Sunday, 13 April 2014

Fado in Alfama

I went all the way with fado last night, dropping in at noon to reserve a spot for the evening show at a little place I thought might hide below the tourist radar. Later I showed up just after 8 and ordered the full pork meal with starters, salad, ½ liter of wine, bottle of water, dessert, coffee. About 30 bucks, ten feet from the fado act—polished amateurs, pretty good.

I was thinking about the differences in effects between fado and jazz or flamenco. The latter are virtuosic forms; fado is simpler in every musical way. Like the others, but even more so, fado is a coming together of community, the fadista and audience re-affirming one another, like periodic maintenance at a cultural level. I’ve noticed that “Lisboa” is featured in many fado songs, as if the city itself, and our places in it, is thus affirmed also. I was electrified by flamenco in Andalusia and jazz in Lisbon on Friday night. Fado is more of a wash than a charge. And of course, what drew me to it and to Portugal in the first place is the sense of longing built into fado and this nation of seagoers. Every fado song says hello how good to see you again, good-bye I hope you make it back. For poets, that longing is easy to read, rich but painful to endure. And let’s mention another one of those untranslatable words—saudade, often translated as nostalgia, but nostalgia’s not enough. Saudade, both deriving from and constituting the heart of fado, has to do, I think, with the loss and sweetness it takes to live in this world.

So last night, in the little restaurant in Alfama, the amateur fadista (the singer) in her traditional black shawl, and the old guy playing Spanish guitar, and younger, more virile man playing Portuguese guitar and singing all performed their deeply simple songs while ate our pork. When I stepped outside three hours later to walk home, there was the moon, listening.

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