Traditional Urban Folk Music of Portugal

Donald Cohen
email: ofadofado@gmail.com

Fado Portugues: Songs from the soul of Portugal
Compiled and edited by Donald Cohen
with Music arranged for voice and guitar.
Includes CD with 26 classic recordings.

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A Beautiful And Informative Guide To Fado

Review by Diana Escudero from Peckham, London United Kingdom, January 7, 2005

I had been waiting for a publication like this. After familiarising myself with songs by Amalia Rodrigues and Mariza, I was eager to find out more, acquaint myself with some male singers, and hopefully discover some new favourites. This book has really fitted the bill on all counts. As well as reams of background information, it has a lovely CD, lyrics in Portuguese (for those of us that like to sing along in private!)as well as translations that help save dictionary time for readers with a less than advanced grasp of Portuguese. I imagine the musical scores make the book usable for proper musicians as well as more passive fado aficionados. It also has a helpful guide to fado houses in Lisbon which I shall be using on a forthcoming weekend trip to the city.

Fado Portugues: Songs from the Soul of Portugal

Review by A reader from Manchester, UK, March 8, 2004

A good collection of songs on CD with corresponding sheet music. A brave attempt has been made to write the music as sung, i.e. with all the twiddles and swoops. The result is that the music looks far more complicated than it is. I think it would have been better to just write the simple melody. However it is very well set out with many explanations about each song and artist and a lot of history. The book also has many "arty" photos of the artists and of Lisbon. Since this is the only English language fado music book easily obtained, it is a must for any fado fans.

See Portugal Travel: your guide to Portugal. Hotels, photos, maps, travel tips!

Upcoming Events
Saturday, Feb. 28, 2004,  2:00 p.m. Book Signing: Dutton's Brentwood Books, 11975 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles(at Bundy Drive) phone 310 476-6264 (refreshments served)
Tuesday, March 2, 2004, approx. 2:40 p.m KPCC-FM 89.3 Los Angeles: "Talk of the City" with Kitty Felde
Wednesday, March 3, 2004, 11:00 a.m. KPFK-FM 90.7 Los Angeles: "Global Village" with Yatrika Shah-Reis

Donald Cohen, a retired Los Angeles attorney and fado expert, says that although fado in its current form is about 200 years old, its roots go back to the 12th century to traditions of song and poetry brought by Provencal troubadours, the Moors who lived in Portugal, and the Jews.

But it’s sad, longing spirit was defined by Portugal’s days as a great colonial power in the 16th century, when it sent generations of men overseas. It’s called saudade, a complex combination of nostalgia, sadness and a profound connection with fate.

“The Portuguese were the great explorers of the era…and that’s where this idea of saudade came – these men were out of the country for years at a time,” said Cohen, who will publish a book on fado this fall. “Saudade comes from the Latin word that became soledad – loneliness in Spanish. But saudade means more than that: it’s nostalgic soulful yearning for what may or may never have been. It could be for your husband who is gone, who may never come back. It’s consumed by fate.”

Fado is one of the most rewarding and least known genres in the world music spectrum. “Fado is very rich in history musically and lyrically. It’s also still kind of a secret,” said Tom Schnabel, a producer at KCRW, a Los Angeles public radio station known for its world-music programming. “Like other things in Portuguese culture, it has been untouched. Everybody knows flamenco, about tango, about bossa nova. But when you say, ‘What about fado?’ they say, ‘Huh?’ While I want to see that change, it also makes it an undiscovered musical treasure.”

Excerpted from the Miami Herald,
The Sweet Sigh of Sadness
May 7, 2003



Hoping to feel at home:
Singer Mariza brings fado, the soulful neighborhood music of Portugal's poor, to Walt Disney Concert Hall
 By Lynell George
Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2004

By all appearances, fado singer Mariza is every part the unreconstituted diva. She's got the look down tight: the platinum-blond marcel and the inscrutable face, part Renaissance cherub, part kewpie doll. And of course, there's the all-important diva seal, the single appellation.

But surface is pretty much where the similarity stops. On every other level, she plays against type.

Touching down in L.A, to take her first look at Walt Disney Concert Hall, where she will perform Friday with the L.A. Philharmonic, Mariza arrives with an entourage of just two: her husband and her manager. She's running late — caught in a typical, inexplicable L.A. traffic snarl — but with a bouquet of effusive apologies. Most tellingly, as she steps into the concert hall itself, her hands begin to quake uncontrollably. "Wow!" she says, standing at the lip of the stage, face upturned and slowly taking in the arc of the room. She lets fly a scale. "I'm terrified!"

She holds out both her palms for all to see — they are drenched with sweat. "Oh my God!," she continues, almost in a whisper. "Why did I say yes?"

She glances around the hall, near empty save for a few wandering tourists. Dressed in a serious pinstripe suit made flirty with a silk scarf where the tie would be, she looks like a softer Greta Garbo. Her husband, João Pedro Ruela asks the Disney Hall folks a few questions about logistics. Mariza's band — where will they sit in relation to the orchestra? How will she be miked?

"Please," says Mariza sinking into one of the theater's chairs, covering her face, squirming. "Don't talk about the orchestra."

It's not quite what one would expect of the woman who has caught the eye and imagination of the international music world, a singer who, some whisper, might be heir to the recently vacated fado crown worn for five decades by "the voice of Portugal's soul," Amália Rodrigues. When she died in 1999, Portugal's prime minister called for three days of mourning, such was the measure of the country's loss.

Fado, which means fate, is better felt than described. It is often compared to Argentine tango and Greek rebetika in sound, and to American blues in its restless spirit. Its resonance is as enigmatic as its often-disputed origins. "There is a difference of opinion around the extent of foreign influence on fado," says Donald Cohen, an L.A.-based musician and historian, and author of "Fado Português: Songs from the Soul of Portugal." What is clear is that 19th century Lisbon was at the heart of its evolution.

"We know that the Moors and the Jews had [secular] chants and they contributed. Portugal also had a great maritime tradition, which might have brought in influences from all over — Africa, Brazil Macau, China."

But, says Cohen, "beginning in the 19th century, gypsy singer Maria Severa had a tempestuous, highly publicized affair with a nobleman, Count Vimioso, that stimulated interest in the music. People wondered for the first time, 'What's going on down there?' The middle class and upper classes began going down to Mouraria" — one of the older, poorer neighborhoods of Lisbon, where the music was sung everywhere from taverns to street corners — "and that validated fado." Though this is music of melancholy and longing, and has been associated with sailors, slaves, poets and kings, one thing is certain, says Mariza: "Fado was always music from poor people."

Varied influences

Mariza plays this dressed-down music against type and tradition. Instead of the somber black mourning dress and shawl traditionally worn by female fado singers — fadistas — she takes the stage in Technicolor gowns, jet jewels, platform shoes and striped leggings — all topped by that singular platinum coif. In the same vein, she has taken to refurbishing fado as one might redo an old room with great character or reupholster a fine antique chair. She doesn't want to obscure the fine lines or contours that made it a classic; rather she seeks to update it, with a respectful nod to the past, to give it new life. Although much of Mariza's tinkering comes in the arrangements, folding in fluid elements of jazz or pop, her voice channels the long tradition of fadistas — suffering, raw emotion. "Mariza is tempestuous, much more showy than the other younger fadistas on the scene," Cohen says. Her wish is to convey life's unexpected curves in the space of a song. Mariza's appearance is one of two solo world music dates at the hall since its grand opening last fall. The Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora took the stage last fall, and so Mariza is just beginning to comprehend the import of her own goodwill visit.

If her fado plays differently to the ear and eye, it has much to do with her varied influences, and the many paths she took to get here. Born in Mozambique to an African mother and Portuguese father, Mariza Nunes relocated with her family to Lisbon when she was 3. Music was a constant: The women in the neighborhood singing fado as they did the laundry. Her father's fado records — "He only liked male voices. It's completely strange. He's crazy," she says. Her mother's African music — Miriam Makeba — or bossa nova — Elis Regina and Tom Jobim. "I grew up in the middle of those two worlds."

They lived in Mouraria, "so I remember not having a choice," she says. "The neighborhood where I grew up, the way of living, you could call fado, because everybody sings, everybody talks in the same way. Everybody has the same feelings." The music seeped out of the tavernas and brothels and fado houses. By age 5 she, too was singing in her parents' restaurant on Sunday afternoons — with the aid of cartoons her father would draw for her to help her remember the lyrics.

"When I was younger, the kids made fun of me. 'Fado is for old people.' 'You sing different.' So I ran from fado. I didn't want to be different." Instead Mariza spent her early years singing everything but fado — funk and jazz, Brazilian music and pop. She put together a band and sang in the casinos and clubs around Lisbon. "But at the end, at the very end," she says, "very carefully I would sing a fado number. Just to see…."

Eventually, she began to wander out to fado houses. And as it happened, one night Jorge Fernando, a producer, got swept up in her spell. "I didn't want a label. I just wanted to make concerts," she says. Soon Mariza was in the studio and her first record, in 2001, "Fado em Mim," reached gold in Portugal, then platinum, before going on to sell more than 100,000 worldwide. Mariza stopped running. "Fado Curvo" followed in 2003. "I got to be known as the blond fadista."

The music, which enjoyed its golden age in the early part of the 20th century, went out of favor from the late '60s until very recently, Mariza says. In the minds of Portugal's youth, it was linked to the politics of dictator António Salazar's fascist regime and an old style of thinking and living. But in recent years, she has sensed a change: "Teenagers are beginning to request fado. People are talking about world music. Opening clubs. We've opened our minds."

Indeed, there is a chorus of other young fadistas — Mísia, Dulce Pontes, Cristina Branco, Mafalda Arnauth — who are exploring fado's old regrets and yearnings. Though the music has traditionally been linked to sadness, "the feelings aren't always melancholy," Mariza says. "With deep fado, I need the audience to participate. They want to know me. I want to know them. We have grilled chorizo and red wine. And sing together."

Mariza will do her best to summon up the feeling of her neighborhood within Disney Hall's walls. She will bring with her a Portuguese guitar — a pear-shaped instrument with six double-strings and a fan of tuning pegs at the top of the neck — — and one classical guitar, which in Portugal is called a viola. And onstage, she'll imagine Lisbon. "Fado is all about ambience. It just appears at 3 a.m.

"This," she says, scanning the hall once more, "is going to be one of the toughest concerts. I've never sung with an orchestra. How can I get all those feelings? What am I going to do here? It's a big responsibility. I hope to be half as magnificent as this is."

Who: Mariza with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Charles Floyd, conductor
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
When: Friday, 8 p.m., April 2, 2004
Tickets: $25-$80
Information: (323) 850-2000

Original link to this story:
Reprinted with permission