Who are some of the greatest interpreters of Portuguese Fado?

I'll concentrate on singers still performing today. I usually mention the principal guitarist too, particularly if they are playing the high-pitched Portuguese guitar, sometimes called the Fado guitar. This is pretty important, as it often performs almost a duet with the singer, and is a key part of the performance. In other cases an ordinary acoustic guitar can play this role, or even a piano. Or the singer can dominate.

Cuca Roseta "Triste sina"

Cuca Roseta "Triste sina" (Sad fate)

Portuguese guitar: Ângelo Freire

This song is one of many associated with the late Amália Rodrigues, and has had many modern interpreters. Here Cuca Roseta sticks fairly closely to a classic simple, almost stark, Fado form. Unpretentious but spellbinding.

Mísia "Tive um curação, perdi-o"

Mísia "Tive um curação, perdi-o" (I had a heart, but I lost it)

Portuguese guitar: Luís Guerreiro

This isn't entirely typical of Lisbon Fado, but it is representative of Mísia, who as a performer is never under-dramatic! The song is again from the repertoire of Fado legend Amália Rodrigues, who wrote the words.

After the revolution in 1974–1975, and the opening up of Portugal to modern western music and culture after the censorship of the dictatorship, Fado fell out of fashion. Mísia has played a key role as a bridge between Amália and the Fado stars of today, convincing record companies Fado could still have a market and popularising it around the world.

Mariza "Medo"

Mariza "Medo" (Fear)

Portuguese guitar: Luís Guerreiro (plus an entire orchestra - which usually gets in the way with Fado but in this case doesn't).

Mariza is the pre-eminent ambassador of Fado outside Portugal today, and also very popular within it. This again is an Amália song, with the music written by her longtime collaborator Alain Oulman.

Fado is an adult music, dealing with a wide range of emotions. The words of Medo start as follows:

Who do I sleep with at night?
Who do I sleep with at night?
It is my secret, it is my secret
But if you insist I will tell you
But if you insist I will tell you
Fear lives with me, fear lives with me
But only fear, only fear.

I did say I was going to concentrate on singers still performing today, but already we've had three interpretations of songs associated with Amália Rodrigues (1920 to 1999). So we have got to say something about her. She is the key person in reviving the fortunes of Fado after it was deliberately suppressed in the 1920s and 1930s.

Amália Rodrigues "O fado de cada um"

Amália Rodrigues "O fado de cada um" (The fate of each one)

This clip is from a 1947 film - still under right-wing government but after the dictatorship switched to exploiting a cleaned-up Fado for its own purposes rather than simply cracking down on it.

In the film Amália's character's lover goes off to the African colonies after she neglects him. In this song the words are full of resignation. Here's the first few lines and the end in English. Spoiler alert: it's not about Girl Power!

Thinking clearly
We all have our own fate
And those who are born unlucky,
Won't have a better fate.

Fate is luck
It's from cradle to the grave,
No one escapes, no matter how strong
The destiny God gives us.


But people
Already bring their marked fate
And none more merciless
Than that of being a women!

This is the political ambiguity of Amália - she was an important monetary and propaganda asset of the dictatorship, and was constrained to deliver some of their values. But at the same time she managed to preserve and revive something of value in Portuguese culture the right had originally wanted to suppress.

Today the main attitude to her seems to be “Thank you for the music, Amália”.

Amália Rodrigues "Medo" (Fear)

Amália Rodrigues "Medo" (Fear)

This is Amália's version of Medo (Fear), which Mariza performed in the video above to a huge crowd in the modern era on the Lisbon seafront. Amália recorded Medo in 1966, but it wasn't released until 1997, two years before her death. The message was a bit too ambiguous to deliver in the era of censorship - who exactly is the singer afraid of? Also in 1966 Alain Oulman, the composer of this song and a leftist, was arrested by PIDE, the regime's political police. He was imprisoned and then exiled to France. Later Amália resumed working with him, and this relationship is responsible for many of her best-known songs. But the link was sensitive, especially during the Salazar period.

Let’s move away from Amália now, as I don’t want to give the impression that she is the fount of all Fado, or that Fado isn’t changing or evolving. This brings us neatly to Ana Moura. While having complete mastery of the traditional Lisbon form, she is also an innovator.

Ana Moura "Ninharia"

Ana Moura "Ninharia" (A trifling matter)

Portuguese guitar: Ângelo Freire
Music: Carlos Da Maia
Words: Maria do Rosário Pedreira
From the 2016 album "Moura"

Here the theme is a classic Fado one of intense regret. She has argued with her lover over a trifling matter, and driven them into the arms of another. But musically it is a subtle updating of the style.

As in traditional Fado, the high-pitched Portuguese guitar starts proceedings. But the tempo is almost constant, rather than stopping and starting depending on the singer's emotional state. The lineup is also different, with a percussionist and a keyboard player added.

The result is something that is clearly recognisable as Fado, but more suitable for modern listening conditions. (The singer also gives a masterclass in the pronunciation of the Portuguese R sound!).

The tune of Ninharia goes back over 100 years. I write about its history in the hands of different artists in Ana Moura and Mariza recycle a classic Fado tune.

Ana Moura’s earlier 2012 album Desfado is the top-selling Portuguese album of all time in all genres, with an astonishing 294 weeks in the top 50 so far (source: AC Nielsen Portugal). It is also one of the most varied and innovative in terms of style and emotion. Ana has set herself the task of breaking Fado out of its ghetto of miserableness. Here’s the title track.

Ana Moura "Desfado"

Ana Moura "Desfado" (Unfado)

Portuguese guitar: Ângelo Freire
From the 2012 album "Desfado"

What it's about: Desfado is a made-up word, meaning something like “un-Fado” or “the opposite of Fado”. In this song she’s making fun of being a Fado singer. She’s getting sad about feeling so well and happy - because it means she can’t sing Fado properly. But then that sadness sends her down in the dumps - where she can sing Fado again. Which cheers her up. And so on. “Ai que tristeza, esta minha alegria. Ai que alegria, esta tão grande tristeza.” Oh such sadness, it is my joy! Oh what joy, it is such great sadness!

Not all the album is like this. With the next track “Amor afoito” (bold love) we are back to a more recognisable Fado - but it has a driving intensity with percussion in the mix and confident feminist lyrics. Of all the modern interpreters of Fado I’m familiar with Ana Moura is the most original.

So what about the men? Are there no great male interpreters of Fado, apart from guitarists? Yes, here are two of the greatest singing together, accompanied by another fine exponent of the Fado guitar.

Voice: Carlos do Carmo and Carmané
Portuguese guitar: José Manuel Neto

Carlos do Carmo was already a well-established singer before the revolution of 1974–1975, and in the period of disfavour and neglect in its aftermath was important in keeping Fado music alive. At the time of writing (December 2018), he is coming up to his 79th birthday. Carmané was and still is a leading figure in the Fado revival, which breathed new life into Fado from the 1990s.

Among the artists directly influenced by Carlos do Carmo is Marco Rodrigues (no relation to Amália).

Voice and acoustic guitar: Marco Rodrigues
Portuguese guitar: Luís Guerreiro

Today Fado is in good health, with lots of artists singing and recording. It is much more than a tourist music. Fado is sung in Portuguese, largely to a Portuguese-speaking audience. Only a small proportion of Fado artists sell much abroad, but they sometimes go on tour - so look out for them!

Voices: 35 of today's fadistas, Portuguese guitar: possibly Pedro Viana?
They are singing, in honour of Carlos do Carmo, a song made popular by him - a song in praise of Lisbon.

See also on this site

Why do some Portuguese despise Fado?
The turbulent political history of Fado, from its low- and high-born origins, through repression, recovery, revolution, neglect and recent resurgence.

Ana Moura and Mariza recycle a classic Fado tune
In Fado old tunes are continually recycled. They are given a new lease of life by setting new words to them. This can go on for many variants over several decades. In this Fado resembles many other kinds of folk music, and English hymns. Indeed, Ana Moura's Ninharia, discussed above, is an example of just this phenomenon. The tune has been around for a long time. This post looks at versions from Mariza and an earlier male version.

Meta: a note about the word Fado

Pronunciation: In English it normal to pronounce Fado as FARdough. This is correct when speaking English, in the same way you should keep on pronouncing Paris or IKEA the English and American way rather than ape the French or Swedish pronunciations - unless you switch completely into the target foreign language.

But Fado would never be said FARdough in Portuguese. The o on the end of the word is in an unstressed position. This means that in Portugal it will either be said FARdooh, or, when the word itself is very unstressed - for example in the middle of a rapidly spoken or sung phrase, just FARD.

Capitalisation: On this site I capitalise the word Fado in English, when talking about the genre, in the same way I would capitalise Rock. In Portuguese it is generally not capitalised, except sometimes in song titles. Indeed, Portuguese tends to capitalise less than English, and much less than German.

Meaning: Fado also means fate, as in destiny or lot in life. Song lyrics often switch between Fado as a music genre and fado as the singer's destiny. Since even if you check the written lyrics these meanings aren't distinguished in Portuguese orthography, you just have to decide from the wider sense. This can confuse machine translators.

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