Lisbon fado music Alfama district Live fado music in a Fado Restaurant

Fado In Lisbon: The Music Genre & 6 Places To Enjoy It

By Peter McGrath

Fado (Fate) is a traditional Portuguese musical genre that is said to have originated in the early 19th century in the city of Lisbon and Coimbra. This type of music often contains sad music and lyrics and so is often described as the Portuguese expression of the blues. It often contains themes centring around the life of the poor or longing for a loved one at sea.

Saudade – a type of sadness and longing

The Portuguese word “saudade” which means a longing or feeling of loss is associated heavily with this type of music. The Lisbon style is more well-known and considered a part of general Portuguese culture while the Coimbra style is based around the university of the city and is exclusively sung by men.

Songs are usually played on a Portuguese guitar often accompanied by a string quartet containing a classical (Spanish) guitar, a Portuguese version of a bass guitar called a Viola baixo and a double bass. The Lisbon type of Fado originated in the districts of Alfama, Mouraria and Bairro Alto.

Portuguese guitar fado

On our trip to Lisbon, we visited the Mouraria district where a local tour guide told us about the history of the music. There was a lot of graffiti in Mouraria which was related to the music and people who were famous singers of the style in the 1800s. We did not get to hear any Fado music in the area. There was a bar beside where this picture was taken playing modern pop and dance music. We visited the area at around 6 p.m and were told that most Fado houses don’t start their performances until later in the evening. If you’re looking for performances about 8 p.m is a good time. Performances usually start at about 9, but a lot of the houses are small so you should get there early to get a seat.

fado Lisbon Portugal

The woman depicted on the left of the graffiti is Maria Severa. She is one of the first famous Fado singers in the 1800’s. She is said to have been a prostitute who sang Fado in taverns around the city. The Portuguese guitar (in white) is pictured in the right half of the picture along with the classical guitar (in yellow) underneath it. Fado vadio means that the performers were amateur. (Vadio means vagrants)

Fado houses are dotted around the city of Lisbon. While you are there you can enjoy a drink and /or a meal of traditional Portuguese cuisine and listen to some of the music.

Fado in Lisbon-6 Places To Experience It

There are some noted Fado houses are in the Alfama district which is the first district in Lisbon where the genre is said to have become popular.

  1. The Parreirinha de Alfama. This is one of the best-known houses and has been open continuously since the 1960s and is owned and run by a well-known fadista (Fado singer) Argentina Santos who regularly sings there along with other fadistas he invites.

2. Casa de Linhares is a restaurant which once housed one of Lisbon’s noble families, Linhares, and still bears the name of the family. It has a reputation as one of the best places to listen to Fado and regularly hosts some of the cities more notable singers.

3. A Baîuca is a house that only has strictly amateur performers there, it is a small bar which only opens on Thursday to Saturday nights.

4. Clube de Fado is owned by guitarist Mario Pacheco, who has performed with some of the most well-known fadistas in the country.

5. The Páteo de Alfama is in place of the Lady of Murça (Palácio da Sra de Murça), which has been well preserved since the 17th Century. It contains two dining rooms, one dedicated to Fado and folklore performances and one for solely Fado performances. Part of the Roman city wall the “Cerca Velha”, built in the 5th Century, can be seen in the courtyard and inside the palace.

Mouraria is a 900-year-old area of Lisbon which also claims to be the birthplace of Fado. It could have good reason to claim this as it contains the Casa de Severa.

6. Casa de Severa is home of the famous faddist Maria Severa, which still puts on Fado performances Another famous singer Amalia Rodrigues was born there. Fado is often performed on the street here and there is also a free Fado school.

This article is one of a series about Lisbon. To discover more and get excellent information about this city, head over to the Lisbon Portugal Travel Guide.

As the topic of sustainability is so important, you may be interested to learn more about Why Lisbon Is A Top Sustainable Destination by Eduardo Lera Latorre

If you are considering relocating or retiring to Portugal, you may find this article about relocation and retirement to Portugal of interest. It is written by a relocation expert. Doctor Valentino Coletto.
Other articles featured in this Lisbon series are:

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