Fado and its ways to make us cry

by Laura Vilaça

There’s music that gives you emotional rides. Most of the times, it’s because it can be related to a particular period of your life, or because the rhythm suits your usual mood, or just because the song sounds awesome. There are, however, some songs that are indissociable from your culture. Those are the ones that fuck you up – in the good sense – the most: they prove that you can relate to people with whom you share geographical but not personal space with; they bring out a common feeling among people from the same place.

In Portugal, specifically, we call that type of music Fado. Despite there being a lot of Portuguese people who don’t enjoy it particularly (sons of bitches with not an inch of musical taste in their miserable bodies), Fado usually brings out the Niagara Falls in the eyes of most Portuguese.

Fado literally means “fate”, and this music genre roots its concept on melancholy, mournfulness and a culturally bound sentiment of resignation. The songs generally narrate scenes of day-to-day life through a powerful voice that trembles in the singing and a  guitar to mark the pace.


all subtitled and stuff just for you guys. we’re so nice.

In Portugal, Fado serves as a channel to express a frustration very present in our culture, in our heritage. Classically, Fado went about a constant feeling of sadness over past pains, a present sense of resignation and, seldom, a hope that something better will come. This hope in the future – personified in popular culture by the King Sebastian I, a lost king that forever is promised to return and save us – is the fuel that motivate us to continue. The Portuguese are given this illogical legacy and, as a Spanish friend of mine puts it, for that reason we seem to be born sad. Mariza, a singer of the new wave of Fado singers, interprets a classic song that precisely talks about this collective reaction of the Portuguese to Fado, determined by the strong association of the genre to our culture. The song is so powerful that, at some point, the singer even cries herself (minute 3.40):

As times are changing, so is the way the Portuguese embrace their culture and the impositions it brings into their lives. With decades of feeble politics and a debt the size of Russia, Portugal is facing serious social problems that burst in hundreds of street protests. This feel of revolution, this refusal of the classic Portuguese resignation, brought also a change in the way Fado is sung. Leading the way is the music group Deolinda, who complain about the current situation of the country and somewhat urge action through their music. Five years ago the band mocked the typical passivity of the Portuguese people with the song “Movimento Perpétuo Associativo“, making the lyrics out of usual excuses and clichés not to take action.

More recently, Deolinda put out a song that became a hymn for the new generation of protesters, “Parva que sou”. The lyrics portray the situation of a young person in the modern Portugal, who cannot find a job and is most of the times ‘lucky’ to find an unpaid internship. The lyrics go about saying things like:”What a silly world, where to be a slave one must study” and “I’m from the generation without remuneration”:

This new Fado also speaks to the cultural aspect that makes us like it so much, however in a very contrasting style to the one of the classic Fado. Young and old people are now relating to this new and more dynamic message conveyed in our national genre, associating for it and because of it. That’s when you know a song – or a genre – is powerful, when you know it is art: when it moves you, whether in a positive or a negative way.


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