Listening to live Fado in Porto is a unique musical experience. If you’re attending a Fado concert, read this article to understand what happens during a performance.

The Protagonists

A typical trio: a fadista (fado singer) and two guitarists.

Typically, a Fado show has three active agents: a singer (Fadista), a guitarist playing Portuguese guitar and a guitarist playing classical guitar (called “viola” in Fado). However, we mustn’t forget two absent figures: the person who wrote the song and the person who wrote the lyrics.

A couple of seconds of chat between the musicians before the Fado begins

You will probably notice that before singing each song, the Fadista (singer) will have a chat with the guitarists. He or she will be telling them what song to play and the key (which varies with each singer). Sometimes, they also give them other specific information.

This happens because in Fado there isn’t a fixed band with rehearsals. Therefore, musicians need to know all the songs in different keys so they can play with all singers.

At this point the Fadista requests the Fado song “Carlos da Maia in the key of F”
Ten seconds in, the Fadista requests “Franklin quatrains… in A#”. The musicians laugh because this key is unusual in this Fado and they have to rehearse a bit.

Music and Lyrics

The name of a traditional fado only refers to the music. This is not applicable to the other styles which might be sung at other Fado concerts (fado canção, marchas and folk music). This means a traditional fado can be sung with different lyrics as long as the metrics of the poem fit the music.

Therefore, when you present a Fado, you say its name and the title of the poem. The names of the music and lyrics authors may also be mentioned.

The singer mentions the songwriter (“another one from Alfredo Marceneiro”), the lyrics’ author (“lyrics by João Ferreira Rosa”), the name of the Fado (“o Fado Cravo”) and the title of the poem (“Triste Sorte”)

If you’d like to know Traditional Fados better, check Zé da Viola de Fado’s website and his playlist of Traditional Fado on Youtube. I also suggest you search on Youtube for a Traditional Fado so you can understand the wealth and variety of interpretations around the same theme.

The Portuguese Guitar

The Portuguese guitar and Fado are practically inseparable. Its unique timbre and the way it’s played by guitarists are crucial to the expression of this language.

In Fado, the guitar player has three jobs: playing the introductory melody, providing harmony support and talking to the fadista.

The guitarist plays the introductory melody and gets the conversation going with the singer.
The guitarist plays a melody at the beginning but then provides harmony support

If you wish to learn more about this instrument, I recommend reading its Wikipedia entry and the article by José Lúcio.

The classical guitar

In Fado, classical guitar players usually use steel strings and the guitars are built a little differently.

Their job is to play chords in an characteristic style. The guitarist does the rhythm, the bass line and harmonies. It’s almost as if the guitarist was a drummer, bassist and pianist at the same time.

With its thumb, the guitarist runs the bass line and with the remaining fingers he does the syncopation typical of Fado. He also enriches the music with arpeggios and other musical elements.

The voice

The Fadista is the protagonist. They usually wear black and if it’s a woman, they will also wear a shawl. He or she is responsible for singing the Fado lyrics trying to give musical meaning to the message they are conveying. Traditional fado gives the fadista the freedom to make their own interpretation. Therefore, it’s possible to hear the same Fado with different melodies and poems.

Two different interpretations of Fado Cravo

The styles

In most Fado shows you will listen to mix of Traditional Fado, Fado Canção (fado song), Marchas and portuguese folk music, even though the latter two are not considered Fado. Why are other styles being played other than the traditional? Usually most people prefer songs which are easy to listen and memorize in which they can sing along to and clap their hands. Traditional Fado is the most erudite side of Fado and therefore, not so comercial. So, in order to make concerts more accessible and mainstream, other styles are played.

At Ideal Clube de Fado Porto we only play traditional Traditional Fado. Click here to know more about our concerts.

Traditional Fado

Traditional Fado is the art of Fado and defines its aesthetics. It’s the Fado style in which the artists have greater freedom of expression and where a greater interpretative ability is required. In this style there’s a lot of room for improvisation. Moreover, as previously mentioned, the title of a Traditional Fado only refers to the music. The lyrics are a poem chosen by the Fadista and it doesn’t have a chorus.

All the Fados used as examples so far are Traditional Fados.

An example of a good interpretation of a traditional fado (Fado Bizarro)

Fado Canção (songstyle-fado)

Fado Canção is the product of the integration of other musical languages in Fado. It almost always has a chorus and the title refers to the music and lyrics. At times, it’s very similar to the typical language of Fado but other times, it’s completely distant from it.

An example of a modern fado canção, very distant from the Fado aesthetics.
One of the most popular Amália Rodrigues’s songs, also with little original Fado aesthetics.
A good example of a modern attempt at a fado canção with Fado language

Marchas (Parade Marching style)

The marchas populares (parades to celebrate patron Saints) are a tradition in Portugal and have a particular musical style. Watch this video to understand what the marchas are and the type of music played.

As it is a strong popular tradition in Lisbon, some fadistas began to play them at their shows. In these songs, the audience’s help is requested to clap along to the rhythm and sing the choruses.

A marcha interpreted by a Fado quartet

Folklore music

Portuguese regional folk music has also been integrated by Fadistas at their concerts. It’s a popular style with a specific language. Watch this video to understand folk music better.

It’s also an easy style to listen to where you can ask the audience to sing and clap along.
A folk song interpretated by Amália Rodrigues

Clapping

People are often unsure whether they should clap during Fado live shows. At the end of each song, you can clap as much as you want. During the song, if it’s traditional Fado, you shouldn’t clap because it disrupts the musicians’ concentration and interpretation. In other styles, feel free to collaborate. If it’s marchas or folk music, you’ll probably be asked to do it.

Silence

Silence is crucial in Fado concerts as most of the time, it’s an intimate setting without amplifiers. Moreover, in traditional fado, there’s a strong emotional factor as well as improvisation. Therefore, in order for the musicians to give their best and for the audience to appreciate the concert to the fullest, there needs to be silence during Fado.

Having said that: silence, as fado is going to be sung!