The Portugese Art of Fado

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The Portugese music known as fado is intense, heartfelt and inextricably linked to a deep sense of loss as depicted here in a romantic painting by José Malhoa. It has echoes of African slave rhythms and a distinct Arabic influence.

The most popular form of fado emerged in Lisbon’s working-class districts such as Alfama. Maria Severa Onofriana (1820-1846), widely acknowledged as the greatest fadista of the 19th century, is said to have been a tall and gracious prostitute who would sing the fado and play the Portuguese guitar in taverns. To this day, female performers wear a black shawl in memory of her. Her almost mythical status was largely due to a novel by Júlio Dantas entitled A Severa. Later made into a play, it became the first Portugese talking movie, directed by Leitão de Barros.

I first found fado through the singing of Amália Rodrigues, who performed to huge acclaim worldwide. When this legendary singer died in 1999, she was given a state funeral and three days of national mourning were declared in her honour. Her CD ‘The Art of Amalia’ is a great introduction to fado and there’s also a documentary from 2000 directed by Bruno de Almeida. Here’s a modern street art stencil of her photographed by Môsieur J in Lisbon.

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Contemporary fado is very much alive with the singer Mariza dubbed the new Queen of Fado (Amalia Rodrigues having held the original title). Below is a video of her on electrifying form on Jools Holland’s show.


My 78rpm record is of a performer who predates both Mariza and Amália Rodrigues. Edmundo de Bettencourt (1899-1973) was a renowned poet and singer born in Funchal, Madeira. My record is from the first series (of two) that Bettencourt made for the Columbia Graphophone Company in February 1928.

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The recording took place in a former royal palace in Oporto and he was accompanied on the traditional Portugese 12 string guitar by Artur Paredes and Albano de Noronha and on viola by Mário Faria ad Fonseca, who was also the song’s composer. Teamed with ‘Mar Alto’ is Fado de Santa Cruz, composed by Fortunato Roma Da Fonseca.

Label details:
Columbia Graphophone Co. Ltd., London EC1
Brown label with ‘Magic Notes’ logo
Mar Alto (Fádo Cançáo)
Composiçăo de Mario Faria Fonséca
Dr. Edmundo de Bettencourt – Tenõr
Acompanhamento de guitarra e viola
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❦ To listen, click the audio player below ❦

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