Fado in Lisbon – Museum, Alfama and concert
To understand Lisbon’s musical vibes it is essential (for the Fado amateur) to visit the Fado Museum, conveniently located in the heart of Alfama – the district breathing Fado tradition.
To feel Fado, you got to attend a live performance of black clothed Fado singers, creating an atmosphere of mystique and elegance.
Here is our Fado know-how (for beginners).
THE FADO MUSEUM
Location: Largo do Chafariz de Dentro 1, Alfama district, Lisbon.
At the Fado Museum, they have this cool wall picture of famous Fado singers. You can pick a singer, put the number into your audio guide and listen to songs by icons like Amalia Rodriguez or contemporary stars such as Mariza.
Fado roughly means destiny or fate. Fado is Lisboa’s song, melancholic and empathic. Tunes that catch and carry, creating thoughts about love affairs, the misfortunes of life, the tough routines of men at sea… but mainly about saudade, a term describing the feeling of longing and nostalgia.
The museum offers plenty of space to sit, listen and contemplate all of the above.
Fado essentials: the black shawl, one voice, one guitar. Whether a man or woman, the performance never lacks in emotion. Voices and lyrics are always accompanied by the traditional Fado companion, the guitar.
“Fado da Triste” means the fate of sadness. When the listener is brought to tears, the show was a success.
The black shawl is won in memory Maria Severa Onofriana (1820 – 1846), a tavern prostitute and first fadista of fame, who died at the young age of 26.
Fado is said to have originated in Lisbon’s Mouraria, an old medieval neighbourhood, where it was sang by the Moors, before Christians took over the city. One of the poorest neighbourhoods today, it is largely occupied by Chinese, Indian and African communities.
Whereas Fado music has moved steadily up-market.
Officially, Fado was registered for the first time in the 19th century. It became a victim of censorship during the dictatorship of Salazar (1926 – 1968) in Portugal. Salazar confined singers to perform professionally in prescribed Fado Houses.
You can find the most known Fado Houses in Alfama.
THE ALFAMA DISTRICT
The district of Alfama is an interesting mixture of expensive Fado Houses, various restaurants, framed by working class bustle and tristesse.
Walking the steep and narrow streets of Alfama, you can pass venues of new Fado talents, amateurs or established artists.
I believe that Alfama means to walk a lot of stairs.
Dog, me and stairs.
Tomek and stairs.
Alfama has an abundance of small eateries and bigger restaurants, with characteristic small seating areas up front and pretty table clothes, hosting regular performances of Fado.
Hand written menus.
The area is charismatic and I can imagine how this place brought about a new musical genre through the relaxed ambiance of eating, drinking and singing together, carrying the songs through narrow streets.
Tip: don’t come too early, dinner starts at around 19.30 in most Alfama restaurants.
THE FADO CONCERT
We thought to walk around Alfama and get into a concert of one of the best Fado Houses. We did notice, however that, especially on the weekend, it is recommended to make a reservation – at least to the most noted venues, like Clube De Fado.
As we did not have a reservation, we were lucky to get into Casa Linhares – Bacalhau de Molho. A well acclaimed venue – the magazine cuttings suggested.
A favourable opinion by the Figaro Japan. Or maybe not. But who is to know.
Once the Manor house of the Counts of Lihares, the remains of this renaissance building form a nice historic background for a Fado performance.
Location: Beco dos Armazens Linho 2, Alfama, Lisbon.
We went for an all inclusive dinner. Choosing from their sophisticated menu, the straightforward “tourist menu” is 45 Euros a head. Included was the show, the regular bread, butter, olives nibbles, followed by a soup/ salad starter for everyone, the main meal, dessert, a small bottle of wine, water and coffee or tea.
I am not complaining. To the contrary. We were well-fed and well-taken care of tourists. It was a welcome change to be served by friendly and well behaved penguin-clothed waiters, bringing plates with big round metal lids, then taking them off, like opening a treasure chest.
My Fado accompanying food pics.
Traditional bachalau. Cod fish, of course. We are in Portugal.
Mum’s fancy fish dish.
My tender octopus and beans.
Apart from the really good food, it was a pleasure to hear six fantastic voices, warming up with two young fadistas.
First to warm up the chambers were Silvana Pezes and Fabia Rebordao, followed by Cidalia Moreira – the most experienced of the lot – using her strong, rough voice to get everyone’s attention. The fourth talent was our favourite – Jorge Fernando, a clear and powerful, yet most pleasant voice. The last entrepreneur we listened to was Sara Correira. Sadly, it was already after 1 am and as we had a morning train to catch, we did not stay for the last performer, Jorge Silva.
My impression of the night was that the women look gorgeous in their black laced dresses and that our man, not as illustrious and good looking, had to make sure that his voice stood out beyond appearances.
Anyhow, listening to Fado singers, as touristy as it may be – was a delight for the ears and eyes. All senses were satisfied.
I became a fan of this moving folk genre and consider it great luxury to have had talented musicians and singers perform just for us… we indeed were entertained exclusively towards the end, as the very last guests.
To Fado bliss!