The word fado means destiny, it means fate. Fado is a music that come from the traditional neighborhoods where the working classes settled down centuries ago, like the Alfama in Lisbon. They were the ones who started singing in the beginning. Fado happened in the taverna, with wine and people sitting around tables just singing. Fado players weren’t professional; they had other jobs — a plumber, a taxi driver or something like that. But they knew how to play the Portuguese guitar and they knew another person who knew how to sing it. It’s a non-professional thing. People are there just drinking a glass of red wine and suddenly someone starts singing. That’s what we call free fado. The Portuguese guitar is very important because if you sing something melancholy it is like the guitar is almost crying but if you sing something happy the guitar comes alive and makes very up tempo rhythms so the guitar is the base to make fado music. If you sing fado only with an acoustic guitar it would just be another folk song. Each guitarist has his own technique because we have no schools. You learn from the traditions.
We have about 200 traditional fados. Everybody could sing to the same music but each person chose their own poem. Everybody knows the traditional fados. If you look to a Portuguese guitar player and say Fado Mouraria he knows exactly what it is and he starts playing the tune. So fado started in the tavernas. But suddenly, in the 19th century, kings and counts started enjoying it. Fado started appearing in high society. The real thing was in the taverna but it was good because it showed that fado was not a minor music but a very rich music. At the end of the 19th century the poetry was one of the richest poetries, the most popular poetries in all of Europe. So it became part of the poetry of the Portuguese people.
I grew up in a neighborhood like Alfama. I started listening when I was five years old when Fernando Mauricio — in some way he was the king of the fado — used to come to sing in my parents’ taverna. He had a jazzy way of singing but he was such a traditional person. He never wanted to sing in a big theatre, on big stages, he never wanted to travel. For him, to make him happy, you just had to give him a taverna and some friends and he was happy to sing. It was the way he used to live his life. I try the whole time to listen to the old fado singers because we don’t have schools or conservatoires. It is an oral tradition; we have to live on the streets, in the old neighborhoods. They don’t explain anything to you. You just have to be there at the right time and you just have to listen. The message is passed on from the old singers to the younger generation.
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