Saudade, the Essence of Fado

The essence of fado’s poetry is saudade – a word that is difficult to translate into other languages. Saudade can express different emotions such as loneliness, melancholy, longing or even express a fatalistic view of loss. 

Saudade evokes broken hearts and nostalgia for lost loves. Fado is a somber, sometimes mournful, music that, like the American blues, gives voice to heartache and disappointment. 
Maria Severa (1820 – 1846),  first fado singer to have risen to fame,
attaining a near-mythical status after her death

The instrumentation and literature of Fado can be traced back to the Early Modern time but the emergence of Fado as a modern genre is more difficult to catch. It may be traced to Brazil in the early 19th century, and if so Fado made its way into the working class districts of Lisbon. We know with certainty that the legendary Maria Severa was singing Fado in her mother’s tavern in the Alfama district in 1836. 

Severa, often cited as the mother of Fado, seduced the aristocrat Conde di Vimioso with her singing, and the result was an illicit love affair that crossed class lines in a most unacceptable manner. Severa died in 1846 at age 26 from either suicide or tuberculosis, depending on which source you believe, but evidently broken-hearted over her turbulent love affair with Vimioso. Her love life was the stuff Fado is made of. Severa also began the tradition of female fadistas and famous for wearing a black shawl when she sang. 

Most modern fadistas continue to wear a black shawl in honor of Severa. Fado is distinctly Portuguese and, even more specifically, it is largely the musical legacy of Lisbon and Coimbra. Coimbra, located northeast of coastal Lisbon, an ancient university town, known for its intellectual climate and artistic refinement. Coimbra Fado has consequently attracted a more educated audience than Lisbon Fado, where the music has always found its greatest support among the working class. 

The most famous Fado artists of Lisbon, are Maria Severa and Amália Rodrigues, and their legacy has been conveyed mainly by other fadistas. The pioneering voice of modern Fado is most certainly Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999). 

Celebrated fado artists include Ermelinda Vitória, Lucilia do Carmo, Bévinda, Carlos do Carmo, Margarida Bessa, Mísia, Teresa Silva Carvalho, Esmerelda Amoedo, Erícilia Costa, Joana Amendoeira, Cristina Branco, Dulce Pontes, Ana Moura, Madredeus, and Mariza. Significant contemporary Fado songwriters include Jorge Fernando, Maria Manuel Cid and Manuel D’Andrade.