talent and his extraordinary legacy will always live on.


(1) Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o Fado e os Fadistas. Lisbon: Edições Vega, 1992: 95.

(2) For more information on Petrolino in Portuguese, please visit Fadocravo - O Petrolino.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Berta Cardoso, the Fadista with a Tear in Her Voice

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

During the first half of the twentieth century, fado underwent many decisive changes: from its origins in the brothels and dingy taverns of Lisbon, it moved to theaters, records, radio, movies, and the typical restaurants known as fado houses. Embraced by all different social classes, from the lower social strata to the aristocracy, it shed its bad reputation and ceased to be associated with rogues and criminals. Fadistas that once were amateur singers turned professional, striving to create an image and a recognizable sound that would secure them popularity and success. Fado began to be marketed and mass produced—it became an industry, an economic as well as an artistic pursuit. Berta Cardoso not only witnessed all these modifications, but she was one of the most important figures that helped usher them in. Throughout her long and successful career, she was always one of the most prominent artists in the fado scene, making extremely popular records, receiving standing ovations wherever she performed, making memorable appearances on radio and television, and even starring in movies. Today she is duly remembered as one of the foremost names in the history of the genre.

Born Bertha dos Santos Cardoso in the Lisbon parish of Sacramento in 1911, her father died when she was only nine, and a state institution took care of her. This upbringing apart from her mother would have a decisive influence on Cardoso, who would always value the idea of family as one of the bases of her life. Although she never married, she did have two sons, and as soon as she began to earn her own money, she made sure that her mother stayed close to her. In years to come, she would turn down many an interesting contract on account of her family life, proving that she was well aware of her priorities.

Cardoso did not start performing in front of live audiences until she was sixteen: her first appearance took place at the Salão Artístico de Fados, owned by Portuguese guitar whiz Armandinho, and it marked the beginning of an extremely successful career that in time would take her to Brazil, Africa, Spain, and the Portuguese colonies. Her singing was soon celebrated by specialized publications such as Guitarra de Portugal and Canção do Sul: “Berta Cardoso,” wrote the latter in 1941, “is not merely a singer. She has great diction and stage presence. In short, she knows how to act . . . Her singing style remains rich and powerful. At times she overshadows the orchestra, and her voice fills the stage, the theater, and our soul” (1). Indeed, Cardoso’s beautiful voice and very personal singing style dazed audiences and critics alike, earning her access to the theater stage, where she cemented her popularity starring in countless revues. She was not only an amazing singer, but also a very accomplished actress, and therefore, a natural for this kind of musical theater.

Her prolific recording career started in 1931, when she traveled to Madrid to cut her first sides for Odeon, accompanied by legendary musicians such as Armandinho and Georgino de Sousa. These early records met with wide acclaim, which led to many more sessions; by the late 1930s, Cardoso had signed a much more advantageous recording contract with Valentim de Carvalho. Even in the late 1950s and 1960s, when she was making records for the lesser-known Estoril label, her music sold in respectable quantities. Her very lyrical approach to fado singing is well represented in her records, all of them magnificent examples of the high quality standards that fado had reached in those golden years that span the period from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Berta Cardoso was a regular fixture on radio throughout the 1930s and 1940s, a period of constant touring and appearances on highly successful revues. In 1940, she also performed in Feitiço do Império (The Spell of the Empire), a movie directed by António Lopes Ribeiro and meant as a propagandistic exaltation of the dictatorial government of António de Oliveira Salazar. One of the biggest productions in the history of Portuguese cinema up until that point, the film featured a whole array of great stars such as Luís de Campos, Isabela Tovar, and Francisco Ribeiro. Performances by Alfredo Duarte Marceneiro also graced the movie, which was an instant success and remained in theaters for many years.

The 1950s saw Berta Cardoso enduring difficult times: not only did her mother pass away in 1951, but her son Humberto died tragically in Mozambique in 1959. As she mourned these two important personal losses, she gradually abandoned the theater stage and concentrated on her appearances at fado houses. Television arrived in Portugal around 1957, soon becoming a powerful medium for the divulgation of fado, and of course, Cardoso was prominently featured on television shows until her definitive retirement in 1982.

From left to right: Berta Cardoso, Lina Maria Alves, Alfredo Marceneiro, and Portuguese guitarist Acácio Gomes.

Cardoso had a very acute poetic sensibility, as demonstrated by her constant concern with the quality of the lyrics of her songs. Mostly written by acclaimed fado poets such as João Linhares Barbosa, Armando Neves, Joaquim Frederico de Brito, and Luís da Silva Gouveia, her songs underwent periodic lyrical modifications: “Any artist always feels a constant need to update his or her repertoire,” she once reflected. “Of course, people still request my old hits, and so do the record companies. But that is not enough. I would not like to be accused of tiring off my audience, and so I strive to update my repertoire as much as possible” (2). These are words of wisdom spoken by a cultivated woman who understood the importance of the relationship between an artist and the audience, one of the secrets of her prolonged success.

Berta Cardoso was a witty woman, both on and offstage: she enjoyed impersonating other artists and was a hard-working professional who always knew how to please the people that flocked to see her shows. Her death in July of 1997 left us without one of the true first ladies of fado, an all-around entertainer that has become an icon of Portuguese music at large. Her voice, preserved in her numerous records for posterity, sounds as thrilling now as it did when she cut them: it still transmits a whole palette of complex feelings that range from the sadness and saudade of loss to the joy of everyday life. Berta Cardoso, that “fadista with tears in her voice” (3) undoubtedly remains one of the all-time heroines of fado.

Acknowledgments: This article would never have been possible without the kindness and cooperation of my good friend Ofélia Pereira, who knew Berta Cardoso in life and owns an impressive collection of memorabilia related to the great fadista. She graciously sent me the catalog of the exhibition Berta Cardoso, 1911-1997, held at Lisbon’s Museu do Fado in 2006, and I am indebted to her for that.

Links: For more information on Berta Cardoso, please visit Ofélia’s website BertaCardoso.Com, which contains sound clips, pictures, and biographical data both in Portuguese and English. To watch Berta Cardoso videos, please click on the following links:

Cinta Vermelha / Red Ribbon
Noite de São João / Night of St. John
Lés a Lés - one of her earliest recordings
Fado do Marinheiro / Fado of the Sailor - with Márcia Condessa and Maria Clara
Olhai a Noite / Look at the Night


(1) Canção do Sul. 19th Year, Issue 287. December 1, 1941.

(2) ”Vida artística: Berta Cardoso, uma voz que continua a ouvir-se na noite de Lisboa.” Diário de Notícias. June 23, 1973.

(3) This nickname was coined in Portugal and followed Cardoso to Brazil. See Berta Cardoso, 1911-1997. EGEAC / Museu do Fado, 2006: 30.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mariza Introduces Nashville to the Sounds of Fado at the Symphony Center

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Mariza has embarked on a tour of the United States and Canada that will not be finished until May, and last night she appeared at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Accompanied by a lineup that included Portuguese guitar, piano, trumpet, classical guitar, bass, and percussion, at the end of her two-hour concert, she got a standing ovation. And deservedly so, because she put on a magnificent show: her mournful voice sang of unrequited love, fate, her childhood, and her homeland, and her backing musicians provided the perfect accompaniment. For many, it was an evening of discovery; for others (and there were definitely many Brazilian and Portuguese immigrants in the audience) it was a unique chance to enjoy the music of one of the foremost names in present-day fado.

As evidenced by most of her records, Mariza’s approach to fado singing is somewhat modern, a combination of influences culled from jazz, pop, African rhythms, and Latin American music. At times she clearly strays from traditional fado, but she has a vast knowledge about its tradition and is extremely respectful of it. Thus, she mixed songs from her latest album, Terra (“Já Me Deixou,” “Rosa Branca,” “Tasco da Mouraria,” “Vozes do Mar”), and more traditional-sounding tunes such as the Southern Portuguese air “Feira de Castro.” One of the highlights of the evening was a rhythmic, percussion-laden reading of Amália Rodrigues’s classic “Barco Negro” that had the audience on their feet.

Clad in a beautiful black dress, Mariza has a powerful, dramatic stage presence, and last night she seemed perfectly in tune with her extraordinarily gifted musicians, which added to the overall charm of the concert. She also introduced some of the songs in very good English, reminiscing about her life and instructing the audience on the meaning and long history of fado. The performance was divided into two parts by a lovely guitarrada, that is, an instrumental fado that allowed Mariza to showcase the abilities of her wonderful musicians. Toward the end of the evening, she even gave a tip of the hat to the Great American Songbook with a yearning version of “Cry Me a River,” a classic made famous by 1950s songstress Julie London. The final surprise was still to come, though: Mariza pulled up a chair and called her guitarist and her Portuguese guitarist, and together they sang a few quatrains from traditional fado songs like “Zanguei-me Com Meu Amor” and “É Tão Bom Ser Pequenino,” unplugged and with no microphone, turning the Schermerhorn into a Lisbon fado house for a few minutes. A fitting finale for a fabulous evening that will be hard to forget.

Nashville, March 10, 2009.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Joaquim Pais de Brito on the Role of Fado in the Development of the City of Lisbon

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

The volume Antropologia Urbana: Cultura e Sociedade no Brasil e em Portugal, edited by Gilberto Velho, includes an excellent article by Joaquim Pais de Brito entitled “O Fado: Etnografia na Cidade,” in which he attempts to outline an ethnography of the city of Lisbon by taking a look at the relationships established between fado and the urban space throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The study considers the history of Lisbon in the light of the influence of fado in the cultural development of the city, while at the same time illustrating the development of fado as an art form.

As fado is a manifestly urban cultural expression, Pais de Brito is primarily concerned with the role that it played in the construction of an idea of city. The author admits that fado is not easy to define, that its nature is elusive and its boundaries difficult to set: “In everyday language, fado is a plural, fragmented, decentered reality” (24). Therefore, his article takes a markedly historical approach, going back to the early nineteenth century and taking a look at the different historical events that played a part in the evolution of the city of Lisbon, as well as in the creation of the social types that lived there. Lisbon’s social landscape was delineated throughout the nineteenth century, and toward the end of that century, four distinct social groups can be distinguished. First of all, there were the destitute, that is, poor people who did not have a stable job. On the other end of the social scale, there was a rapidly dwindling aristocracy that was beginning to feel the political changes brought about by liberalism. In between these two groups, there was an incipient working class that used fado as a means of vindication of its rights; for this working class, fado was instrumental in the definition of its class status. Finally, there was also the petty bourgeoisie, which had economic power, flocked to the theaters, and in time would start purchasing records and listening to the radio.

Pais de Brito underscores the influence that the new media of mass communication had on the sound of fado and the visual appearance of fadistas, and he also states that the figure of the fadista was created in the late nineteenth century by a series of authors such as Brito Aranha, Ramalho Ortigão, and even Eça de Queiroz. These writers depict the fadista as a heartless delinquent who frequents taverns and uses all kinds of violence and cheating in order to achieve his goals. For instance, Pais de Brito offers an excerpt from a text by Ramalho Ortigão [see picture below] that brings together the guitar and the knife in its description of the ways and looks of a fadista: “The tools of his trade are a guitar and a Santo Cristo, which is the slang term that they give to their knives” (31). Pais de Brito notes that these portraits of the fadista survive well into the twentieth century, even after the sense of immorality has been shed.

Indeed, the construction of the figure of the fadista continues in the first half of the twentieth century, with the appearance of a number of intellectuals who aimed at defining what fado was, attempting to channel their perception of the music and its performers in order to suit their ideological discourses. The controversy already starts in the 1910s, when Albino Forjaz de Sampaio criticizes fado for what he perceived to be its negative influence on Portuguese culture. This prompted Avelino de Sousa [see picture below] to publish his book O fado e os censores, in which he contradicts this negative view. In his opinion, fado can be used as a viable instrument to educate the illiterate working class.

After the military coup of 1926, intellectuals once again discuss whether fado should be rejected or embraced. In his 1936 book Fado, Canção de Vencidos (Fado, Song of the Defeated), a series of lectures read over the radio airwaves, Luís de Mota fiercely criticizes fado, ascribing all the evils of Portuguese society to this music. In 1937, Victor Machado’s Ídolos do fado (Idols of Fado), published as a response to Moita’s work, praised fado for its positive qualities within Portuguese society, thereby counteracting Moita’s attacks. According to Pais de Brito, the dictatorial regime appropriated fado, stripping it of its subversive elements and controlling it.

Toward the end of his article, Pais de Brito posits an outline of the different periods that can be observed in these two centuries of fado. First of all, he looks at its appearance in the cities of Lisbon around the 1830s, an early period that is highlighted by the love story between Maria Severa and the Count of Vimioso, which Pais de Brito calls fado’s “foundational myth” (33). By the 1860s we enter into a different period, as specific songwriters and performers begin to acquire popularity and to step outside of anonymity. This is the period in which fado subgenres and styles start to be defined, and at this stage, singers and dancers are still more popular than musicians.

Then, there is a long period that spans the late nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, when fado is appropriated both by the aristocracy and the working class, the latter often using it in order to denounce social injustice. Fado now becomes the soundtrack of social events such as bullfights, singing the joys of city life and recording daily events and the dynamic relationships established between the social classes. During this crucial period, improvisation is extremely important because it determines the form of fado lyrics, that is, the use of improvised ten-line stanzas constructed upon a given quatrain. Some of the biggest names at this time are gifted improvisers such as Júlio Janota and Carlos Harrington. In the early years of the twentieth century, fado will graduate to the stage of theaters, and great performers such as Alfredo Duarte Marceneiro [see picture below] and Berta Cardoso, to name but two, become household names.

One final, also extremely important period, begins with the military coup that brings an end to the Republic in 1926. According to Pais de Brito, the coup thwarts this unfettered evolution of fado, changing the genre forever. The dictatorship enforced censorship and the professionalization of performers. During this period, records and radio will determine the sound and form of fado, favoring the construction of a specific, carefully planned image for the artist. This would explain, for example, the disappearance of the use of nicknames for the fadistas, traditionally linked to their professions outside of fado. There are exceptions, of course, such as Alfredo Duarte, who always used his nickname “Marceneiro,” meaning carpenter.

In short, this is a very interesting article, very well researched and full of pertinent information. Toward the end of the study, Pais de Brito underscores a fact that we sometimes tend to overlook: the iconography that we now associate with fado—the guitars and the stage image of the performers, for example—has not always been a part of fado. On the contrary, its creation is rather recent, harking back to as late as the 1920s.

Works Cited

Pais de Brito, Joaquim. “O fado: etnografia na cidade.” Gilberto Velho (ed.). Antropologia urbana: cultura e sociedade no Brasil e em Portugal. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1999: 24-42.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Natalino Duarte: The Subtlety of a Master Stylist

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Although he has fallen into some neglect lately, which makes it rather difficult to find reliable information about him, Natalino Duarte was one of the most important singers to hit the fado scene in the 1950s. In spite of his eternally young looks, Duarte had a very powerful stage presence, and his voice possessed a wide range and a depth that made it perfect to sing different kinds of songs. Duarte was equally at ease with energetic uptempo numbers and with more pensive, slower fados, and he was able to inflect his performances with a very subtle, restrained emotion that turned them into extremely expressive works of art.

Born in Lisbon’s Bairro da Liberdade in 1935, Duarte showed an inclination to fado from a very early age and started singing at fairs and parties when he was only nine. In fact, fado was an important activity in his family: his brother, Carlos Duarte, also made a name for himself as a guitarist. His big break came in 1957, when he landed first place in a fado contest held at the Café Luso. Duarte’s gigs at fado houses were not extremely numerous, but in the 1960s, television appearances brought him a great deal of exposure and popularity that lasted well into the following decade, when he turned to the artistic management of the Páteo Alfacinha, one of the foremost fado houses of its time. Throughout his career, Duarte was backed by accomplished musicians such as Portuguese guitarists António Parreira and Manuel Mendes and guitarists Raul Silva and Carlos Duarte, and he also shared billing with great names like Maria Teresa de Noronha, Filipe Duarte, and Maria Valejo.

Despite his popularity, Natalino Duarte’s recorded legacy is scarce: he only cut fourteen extended-play records, all of which are of a consistently high quality although not easy to find on CD. As a matter of fact, the only one currently available is a volume in the Fados do Fado series (Movieplay, 1998) that features a fine selection of his late-1960s sides, including classics such as “Eu Gosto Daquela Feia,” his beautiful, rather subdued version of the perennial “Coimbra,” the atmospheric “Degraus da Vida,” and Domingos Silva's “Lenda da Fonte,” the song for which he will always be remembered.

After a long association with the Páteo Alfacinha that lasted until his retirement, Natalino Duarte passed away in Lisbon in February 2002. Duarte was a fadista that, despite his very obvious qualities for fado singing, did not seem to take his career too seriously, much preferring to diversify his activities. However, his excellent recordings and his very personal sensibility for fado will always grant him a place among the greatest names of the genre.

Links: For more information on Natalino Duarte in Portuguese, as well as for sound clips and videos of his music, go to Fadocravo - Natalino Duarte: Porque Gosto do Fado and Lisboa No Guinness: Natalino Duarte.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maria Teresa de Noronha's Fado Antigo: Fado Meets Aristocracy

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

One of the records to which I come back time and again is Fado Antigo (Valentim de Carvalho, 1972), a magnificent compilation of Maria Teresa de Noronha’s most memorable fados with accompaniment provided by legendary musicians such as Raul Nery and António Chainho (Portuguese guitar), Joaquim do Vale (guitar), and Joel Pina (bass guitar). The disc is rather short, at merely twelve tracks, but it offers a perfect portrait of de Noronha’s artistry and inimitable style of fado singing. Her voice is a perfectly tuned instrument, utterly expressive and filled with emotion, and her performances always come across as intelligent, well-crafted works of art.

De Noronha was extremely concerned with the poetic quality of her song lyrics, which needed to suit her mood and personality, and therefore, she not only selected compositions from great fado poets like António de Bragança and Fernando Caldeira, but she also penned some of her own. And Fado Antigo contains beautiful examples of this. In her voice, fado may become a suitable way to escape pain and melancholy: “When sometimes I feel overwhelmed / By the thorn of saudade / Pinned on the past / I sing, and though not on purpose, / My life I entwine / On the strings of a guitar” (“Choro Cantando”). Or her voice may express the paradoxes of unrequited love: “I like you when you lie / And say that you love me / For what you truly feel / Is scorn, and that is much worse” (“Gosto de Ti Quando Mentes”). And sometimes her voice teaches us lessons in life, enticing us to scratch the surface of mere appearance and take a look at the complexity of human feelings: “Let laughter not be the measure / Of people’s happiness / For sometimes laughter hides / The sadness that people feel” (“Nosso Fado”).

Maria Teresa de Noronha is a twentieth-century example of fado’s breach of social class, which can be traced back to the story of the illicit love affair between the Count of Vimioso and Maria Severa in the 1840s. Born Maria Teresa do Carmo de Noronha into an aristocratic family in Lisbon in 1918, she became Countess of Sabrosa through her marriage to Count José António Barbosa de Guimarães Serôdio in 1947. Fado ran in the family: some of her ancestors were notable fado performers, and her husband was an accomplished guitarist and songwriter. She began singing for family and friends at a very tender age, but her first professional appearance did not occur until the late 1930s, when she started a weekly live radio show that stayed on the air for 23 years. Luís Pepe very accurately describes the experience of attending one of her performances: “Listening to Maria Teresa is just like being transported to a region pervaded by spirituality . . . because she does not actually sing; she feels and gives us a glimpse of her soul the way it really is” (1).

In spite of her success in Portugal and abroad, by the early 1960s, de Noronha had gone into retirement, perhaps because of her duties as an aristocrat, which prevented her from having as much public exposure as a singer as other fadistas. However, she still performed at home for family and friends and made some great recordings, and in 1964, she agreed to sing at a party hosted by the Anglo-Portuguese Society in London. Her short trip to England also yielded a historical appearance on the BBC, which gives us an idea of the extent of her popularity.

Maria Teresa de Noronha passed away in 1993, but her invaluable legacy lives on in the outstanding recordings that she made and in the many lyrics that she wrote. She remains the foremost exponent of the so-called aristocratic fado, a style deeply rooted in classic, traditional sounds, and her very personal approach to fado singing oozes class and elegance. She treated fados as lyric poems written in a simple, profoundly expressive language. Alfredo Marceneiro once stated that the ability to speak out the words of a fado song was far more important than the singer’s voice. De Noronha certainly had that ability, and her voice was rich and versatile: she understood the most hidden meanings of the lyrics she sang, and with perfect diction, she always knew how to accentuate those words that were essential to emphasize the multi-layered emotions that are present in fado. Fortunately, records such as Fado Antigo, reissued on CD in 2007, enable us to enjoy the art of one of the best fadistas of the twentieth century.

Link: For more information on Maria Teresa de Noronha in Portuguese and to view a video of one of her recordings, click on Fadocravo - Maria Teresa de Noronha: Mataram A Mouraria.


(1) Luís Pepe. Fado, Mulheres e Toiros. Lisbon: Livraria Francisco Franco, 1945: 44-45.


A few months back, one of our readers asked me to translate the lyrics of the "Fado das horas" ("Fado of the hours"), written by D. António de Bragança, into English. I apologize for the delay in answering this request, but at long last here is the translation:

"Fado of the Hours"

I used to cry because I didn't see you
Now I cry because I see you
But I actually cry because I want
To see you all the time.

Time goes by in a flash
When you speak I listen
All through the hours of our lives
Each hour lasts but a minute.

When you are near me
I feel that I am the ruler of the world
But time is so terrible
Each hour lasts but a second.

Stay by my side
And don't ever leave me again
That way my poor heart
Will live at least for an hour.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Alfredo Marceneiro, the Essence of Fado

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Saying that Alfredo Marceneiro is one of the most important figures in the history of fado is a vast understatement. His grandson, Vítor Duarte, comes much closer to the truth when he describes him as “the essence of fado” (1). Indeed, Marceneiro was one of the first performers to appear in theaters and concert halls, paying special attention to his clothing and stage persona, thereby contributing to the incipient professionalization of fadistas in the 1920s and bringing the style into the modern age. He was also an accomplished songwriter who wrote the music for most of his fados, creating a repertoire all his own that suited his extremely personal style and that has become a blueprint for classic fado.

Always looking for a trademark that would make him stand out, Marceneiro was the first fadista to stand up in front of his musicians while singing and to perform by candlelight, creating a very intimate, almost mystic atmosphere. His singing style was quickly recognizable, and his husky voice always shone on slow numbers drenched with sadness and saudade. “The most important thing in fado is not one’s voice,” he once said, “but rather the ability to speak out the words” (2). And that was something at which Marceneiro clearly excelled.

He was born Alfredo Rodrigo Duarte in 1891 in the parish of Santa Isabel in Lisbon, where his parents had arrived in the hope of achieving the economic prosperity that had hitherto proved elusive. The young Alfredo was interested in acting from a very early age, but very soon he began to concentrate on singing, an activity that he conjugated with his job as a carpenter. As was very common among fadistas around the turn of the twentieth century, his profession would earn him the nickname “Marceneiro” (meaning carpenter in Portuguese), which stuck throughout his extensive career. Very adept at improvising lyrics, during these early years he built a solid reputation both as a very original performer and as a songwriter. His success would earn him a recording contract, and in 1930, he cut his first records for Valentim de Carvalho, which have now become historical items highly coveted by fado collectors. Despite the fact that his records were always very well received by fans and critics alike, Marceneiro was more of a live performer and much preferred to stand up and perform in front of an audience.

Although carpentry remained a lifelong passion, Marceneiro quit his job as a carpenter in 1950 in order to become a professional fadista. Over the years he had built a vast repertoire of self-penned tunes whose lyrics had been provided by great fado lyricists such as Silva Tavares, Armando Neves, João Linhares Barbosa, and Gabriel de Oliveira. Always concerned with the sound of his music, Marceneiro required professionality of his musicians, and he was usually accompanied by some of the best guitarists in Portugal, legendary names like Armandinho, Jaime Santos, Fontes Rocha, and Raul Nery.

His popularity transcended his home country, and throughout his life he constantly received booking offers coming from abroad, especially from Brazil. All of these he turned down, choosing to sing at Lisbon fado houses for his friends and his countless admirers. Though he did appear in many different parts of Portugal, it was in Lisbon that he really felt at home, and there, among his people, whenever he was coaxed to stand up and sing a few songs, he always obliged happily and with an air of seriousness on his face. It was a ritual held regularly almost up until his death, a ritual that he enjoyed to such an extent that he could not conceive life without singing fado.

Alfredo Marceneiro passed away in Lisbon in 1982, surrounded by his wife Judite, his family, and his friends. He was 91, and despite the fact that he hardly ever left his beloved homeland, he had lived a very full life, a life entirely devoted to fado. He was undoubtedly the greatest songwriter in classic fado, and his recorded legacy includes unforgettable gems such as “Senhora do Monte,” “Eu Lembro-me de Ti,” “Há Festa na Mouraria,” “A Minha Freguesia,” and “A Casa da Mariquinhas,” among dozens of others. Marceneiro is an inescapable figure in the history of fado: his name will forever be synonymous with the style, and fadistas everywhere will always be indebted to him for his unparalleled contributions to fado.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my friends Ofélia Pereira and Vítor Duarte, the grandson of Alfredo Marceneiro, for all their help in the preparation of this article.

Links: For more on Alfredo Marceneiro in Portuguese, visit Fadocravo - Alfredo Marceneiro: A Viela, where you will find pictures, lyrics, and a video. The blog Lisboa No Guinness, published by Marceneiro's grandson, also features a great deal of information on this great fadista.


(1) In a letter to the author, February 4, 2009.
(2) Quoted in Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Lisbon: Edições Vega, 1992: 240.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Joaquim Cordeiro — Fados do Fado

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Joaquim Cordeiro is a singer of the so-called velha guarda, that is, fado’s “old guard,” those legendary singers that brought widespread recognition to the style in the early years of the twentieth century. Eduardo Sucena lists him among the most important fadistas of the 1940s, noting that he was known as a comedian (1), and it is precisely on that side of Cordeiro’s artistry that this excellent volume of the Fados do Fado series (Movieplay, 1998) concentrates.

Cordeiro began his professional career in the southern Portuguese region of Algarve as a serious singer who favored songs charged with sentimentality. Upon his arrival in Lisbon in the 1940s, though, he switched gears and became one of the most successful representatives of humorous fado (fado jocoso or humorístico) and a regular at prestigious fado houses such as the “Retiro dos Marialvas” and the “Café Latino.” As a subgenre of fado, this fado jocoso never aims at debasing the musical quality of the style and its interpreters; rather, it uses fado as a vehicle for comedy and occasional social satire and criticism.

As this compilation of his records from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s clearly shows, Cordeiro is a master of the answer song, that is, a humorous version of a fado classic whose lyrics have been rewritten in order to create a satirical or downright funny effect. In this sense, Cordeiro is to fado something similar to what Homer & Jethro are to country music. By the 1960s, Cordeiro seems to have specialized in making this kind of records, and this CD offers a variety of outstanding examples of this practice. For instance, “Casa Bera” is a comic revision of Amália Rodrigues’s unforgettable “Uma Casa Portuguesa”; “Estranha Vida do Diabo” is a reworking of “Estranha Forma de Vida,” a fado classic written by Fernando Farinha and Alfredo Marceneiro; and “Zé Caloteiro” is a humorous reading of Carlos Dias’s popular “Fado do Cacilheiro.” The repertoire of Tony de Matos is also given the personal Cordeiro treatment in “Trabalho Vai-te Embora,” a particularly funny version of “Saudade Vai-te Embora,” and “Ó Rita Volta p’ra Casa,” a hilarious take on “O Tempo Volta para Trás,” one of de Matos’s biggest hits.

As evidenced by these recordings, Cordeiro’s voice, noisy and unpolished, sounds tailor-made for humorous fado, and he clearly knows how to infuse these funny lyrics with irony and satire. He proves to be a master of uptempo numbers, and his voice is always a pleasure to hear, coming loud and clear atop the rippling sounds of the Portuguese guitar, played in these sessions by such big names as António Chainho and Carlos Gonçalves. This compilation presents Cordeiro at his best, showing that he was an outstanding fadista with a very personal style and an unmistakable grin in his voice.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank my friend Ofélia Pereira for her invaluable help with the research for this article. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of information available on Joaquim Cordeiro, yet Ofélia graciously agreed to share some of her old newspaper clippings about him, providing me with data to which I would never have access otherwise. Muito obrigado pela sua ajuda, minha cara amiga!


(1) Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Lisbon: Edições Vega, 1992: 195.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tony de Matos, the Last of the Romantics

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Tony de Matos was more than a fado singer. Although it is true that, as Vítor Marceneiro has stated, he “had the soul of a fadista,” his figure as an artist transcends the realm of fado. With his charming voice and his very passionate, versatile singing style, Tony de Matos will always be remembered as one of Portugal’s foremost pop singers, the closest thing to a Portuguese crooner, a man who, throughout his long career, was able to conjure up an effective mixture of pop music and the dramatic nuances of traditional fado. Known for his romantic persona, his voice and stage presence captivated audiences throughout the Portuguese-speaking world, and his name is synonymous with class, gusto, and a very personal, intimate approach to the vocal art.

Born António Maria de Matos in 1924 into a family of traveling artists in Porto, he showed signs of an eagerness to entertain from a very early age, something of which his parents disapproved. Despite that fact, he relocated to Lisbon when he was 21 and, under the stage name of Tony de Matos, started to make a name for himself singing on radio and in fado houses. His first breakthrough came in 1950, when his record of “Cartas de amor” (“Love Letters”) became a big hit. Recorded in Madrid, Spain, the disc shows de Matos straying away from traditional fado and already adopting the very personal pop style for which he would become known. Similar records such as “Ao menos uma vez” (“At Least Once”) and “Trovador” (“Troubadour”) cemented his popularity and his image as a romantic crooner, and his success soon transcended the frontiers of his homeland, taking him to Africa and Brazil.

It was precisely in Brazil that he cut one of the most important records of his career, a four-song EP that included the hits “Só nós dois” (“Only the Two of Us”), “Procuro e não te encontro” (“I Search and I Can’t Find You”), “Vendaval” (“Storm”), and “Lado a lado” (“Side by Side”). The arrangements on these selections conjugate orchestral pop and traditional fado, showcasing de Matos’s powerful, intensely romantic voice. When the sides were released in Portugal in 1962, their success was unprecedented, and it prompted de Matos to return home and begin a triumphant run of live appearances and film roles. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, de Matos favored a more decidedly pop-oriented singing style perfectly suited to his voice, becoming associated with the nacional-cançonetismo, the mainstream pop music that found success during the dictatorial regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. However, he never forgot his fado roots, occasionally recording great fado tunes such as Fernando Farinha’s “Lugar vazio” (“Empty Spot”), Amália Rodrigues’s “Gaivota” (“Seagull”), and Alfredo Duarte’s “Estranha forma de vida” (“Strange Way of Life”).

Perhaps because of this association with the nacional-cançonetismo, de Matos’s career took a downturn after the Carnation Revolution of 1974. He came to the United States, where he resided for over eight years, and did not return to Portugal until 1985, when he made a comeback appearance at Lisbon’s Coliseu dos Recreios and went back into the studio to record new material. A mere four years later, in 1989, cancer took his life, leaving Portuguese music without a one-of-a-kind performer whose artistic legacy cannot be underestimated inasmuch as he contributed to the internationalization of Portuguese music.

Links: For more information on Tony de Matos in Portuguese and to listen to sound clips and view videos of his music, click on Fadocravo - Tony de Matos: Fica Comigo Saudade and Lisboa No Guinness: Tony de Matos.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Celeste Rodrigues — The Art of the Portuguese Fado

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

She is the younger sister of fado icon Amália Rodrigues and one of the oldest fadistas still active in Lisbon fado houses. Yet Celeste Rodrigues is much more than that: she is a woman who knows and understands fado, and The Art of the Portuguese Fado (Collectables Records, 2007) is a good example of that. The CD features twelve great performances in which Celeste's voice shines and her special sensibility for fado makes for a very enjoyable listening experience.

Born in Lisbon in 1923, Celeste Rodrigues's professional singing career did not start until 1951. As good a singer as she was, her name always stood in the larger-than-life shadow of her older sister Amália, with whom she remained very close through the years. Although she did have a few hits ("Fado Celeste," "Lenda das algas"), she did not record very extensively, preferring the warmth and intimacy of live performances. She spent some time in Canada in the 1970s, and throughout her career, she appeared at important concert halls in places like Paris and Rome. Unlike Amália, whose singing style was more commercial, Celeste will always be associated with a more traditional kind of fado, the so-called fado castiço: "It was [in Lisbon] that Portuguese ships set out in the fifteenth century to navigate the world," she says, "and it was in the heart of a sailor that fado was born." Ascribing to the typical dress code of the fadista, Celeste always wears her black shawl (the xaile) when she appears at a Lisbon fado house: "[I do so] because fado is folk music," she reflects, "and because, being shy, I need to cover every part of my body."

That shyness is apparent in her singing style, somewhat more subdued than that of Amália's. Celeste's voice is not as powerful, yet it is just as effective when it comes to transmitting all the feelings of yearning, longing, and sadness, all the saudade of fado. Although too short at merely twelve tracks, The Art of the Portuguese Fado is a good introduction to the artistry of Celeste Rodrigues and her very lyrical way of approaching fado. Perhaps in an effort to dissociate herself from Amália, Celeste always insisted on singing her own repertoire, and most of her best tunes were written by the songwriting team of Varela Silva and Santos Moreira. However, one of the tracks on this compilation, "Barco negro" ("Black Ship"), is closely associated with Amália. Celeste's reading of its beautiful, sad lyrics is sparse and soulful, a mixture of grief and resignation: "I know, my love / That you never really left / For everything around me / Tells me that you are always with me." Unfortunately, the liner notes do not provide any information about recording dates or session personnel, but overall, we must congratulate Collectables on this release. Hopefully they will see it fit to issue similar fado records in the near future.

Link: For more information on Celeste Rodrigues in Portuguese go to Fado Celeste, and to view a video of one of her songs, click on Fadocravo - Celeste Rodrigues: As Ruas.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mariza to Tour the United States and Canada in 2009

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

Mariza, one of the foremost names of present-day fado, is scheduled to tour the United States and Canada. A concert at Toronto's Massey Hall on February 13 will mark the beginning of a tour that will take the young singer from coast to coast from February to May. One of Mariza's stops on this long American sojourn will be Nashville, where she will appear on March 9 at the Schermerhorn. It is a magnificent opportunity for American audiences to experience the excitement of a live fado performance from one of the most important fadistas of today, and I certainly won't miss it when she comes to Nashville.

Born in Mozambique in 1973, Mariza moved to Lisbon when she was three. There she started singing fado at her parents' restaurant in the neighborhood of Alfama, a part of town closely associated with fado. At age seven, she was already performing at important fado houses such as Adega Machado, where she met legendary artists such as Maria Amélia Proença and Alfredo Duarte Jr. and began to hone her skills as a fado singer. Before her first album, Fado em mim (Fado in Me, 2002), brought her international recognition, Mariza had already sung in Belgium and the Netherlands and on many TV shows in Portugal. Her first CD, intended as a tribute to Amália Rodrigues, became a big hit both in Portugal and abroad, which prompted her to go on a world tour that brought her to the United States for the first time.

The rest of her albums, Fado curvo (2003), Live in London (DVD, 2004), Transparente (2005), Concerto em Lisboa (2006), and Terra (2008), increased her reputation as one of the divas of the New Fado, a group of young singers striving to achieve a new sound in fado while at the same time showing respect for its long, glorious tradition. Influenced by other styles such as jazz, gospel, and Brazilian music, Mariza has become one of the most appreciated innovators of fado in the new century. Her tour of the United States and Canada will certainly be a treat to all fado aficionados this side of the Atlantic.

Here is a clip of Mariza live on the Late Show with David Letterman back in October 2007. Letterman looks absolutely lost for words after her heart-wrenching performance. Enjoy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

What Is Fado?

By Anton Garcia-Fernandez.

General introduction

As a little kid growing up in the city of Vigo, in the northwest of Spain, my parents would now and then drive my sister and me across the border to the little town of Valença do Minho, in Portugal. It was merely a 25-minute trip, I know, but to me it meant much more than that. The landscape on the other side of the Minho river, the natural barrier that separates Spain and Portugal, was not really different, yet it was this awareness of being in another country, in contact with another language and another culture, that made all the difference to me. This regular contact with Portuguese life, less than half an hour away from my hometown, led me to develop an interest in the Portuguese language and culture in general. In time, it would lead me to the discovery of fado, at first through releases by Amalia Rodrigues and Carlos do Carmo that my father had in his extensive record collection, and later through those by great fadistas such as Alfredo Marceneiro, Fernando Farinha, Maria Teresa de Noronha, Carlos Ramos, Lucilia do Carmo, Tony de Matos, Joaquim Silveirinha, and Filipe Pinto, to mention but a few.

Fado records were part of my luggage when I first came to the United States about five years ago: I play them constantly at home, and they are a regular part of my daily existence. However, I have found that the genre is largely unknown to English-speaking audiences; although it is possible to purchase fado recordings in the United States, not a great deal has been written about it in English. There are notable exceptions, such as Paul Vernon's A History of Portuguese Fado and Michael Colvin's The Reconstruction of Lisbon, yet for the most part, fado has not garnered major critical attention in English. As merely a collector of fado recordings and books about the style, it is not my intention to take a dry, serious critical approach to the intricacies of fado in this blog. I simply would like to present the music, its history, its foremost interpreters and composers, and its most important recordings to English-speaking audiences that may not be acquainted with them or with the Portuguese language. My area of scholarly research is mainly Spanish, English, and Portuguese literature; I am not a musicologist, and that is the reason why the articles published in All This Is Fado will deal mostly with the literary dimension of fado, as well as with specific songs, recordings, songwriters, and interpreters. I humbly submit these articles to the readers' scrutiny, hoping that they will be informative and interesting. If I succeed in getting people exposed to and interested in fado music, all my efforts will have been rewarded. Now, to the matter...

A Brief Sketch of the History of Fado

A Portuguese popular saying describes the essence of fado in the following fashion: "Fado can't be seen or heard; it simply happens" (“O fado não se vê nem se ouve; simplesmente acontece”). Like any sententious phrase, this is an extremely obscure utterance, but it is very much to the point, since fado has always defied a clear-cut definition, and its origins, in spite of the efforts of scholars, remain very much in the dark. In a recent message sent to me, Vitor Duarte, the grandson of the great fadista Alfredo Marceneiro, argues that the most important aspect of fado is that it is essentially Portuguese. Notwithstanding the fact that some musicologists have attempted to locate its birth in Brazil, these theories are not stronly sustained, and there is no doubt that throughout the twentieth century, fado became a musical symbol of Portugal, so much so that it has been described as "true expression of the Portuguese soul." Yet, like the saying above, this nationalist-laden description of the genre is not enough: fado does hail from and is mostly sung in Portugal, and so describing it merely as Portuguese does not seem to help very much.

The question of the musical/literary origins of fado, then, remains open to interpretation. Scholars have tried to document its birth with varying degrees of success, producing a number of theories about the subject, none of which are fully convincing. One of these theories traces the origins of the genre back to the traditional songs of the Arabic peoples that settled in Portugal during the Middle Ages. This theory, however, does not bear in mind the fact that fado only appeared in Portugal and not in the south of Spain, also populated by Arabic peoples around the same time period.

Another theory, beautifully developed in Pinto de Carvalho's classic study Historia do fado (1903), asserts that fado derives from a certain musical form known as lundum, brought to Portugal by sailors who used to cultivate it during their long sea journeys. Indeed, Portugal has always been a seafaring country, and this origin would explain the preponderance of sea-related themes in early fado lyrics. Yet, Pinto de Carvalho's explanation is not always consistent and convincing--although extremely poetic in its development--and so this theory is not widely accepted.

Other theories argue that fado harks back to the rich medieval tradition of troubadour love and satirical lyrics, themes that are still common in present-day fado. However, it could be argued that these are universal themes, and most important, fado did not take root in other parts of Spain that boasted medieval poetry traditions such as that of Portugal.

Whatever the origins of fado may be, Eduardo Sucena (1) divides its historical development into three different periods. First of all, fado appears in Lisbon toward 1822, and in these early years, instrumental compositions and dancing are more important than lyrics and singing. The second period begins around 1840, when the use of the guitar becomes more prominent and the popularity of fado singing overtakes that of dancing. Finally, by 1888, fado is taken to the university city of Coimbra, and it is gradually accepted across social classes and appropriated by the aristocracy. This tendency toward crossing social boundaries is a key element of fado from its earliest years, as the story of Maria Severa (1820-1846) amply proves. The figure of Severa, a Lisbon prostitute who played guitar and sang fado, has acquired a somewhat mythical dimension that makes it difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. Her love affair with the Count of Vimioso, a nobleman who appreciated fado, is widely seen as the first of many contacts between the nobility and the fado-singing working class, and as such, it is sung and remembered in many song lyrics. The pathos of Severa's story, brought to an abrupt end by her untimely death, as well as its iconographic importance within the universe of fado, calls for a separate article in this blog.

The advent of radio, phonographic records, and the cinema during the first half of the twentieth century changed fado forever, standardizing its sound and the image of its performers and creating an idea of genre. It was then that fado, originally synonymous with poverty, crime, roguery, and the lower social strata, acquired national and international exposure. Its interpreters, names such as Alfredo Marceneiro, Armandinho, Ercilia Costa, Berta Cardoso, Amalia Rodrigues, and Frutuoso França, among many others, also gained widespread recognition singing on radio, on records, in movies, in theaters, and in special establishments known as fado houses (casas de fado). The physical image, dress code, and stage presence of the fadista were also constructed around this time, with black as the predominant color of the performer's outfit, in sync with a half-lit stage and a serious, almost stoic countenance. These elements are so very much inscribed in the popular imaginary of the Portuguese people that even the new, more innovative stars of the genre (Mariza, Katia Guerreiro, Camane) respect these prescriptions to a great extent.

Instrumentation, Lyrical Dimension, and Styles

The typical musical accompaniment of fado is rather sparse, usually consisting solely of stringed instruments such as the classical guitar (known in Portuguese as viola), the bass guitar (viola-baixo) used to stress the rhythm, and the Portuguese guitar (guitarra). The latter is closely associated with the style, and its special tuning gives fado its recognizable tinkling sound. The Portuguese guitar is a very versatile instrument, and over the decades, great instrumentists like Armandinho, Raul Nery, António Chainho, and Artur Paredes have experimented with it and perfected its sound and devised innovative playing techniques. Even though fado singing is usually accompanied by these stringed instruments, there are many recordings on which the singer is backed by a whole orchestra, and Amália Rodrigues even cut a magnificent record accompanied by saxophone great Don Byas (2).

One of the most appealing aspects of fado lies in the lyrics of its songs, in which the poetic element becomes crucial. The best fado compositions are usually a perfect marriage of melody and lyrics, yet sometimes poetry prevails over the music, since many songwriters often create new lyrics for already existing tunes. The poetic universe of fado is dominated by the letmotif of saudade, a deeply nostalgic feeling of longing and yearning for love, for one's homeland, or for a past that will never be recovered. Being a mostly urban cultural expression, the city is another key element of fado, whose lyrics constantly reference the experience of the city (mostly Lisbon and Coimbra), describing its people, its neighborhoods, its festivities, its dark corners, and its grand avenues. More traditional lyrics hark back to fado's possible pre-urban existence, depicting country scenes, character types, and popular traditions. The theme of the sea is also quite recurrent, as is that of Portugal as the singer's motherland, an aspect that reveals how fado lyrics strive to come to terms with the idea of national identity. Just like other styles such as blues or country music, fado sometimes becomes self-referential, attempting to define its essence and generic boundaries, as well as celebrating some of its myths (Maria Severa, for instance) and foremost musical representatives (Armandinho, Alfredo Marceneiro, Amália Rodrigues, Ercília Costa). Finally, many poems by some of Portugal's great poets (Luís de Camões, Fernando Pessoa, Miguel Torga, José Carlos Ary dos Santos) have been set to music and entered the repertoire of fadistas.

Fado is cultivated mainly in two geographic areas of Portugal, Lisbon and Coimbra, which has given rise to two distinct styles of understanding and performing this kind of music. In Lisbon—as well as in Porto—fado is usually performed by fadistas dressed in black, and many of the songs touch upon the typical themes of unrequited love, the dark side of life, and popular urban traditions and characters. Most Lisbon fado compositions are actually story songs: they narrate a story that is sometimes more complex than others. In Coimbra, fado is closely related to its ancient university, performed only by male musicians and singers who don traditional student costumes for the occasion. The fado of Coimbra has more affinities with popular ballads and folksongs than that of Lisbon, and many of its performers (José Afonso, for instance) fully embraced this traditional folk element. Not as well-known as Lisbon fado, the Coimbra style boasts many important names such as Edmundo Bettencourt, Augusto Hilário, António Menano, and the guitarists Artur and Carlos Paredes.

Finally, as far as the nature of its melody and its lyrical structure, there are several different styles of fado. Frederico de Freitas (3) notes that fado is "an essentially syllabic kind of song, as are generally most Portuguese popular melodies," and that the poetic structure of most compositions consists of quatrains made out of seven, ten, or twelve syllables. Sometimes, fado melodies are uptempo (a style known as fado corrido), and in many cases, two or more fadistas improvise the lyrics in a contest sort of fashion (fado à desgarrada or fado ao desafio). According to de Freitas, there are many other recognizable styles of fado, namely fado balada, fado nocturno, fado serenata, and fado marcha, among many others, whose characteristics we will have the chance to explore in forthcoming posts.


(1) Eduardo Sucena. Lisboa, o fado e os fadistas. Lisbon: Edições Vega, 1992: 9-16.
(2) Amália Rodrigues and Don Byas. Encontro. Valentim de Carvalho, 1973.
(3) Frederico de Freitas. O fado, canção da cidade de Lisboa. Lisbon, 1973: 233-4.