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Fados and Saudades

By Ana Torres |

Portuguese fado’s lyrics incorporate feelings of sadness, but its verses are performed with sweet rhythms that give birth to melancholic melodies.



The word fado comes from the Latin fatum, which means fate, and although it was created during the first millennium A.D., the first documents that talk about this genre date back to the nineteenth century, a time when it became a national icon thanks to Amalia Rodrigues’ performances. The history of fado began in Alfama, Lisbon, where it was common for the inhabitants to sit outside their homes and spend a musical evening together while playing the Portuguese guitar.

It is said that every time a sailor set sail from the Lusitanian coast, his family and friends would gather at the port and fare him well with nostalgic folk songs. This tradition gave birth to a series of melodies that were infused with sadness and whose leit motiv was the unpredictable fate of human existence. That was how Portuguese fado was created.

The lyrics that conform this genre incorporate feelings of sadness, but their verses are balanced in a sweet rhythm that results in happy melodies that are interpreted with a melancholic sensitivity. In Portuguese, the term that is used to define the feeling fado produces in the listeners is: saudade. The writer Manuel de Melo defined this word as a “bem que se padece e mal de que se gosta” (a pleasure that one suffers and a suffering that one enjoys). That’s why fado expresses in a very unique way the contradictions that are present in every human experience.


One of the characteristics of Portuguese fado is that only women interpret it, while other branches of this genre that were created some time later incorporate male voices. A typical example is called Fado dos doutores (doctors’ fado), invented in the University of Coimbra by a group of young men who emigrated from Brazil and established the custom of gathering in small groups and singing to their Portuguese girlfriends after classes. From that time onwards, the doctors’ fado became a tradition in that city.


As a musical genre, fado was added to the list of Intangible Heritage in 2011. For this reason, if you visit Portugal any time soon, DINKtravelers invites you to enjoy this musical experience at the famous Houses of Fado, located in the Bairro Alto in downtown Lisbon; and if you go to Coimbra, don’t forget to enjoy an evening at theFado ao Centro, the cultural institute that is in charge of preserving this tradition among young people and sharing it with the tourists.