Friday, November 6, 2009

European Music: Portugal

Fado is the most famous music of Portugal. This distinctive vocal music with instrumental accompaniment, has obscure origins, but it has been an identifiable part of the Portuguese music scene since the late 18th century. Fado is said to reflect the essence of saudade, a Portuguese word expressing yearning and “beautiful melancholy.” To the Portuguese, fado is simply life.

Strictly speaking, fado consists of three elements: the fadista (the singer), the accompaniment, and the audience. It is an urban music of nighttime and bars and the interaction between the fadista and the audience is considered an important part of the true fado experience.

Recordings, though, are an excellent introduction to this beautiful and captivating music – at least until you can book a trip to Lisbon! Amália Rodrigues was one of the most revered fadistas in Portugal – when she died in 1999, the government proclaimed three days of official mourning. She was also the first to do substantial recording and brought international attention to Portugal and the fado tradition. Today, fadistas such as Mariza, Mísia, Cristina Branco, and Ana Moura carry on the tradition.

Onda Sonora: Red, Hot + Lisbon showcases another major influence on popular music in Portugal. On this album, musicians from Portugal and its former colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Goa, and Brazil unite for a musical journey that highlights the cultural exchanges that were part of the colonial experience.

Portugal’s approach to colonization was such that by the 19th century there was a substantial African and mixed-race population in Lisbon. This continues to influence the music scene. Sara Tavares, for example, is a Portuguese singer of Cape Verdean descent, whose music is reflective of the unique Afro-European experience and, unlike fado, focuses on messages of hope and self-worth.

Black Diamond by Buraka Som Sistema is another example of this type of fusion. The music is based on Kuduro, an Angolan dance music, but is transformed by these Lisbon artists into a hip-hop/techno/urban blend that is uniquely Portuguese.

While the specific origins of the fado tradition are obscure, there is a definite Portuguese ethos that has infused their music through the centuries. Tears of Lisbon is a striking illustration of this, a live album alternating between performances of Portuguese part songs from the Renaissance and modern fado. Another is Cantigas de Amigo: Songs for a Friend by Ensemble Alcatraz, a collection of 13th century Galician-Portuguese songs & dances.

Love, longing and devotion: saudade. The Portuguese do it really well.

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