Lisboa Urbana: The City of Fado
I will start the new year as I ended the last one, with a continuation of my Portugal series shot in last October. This time around though I will not set up the pictures themselves but talk about something you can’t spot on the shots, but which is intrinsically interwoven with Lissabon and the people living there. I am talking about the music of Fado. A very intense and melancholic kind of folk singing, which was popular in Portugal until the 80s but which is fading away now slowly. To understand the people of Portugal is to understand the nature of Fado.
You can listen to Fado on YouTube of course, but being in Lisbon you can also go to one of many Fado restaurants located throughout the city, though especially common in the so called Fado neighbourhood of Mouraria in the old town. Usually you pay a package price for the food and the musicians. The spectacle starts at around 8 pm and ends well after midnight. The combination of good Portuguese wine (and port wine), plus delicious local food and the music is a very special one.
One night a visit to a Fado Restaurant called Maria da Mouraria became magical though. After being served the second course the musicians went to the small stage located among the tables and started to play. We were all taken by surprised though who began to sing suddenly, it was the guy who just before introduced himself to us as the kitchen chef! Well it turned out he was the owner and also a very talented Fado singer himself. It wouldn’t stay the last surprise of the night.
As we watched him and his musicians we also noticed an older lady at the door whipping to the music. Later a friend went to the toilets downstairs and told us that she saw the lady singing in the basement with the musicians, it seemed like they were practicing. Indeed after the next course she came to the stage and what followed was a magical performance of a 95 year old lady singing like a 25 year old star. Her presence on the stage was just magnificent, the feelings and the joy she put in the songs were inspiring. A beautiful voice full of emotions in a setting almost private. It felt intimate. The lady had so much energy and fun she just wouldn’t stop, continuing singing even on the sidewalk while wandering with us through the nightly lit streets of Mouraria while she went home and we headed to the Metro.
As it later turned out we witnessed a spontaneous performance of a retired lady living in the neighbourhood. But this wasn’t any lady. She was the sister of the famous Amalia Rodrigues, an icon of Fado who died in 1999 and who is well known by all Portuguese. Celeste Rodrigues is a famous Fado figure in Portugal herself, having been often in television and given large concerts. It felt as for a moment in her life she was the star on the large stage again, her beautiful voice becoming a part of the history of Lisbon itself.