Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World
Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World

Paolo Prato and David Horn

David Horn was a founding editor of the journal Popular Music and a founding member of IASPM (The International Association for the Study of Popular Music). He was Director of the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool from 1988 until his retirement in 2002. Together with the blues scholar Paul Oliver he first proposed the idea of EPMOW in the 1980s, and has worked on the project since that time. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2017


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DOI: 10.5040/9781501326110-0180
Page Range: 242–247

Fado (Portuguese for ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’) is a genre of Portuguese urban popular song which developed in Lisbon in the second third of the nineteenth century. Initially a sung dance, by the end of the century it had evolved into a purely musical practice. Fado is a solo form, sung by a male or female singer, with an instrumental accompaniment in which a Portuguese guitar establishes a melodic dialogue with the voice, while a six-string metal-strung Spanish guitar provides the harmony. In the 1930s and 1940s the genre achieved a professional status, due to the establishment of a network of restaurants with a resident artistic staff of singers and instrumentalists (casas de fado, or fado houses), and expanded nationwide through the advent of radio and of sound films, together with the growth of the Portuguese recording industry. The repertoire that developed in this period, consisting mostly of strophic melodies that can be sung with any new lyrics that will fit the metrics of the music (fados tradicionais, or traditional fados), is still considered an essential heritage of the genre, constantly revisited by every new generation of performers. Starting in the 1950s a particularly influential singer, Amália Rodrigues, was instrumental in promoting a significant renewal of the poetic and musical patterns of fado, and in giving the genre an international projection, thanks to the worldwide impact of her career. More recently, from the 1990s on, fado has entered the world music circuit, and while maintaining a strong connection with its more traditional roots, has incorporated a number of crossover features derived from other musical genres, mostly from Brazil and Portuguese-speaking African countries.

Early History

Fado’s most direct antecedent was an Afro-Brazilian genre of sung dance with the same name that was widely practiced in the most important cities of colonial Brazil, as described by several foreign travelers who visited the region in the first quarter of the century (Freycinet 1827; Schlichthorst 1829; Weech 1831). The word ‘fado’ is not used in Portuguese documentation in association with a musical genre until circa 1830 and was not recognized as such by lexicographers until the seventh edition of Antonio de Moraes Silva’s Diccionario da lingua portugueza in 1878. The arrival of this dance in Lisbon, following a trend in the transatlantic circulation of Afro-Brazilian dances that had already taken place in the eighteenth century with genres such as the fofa and the lundu, may in all likelihood have occurred immediately after 1821, when the Portuguese royal family returned from their 13-year long exile in Rio de Janeiro, followed, among other social groups, by a crowd of sailors, servants and slaves. Many of the latter established themselves in the lower-class neighborhoods close to the harbor in Lisbon, and their songs and dances soon integrated themselves into the cultural practices of the local population. The dance component of the genre, often designated as ‘bater o fado’ (to beat the fado), remained in use almost until the end of the nineteenth century, but the purely musical aspect quickly gained a wider popularity. The original patterns of the colonial fado, particularly the syncopated rhythms, the melancholic tunes, and the choreography with its sexually charged moves such as the ‘pernada’ (‘thigh touch’) and the ‘umbigada’ (‘navel touch’), soon mixed with characteristics of the local song traditions, both of Lisbon itself and of other regions of the country, as the capital city attracted large contingents of immigrants after the turmoil of the Napoleonic invasions (1807–15) and of the so-called Liberal Wars (1828–34). This early process of fusion is nevertheless difficult to establish in great detail, given the lack of notated sources until the 1850s, although some of the local incorporations may have included the addition of a more melismatic ornamentation in the vocal line, a gradual slackening of the strict syncopation into a more irregular subdivision of the beat, and the overall increase in rubato.

From the very beginning of its development in Lisbon, where it was located mostly in the spaces of popular sociability such as taverns and brothels in the poorest areas of the city, fado not only became a deeply rooted genre in those contexts but also attracted the curiosity of the bohemian youth of the upper-middle class and the aristocracy. A young prostitute from the red light district of Mouraria, Maria Severa Onofriana (1820–46), famous as much for her gifts as a fado singer as for being the mistress of the Count of Vimioso, was to become an icon in the history of the genre. The interest in fado among the middle classes of Lisbon grew steadily throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Starting in the mid-century fado melodies began to be published as sheet music for voice and piano or piano solo, becoming part of the current salon repertoire, where they found themselves side by side with the best-known excerpts from French operetta and Italian opera. Particularly important in this context is the publication of some 60 fado melodies in the most important printed collection of traditional music assembled in Portugal in the nineteenth century, the Cancioneiro de músicas populares (Songbook of Folksongs), by Sécar das Neves (Neves 1893–8). In 1873 the first public concert of fado took place in the prestigious Lisbon Casino, and soon the genre was adopted as a mainstay of the music theater, even though it was at first performed by comedy artists rather than by the fado singers themselves.

With the growth of the Portuguese labor and socialist movement in the 1870s, fado was often used as a means of political and ideological propaganda, and many well- known fado singers took part in political rallies organized not only in Lisbon but also in the main industrial regions of the country such as Marinha Grande or Covilhã, as well as among the hired agricultural laborers of Alentejo, in the south. Lyrics of this fado operário (worker’s fado) often refer to the basics of the revolutionary credo and pay homage to such key figures of the international socialist and anarchist movement as Marx, Engels, Bakunin or Kropotkin. This pronounced trend did little, however, to prevent the genre from spreading throughout the whole spectrum of Lisbon society, transcending all ideological or political barriers. The beginnings of the gramophone industry in Portugal around 1902 led to numerous recordings of fado, although the singers who made them tended still to be theatrical artists (Isabel Costa, Jorge Bastos, Avelino Baptista, Delfina Victor, Estêvão Amarante), with only a few actual fado singers represented in the early discography (Reinaldo Varela, Maria Vitória, Roldão). Recordings contributed greatly to the dissemination of fado to other regions of the country where there was as yet no established performance tradition.

Throughout the nineteenth century fado remained a genre that involved a grea t deal of poetic and musical improvisation, based on a limited number of melodic patterns that circulated, for the most part, anonymously. The preferred poetic form was the seven-syllable verse organized into quatrains, with the first two lines of each stanza set to an A section of eight measures and lines 3 and 4 set to section B, of the same length. The harmonic progression tended to be limited to a simple alternation of tonic and dominant, with an occasional subdominant or a passing modulation to the dominant or to a relative key. Improvised melodic variation from stanza to stanza, matching the expressive nuances suggested by the text, was thus an essential part of the performance practice, one that has remained to the present.

Fado in the Twentieth Century

During the First Republic (1910–26) the expansion of fado was enhanced by a number of restaurants, beer-houses, dance halls, theaters and cinemas that were now hiring fado singers to perform on a regular basis for their customers. Usually, these venues catered to a middle-class audience attracted by the assurance of utter respectability in the management’s admission policy. Important performers such as António Lado, António Pedro Machado (‘Machadinho’), António Rosa (‘Rosa Sapateiro’), António Santos (‘Ginguinha’), or Francisco Viana (‘Vianinha’) were thus able to evolve from being traditional amateurs in their original social context to a new professional status which ensured their participation in the overall cultural industry of the country. The same applies to those fado singers who were now hired for the first time to appear onstage within Portuguese vaudeville (revista), such as Maria Vitória or Júlia Mendes. Portugal’s entry into World War I, in 1916, also contributed indirectly to the national expansion of the genre, as on the training field and the front lines, young conscripts from all over the country made contact with their fellow conscripts from Lisbon and through them were exposed to fado for the first time (a large number of fado lyrics dealing with the war experience survive in soldiers’ letters, diaries and memories).

The military coup d’état of 28 May 1926 led to an extreme right-wing military dictatorship, which immediately established censorship of the press and of public entertainment. In 1927 new legislation imposed strict safety rules for all entertainment businesses, but also demanded that all artists carry an official ‘professional card’ issued by the police, and that all the lyrics in their repertory be previously authorized by the censorship board. All poetical subjects connected with the fado operário tradition or in any way considered offensive to the state or the Catholic Church were strictly forbidden. Fado singers and poets had to learn how to adapt to these new regulations, as the performance venues were tightly surveilled by the police, who could at any time request to see the typed lyrics that had been sung, bearing the stamp of approval by the Censorship Committee. Despite these strict limitations, however, the early 1930s witnessed the emergence of a strong professional market for the genre, as well as its widespread promotion on a national scale. This was due in part to the birth of radio broadcasting in Portugal and to the growth of the record industry that followed the advent of the electric microphone, but the principal cause was the establishment of a network of clubs and restaurants offering nightly programs of fado with a resident artistic staff – the casas de fado – throughout the older neighborhoods of the city. The Salão Artístico de Fados (1927), the Solar da Alegria (1928), the Café Luso (1931), the Retiro da Severa (1933), the Adega Mesquita (1938) and the Adega Machado (1939) attracted a strong middle-class clientele and encouraged the process of professionalization of fado singers. Among the most famous singers involved in this process were Berta Cardoso, Ercília Costa, Ermelinda Vitória, Madalena de Melo, Maria do Carmo Torres, Alberto Costa, Alfredo Duarte (‘Marceneiro’), Joaquim Campos and Filipe Pinto.

The performance routine in these precincts, together with the technical demands of the record industry and of radio broadcasting, strongly influenced and standardized the performance style of the genre, defining the rules that are now regarded as its core tradition in the twentieth century (including the standard duration of three to four minutes for each fado, the typical time for one side of a 78-rpm record). A characteristic fado performance, as standardized in this period, involves a solo singer, male or female, and an instrumental accompaniment provided by a Portuguese guitar (‘guitarra,’ a pear-shaped, 12-string traditional instrument of the cittern family) and a Spanish guitar (viola). Starting in the 1950s this accompaniment was often expanded to two Portuguese guitars, a Spanish guitar and an acoustic bass guitar. In a characteristic fado-house routine each of the artists in residence would perform a series of four or five fados in a sequence, with the performances following the order dictated by the internal hierarchy of the team, from the least experienced to the top-billed singers, and alternating with periods for refreshments.

The new professional venues required a larger repertoire, and thus this period was characterized by the intense production of new fados, by composers such as Alfredo Marceneiro and Joaquim Campos, instrumentalists such as Armando Freire ‘Armandinho’ and the brothers Casimiro and Miguel Ramos, and poets such as João Linhares Barbosa, Henrique Rego, Carlos Conde, Armando Neves and Frederico de Brito. Seven-syllable lines remained the norm, but to the traditional quatrains were added five- and six-line stanzas, just as sometimes the basic metric scheme was expanded to 10- or 12-syllable lines. Both accompaniment techniques and an expanding solo instrumental repertoire were developed by instrumental virtuosos such as guitarist Armandinho and viola player Martinhho d’Assunção.

In the 1930s and 1940s fado retained an important presence in the theatrical life of Lisbon, with some of the best fado singers, such as Ercília Costa or Hermínia Silva, now often hired as guest artists within the casts of the popular revistas. This connection with the theater encouraged the development of a different pattern in the composition of fados, known as fado canção (fado song), based on an alternation of refrain and couplets and with a fixed poem attached to each specific melody. Although this practice had been in use on stage since the beginning of the century it now rapidly spread into the casas de fado, where it coexisted with the more traditional strophic forms that remained the basis of the fado repertoire.

Although the military dictatorship of 1926 soon evolved into an authoritarian regime strongly influenced by Italian Fascism, the state did not attempt to produce any kin d of officially sponsored aesthetic ideology in the field of popular music. Political criticism being safely excluded by the rules of censorship, the regime indeed unofficially encouraged authors to handle topics related to the historical achievements of the Portuguese (especially the great maritime voyages of the sixteenth century), the glorification of the country’s colonial empire, or traditional religious subjects. Above all, it favored a choice of ‘apolitical’ sentimental themes of a sad, fatalistic nature, such as jealousy, amorous infidelity, loneliness or longing for lost happiness. In any case, the lower-class origins of the genre, its relatively recent history and its intrinsically urban nature made most ideologues of the regime deny the genre the status of a legitimate part of the country’s true cultural heritage and identity, preference going instead to the rural, pre-modern genres covered by the officially promoted concept of ‘folklore.’

The post-World War II era, with the defeat of the fascist regimes and the victory of Western democracies, forced the Portuguese state to abandon many of the external signs of its totalitarian roots. The regime now sought to present itself as a populist authoritarian system, with a benevolent rule close to the traditional values of the Portuguese people. The official attitude towards fado thus changed gradually, with the government now trying to cash in on the genre’s immense popularity, including it in its official cultural events as well as in the programming of the state-owned radio network, the Emissora Nacional, or of the so-called ‘Serões para Trabalhadores’ (‘worker’s evenings’) promoted by the Fundação Nacional para a Alegria no Trabalho (‘National Foundation for Joy at Work’). The newly established state television service (1957) and the film industry also granted fado an outstanding role, usually presenting it as the Portuguese ‘national song.’

The growth of the tourist industry in the 1950s and 1960s converted fado into a key attraction for foreign visitors. Fado houses now often dubbed themselves casas típicas (typical houses) and many new such establishments opened during this period, each usually with a resident artistic cast centered around a well-known singer: Adelina Ramos in A Tipóia, Fernanda Maria in Lisboa à Noite, Carlos Ramos in A Toca, Argentina Santos in A Parreirinha de Alfama, Lucília do Carmo in A Adega da Lucília and Fernando Farinha in Adega Mesquita, among others. One important figure was not part of this professional circuit. The Countess of Sabrosa, Maria Teresa de Noronha came from an aristocratic circle in which amateur fado singing had been a family tradition; she became famous through her regular radio broadcasts on Emissora Nacional and her numerous recordings.

Another exceptional case was that of Amália Rodrigues, who rose to unprecedented national stardom through the 1940s and proceeded to build a unique international career in the following four decades. Although the regime tried to associate itself with her worldwide success for its own political profit, the singer’s career never benefitted significantly from state sponsorship. Moreover, from very early on in that career she began to sing lyrics by distinguished erudite poets such as Pedro Homem de Mello, David Mourão-Ferreira, Luís de Macedo or Sidónio Muralha, whenever their poems could be fitted to the metrical pattern of the established fado melodies (for example, ‘Povo que lavas no rio’ [People Who Wash in the River], ‘Primavera’ [Spring], Libertação’ [Release]). From 1961 on Amália was to develop an important artistic partnership with composer Alain Oulmain, who wrote numerous fados for her in a new style, incorporating a wider modulatory structure as well as modal elements (hitherto foreign to the fado tradition), but also enlarging the gamut of metric patterns adopted. This allowed her to expand even further her choice of some of the greatest Portuguese poets, both contemporary authors such as Alexandre O’Neil, Manuel Alegre or José Carlos Ary dos Santos and classical writers (from the medieval troubadours to Portugal’s national poet Luis de Camões (1524–80), an association seen by conservative opinion-makers as little less than scandalous). Her LP albums of this period, from Amália Rodrigues (1962) to Com que voz (With What Voice; 1970), were landmarks, containing major hits such as ‘Gaivota’ (Seagull), ‘Maria Lisboa’ and ‘Abandono’ (Abandonment).

In the early 1970s a second fado performer, this time a male, Carlos do Carmo, also began to build an important international career, while contributing to an aesthetic renewal of the genre. Do Carmo often appeared with a symphony orchestra or even a jazz combo, side by side with the traditional accompaniment by guitarra and viola.

Fado Since 1974

With the democratic revolution of 25 April 1974 the popularity of fado suffered a severe blow. Accused of being a docile vehicle for the ideology of the fallen dictatorship, the genre was practically banished from radio and television by the new radical administrations until the end of 1976. There seemed to be very few fado performers among the younger generation, and it was widely believed that the very survival of the genre was at stake, beyond a few artists whose careers were already safely launched (such as João Braga, Maria da Fé, Rodrigo, Teresa Tarouca, Carlos Zel and Beatriz da Conceição). A significant exception was Carlos do Carmo, who released a highly influential and groundbreaking album in 1977, entitled Um homem na cidade (A Man in the City), entirely dedicated to poems by Ary dos Santos, set to music by composers who came from other musical genres: classical (António Victorino d’Almeida), jazz (José Luís Tinoco) or pop rock (Paulo de Carvalho, Fernando Tordo).

The popularity of fado within the population at large, however, never really diminished, and from the early 1980s on a new generation of performers gradually emerged. Some did not consider themselves fado singers per se, although they might adopt part of the repertory of Amália and often use a vocal technique similar to that of fado (for example, Teresa Salgueiro, the vocalist of the band Madredeus, or Dulce Pontes). Others experimented with crossovers between fado and popular music genres such as pop rock or even punk (for example, António Variações or Paulo Bragança, who at the height of his career was recording for David Byrne’s Luaka Bop and advertised himself as ‘the Portuguese punk fadista’). Still others, such as Misia and Cristina Branco, started their careers mostly outside of Portugal – beyond the traditional legitimation processes of the original fado circles – and had remarkable success within the world music circuits. The majority, nevertheless, could be placed in the mainstream of the genre, combining in various degrees fidelity to the more traditional strophic fados of the first half of the century with an expansion of the repertory provided by new compose rs, new poets and new arrangements (often influenced by jazz, as can be seen in the introduction of the string double-bass to replace the bass guitar in the basic instrumental accompaniment). Among the latter are Camané, Aldina Duarte, Katia Guerreiro, Raquel Tavares, Ricardo Ribeiro and Carmo Rebelo de Andrade (‘Carminho’). In the twenty-first century a few younger performers coming from outside Lisbon have developed an interesting crossover of fado with other genres of traditional music of their original regions. Examples include Gisela João, from Minho, in the extreme north of Portugal, and António Zambujo, from Alentejo , in the south. A special mention must be made of Ana Moura, who has made guest appearances with such international rock stars as Mick Jagger and Prince, and Mariza, whose international profile has reached the highest level of the world entertainment industry (Edisonpreis, BBC Best European Artist in the Area of World Music, Grammy Nomination for Best Latin Artist).

The decades since 1990 also saw a growth in the interest of public institutions in the study and preservation of the fado tradition. After an important exhibition dedicated to the genre within the program of Lisbon 94, European Cultural Capital (Vozes e Sombras, directed by anthropologist Joaquim Pais de Brito), a Museu do Fado (Museum of Fado) was established by the Lisbon City Council in 1998, under the direction of art historian Sara Pereira. The Ethnomusicology Institute of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, headed by Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco, is leading a thorough research project in this field, establishing an inventory of sound recordings, iconography and musical editions, as well as holding interviews with leading exponents of the genre. Following a lengthy nomination process prepared under the patronage of the Lisbon City Council and involving a close collaboration of scholars and the fado community, fado was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity on 27 November 2011. The impact of this victory can be felt in an even larger recognition and presence of the genre in the international concert circuit (in 2014, for instance, Carlos do Carmo received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) and in a considerable revival of the fado-house network, which had been decaying in recent decades. At the same time the recognition seems to have led to a re-energizing of grassroots amateur, informal performances in the traditional popular neighborhoods of Lisbon, as well as to an increasing incorporation of fado elements in other genres of Portuguese urban popular music.


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Carvalho, Rúben de. 1994.As músicas do fado [The Musics of Fado]. Lisbon: Campo das Letras.

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Castelo-Branco, Salwa El-Shawan, ed. 2011.Enciclopédia da Música em Portugal no Século XX [Encyclopedia of Music in Portugal in the Twentieth Century]. 4 vols. Lisbon: Círculo de Leitores.

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Discographical References

Do Carmo, Carlos. Um homem na cidade. Trova 6 330 900. 1977: Portugal. (Reissued on Philips 518 918 2. 1995: Portugal.)

Rodrigues, Amália. Amália Rodrigues. Columbia 33SX 1440. 1962: Portugal.

Rodrigues, Amália. Com que voz. Columbia SPMX 5012. 1970: Portugal.

Rodrigues, Amália. ‘Libertação.’ Album N° 2: Fado et Flamenco. Columbia FS 1059. 1956: Portugal.

Rodrigues, Amália. O disco do busto – For Your Delight. (3 CDs.) EMI-Valentim de Carvalho - 7243 5 80376 2 3. 2002: Portugal.

Rodrigues, Amália. ‘Povo que lavas no rio.’ Columbia SLEM 2144. 1963: Portugal.

Rodrigues, Amália. ‘Primavera.’ Fados 67. Columbia SPMX 5006. 1967: Portugal.


Biografias do fado. (5 CDs.) EMI Portugal 50999 9 47679 2 6. 2010: Portugal.

Camané. Esta coisa da alma / Uma noite de fados. (2 CDs.) EMI 50999 7 05031 2 8. 2012: Portugal.

Cardoso, Berta, Condessa, Márcia, and Ramos, Adelina. Berta Cardoso, Márcia Condessa, Adelina Ramos. Movieplay FF 17.020. 1998: Portugal.

De Noronha, Maria Teresa. Biografias do fado: Maria Teresa de Noronha. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho. 1997: Portugal.

Do Carmo, Carlos. Dez fados vividos. Trova 71960 (6330901). 1978: Portugal. (Reissued on Universal 00602537394845. 2013: Portugal.)

Do Carmo, Lucília. Biografias do fado: Lucília do Carmo. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho 7243 4 93209 2 5. 2000: Portugal.

Farinha, Fernando. Biografias do fado: Fernando Farinha. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho 7243 4 96957 2 6. 1998: Portugal.

Grande Noite de Fados: Festa de Homenagem a Alfredo Marceneiro. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho 7243 8 23960 2 4. 1998: Portugal.

Guitarradas. Movieplay FF 17.023. 1998: Portugal.

Marceneiro, Alfredo. Biografias do Fado: Alfredo Marceneiro. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho 7243 8 59282 2 2. 2005: Portugal.

Mariza. Fado Tradicional. EMI Portugal 50999 0 70172 2 3. 2010: Portugal.

Mariza. Transparente. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho 7243 4 77119 2 3. 2005: Portugal.

Rodrigues, Amália. Abbey Road 1952. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho VSL 1135 2. 2007: Portugal.

Silva, Hermínia. Biografias do Fado: Hermínia Silva. EMI-Valentim de Carvalho 7243 4 96958 2 5. 2005: Portugal.

Rui Vieira Nery

Film Music, see Film Music (Vol. XIII, International)Film Musical, see Film Musical (Vol. XIII, International)