Fado (from fate or destiny in Portuguese) is a form of melancholic music. The music is linked to the Portuguese word saudade (a word with no accurate equivalent in English; it conveys a complex mixture of sadness, pain, longing and love, along with other feelings), and its origins are probably from a mixture of African slave rhythms with traditional music of Portuguese sailors, with Arabic influence.
There are two varieties of Fado: Lisbon and Coimbra. The Lisbon style is the popular, while the Coimbra 's is the refined style; both are seen as ethnic music for sophisticated audience. The notable Amália Rodrigues introduced the most well-known variety of fado. After her disappearance, a new wave of performers added stylistic changes and brought more international popularity to the traditional Portuguese music. Mariza and Maria, brought with them a new look to the traditional song, while Dulce Pontes mixed it with popular Portuguese music and Madredeus, made a complete revolution, with new instruments - all that they kept from the original Fado is its looks and the concept of "saudade".
All varieties of Fado are sorrowful; although some can also be joyful songs. In other words, the Fado is the unique musical expression of Portugal ; unique and typical in the way that Flamenco is to Spain , or the blues to the United States . It is the result of a blending of musical styles until something was produced that perfectly mirrors a predominant feeling within the country. Just what these elements are that were blended to produce Fado no one seems to know, though everyone claims to. Some of the influence might have come from the Arabs. Certainly the Arabs ruled here for some time, and the music has a definite Arabic quality of chanting.
Others say the music came from sub‑Saharan Africa, specifically from the Congo and its "lundum", though the explanation of how that obscene dance traveled so far and transformed its character so radically seems over precious. Then there is the theory of which the Portuguese are particularly fond, that the Fado originated from the sad survivors of the Battle of Alcazar Quivir, in which Portugal , by the severity of the losses encountered, more or less finished its role of world significance. We like this theory, it being entirely Portuguese and entirely romantic. Whatever its origins, it has been the main musical act of Lisbon since the 1830's. It is rooted deeply in the city of Lisbon though there is a variety of Fado coming from Coimbra (see picture below), upon which purists frown.
The Fado is usually sung by a woman, though there have been some well‑known male Fado singers. Somehow, its unashamed complaining, its deeply expressed anguish combined with hopelessness, makes it a feminine art. The woman singer will be dressed in a black shawl and ‑black dress. She will be accompanied by two stringed instruments, an ordinary guitar and a Portuguese twelve‑stringedguitar (see some examples below). The audience must be totally silent while she sings. The songs are supposed to be sad ones, though recent. Fado writers have begun to introduce gayer songs with more variant rhythms. However, the basic Fado sings of the inevitable tragedies of life, the loss of loved ones, the death. of children, etc., etc. While the atmosphere surrounding Fado used to be tough and dangerous, the singers often part‑time prostitutes and them con‑artists and pimps, today all that has changed. They are all located either in the Alfama or the Bairro Alto. All the authentic ones, that is. And the Portuguese designation is casas de fado.
If you want to see a performance of Fado, and you certainly should, come about ten or ten‑thirty and expect to stay quite late, as the performance gets better with the lateness of the hour. The Fado houses serve dinner and snacks, as well as drinks, but it is not necessary to order a meal. Don't worry. You'll end up paying well for your seat, as the minimum is generally quite high in any Fado establishment of reputation and quality.
Looking to hear good Fado does not require the same sort of search as does Flamenco. Of course, even the best singers do have off nights, and a usually mediocre performer can suddenly be filled with inspiration, but by and large, the best fadistas, such. as Amalia Rodriguez, are well known, command the highest salaries, and sing in the most expensive casas de fado.