By Rodrigo Costa Félix
I start by warning that the subject of this column is for the laymen. Well, maybe not only for them, because I have heard from some aspiring fado singers a certain confusion about the subject. I will try not to be too technical and boring. Because Fado is everything but that.
So here goes: what is “Traditional” fado? Yes, “Traditional” with a capital “T”… and I’ll explain why.
First, it’s important to understand that I see that there are two types of Fado: Traditional and Song Fado.
(But attention, dear readers: the so-called Fado Vadio (or Wandering Fado) is not a type of Fado! It simply refers to the places where Fado is essentially amateur, with no specific programming, where anyone can sing… even if they’re not very good at it!
In essence, the first – and for some fundamentalists, the only, fado – is the Traditional Fado: a set of melodies (without associated lyrics) with specific and regular metrics, having no refrain/chorus, and having a musical “language” all its own.
The second, Song Fado (or Fado Canção), is composed of themes that have been assimilated into the fado repertoire, but that generally has a refrain and even sometimes a musical “language” that is closer to other genres. Included in this category are the marches performed especially during festivals.
The confusion between Traditional and Song fado arises fundamentally from the term Traditional, which in the case of Fado is written with a capital letter (Fado Tradicional) because it functions here as a noun and not as an adjective. Many people tend to think that Traditional Fados are the classics, the oldest and most popular Fados, but no: Traditional Fado is the basis of the Fado tradition. Traditional Fado is the basis of Fado itself and its “purest” form.
Traditional Fado is comprised of a set of nearly two hundred melodies, generally not very complex, whose main purpose is to serve musically the lyrics, or the poem.
Fortunately, this list is not static. In fact, in recent years traditional fados have been created, helping to keep Fado in constant evolution.
A good example is “Fado Daniel”, composed by Daniel Gouveia and created for the project “Lisboa em vários tons” (with lyrics by Carlos Baleia), which has been sung often in Fado clubs.
The true beauty of Traditional Fado is precisely its apparent simplicity, which (paradoxically) offers the fado singer (the fadista) all the freedom necessary to best interpret the verses s/he sings.
It is assumed that a self-respecting Fadista never sings the same Fado the same way twice. The reason is simple: if Fado is the song of the soul, of emotion and feeling–and if it is true that nobody feels exactly the same twice–then an interpretation of each Fado must be unrepeatable.
The meter of the verses in Traditional Fados is constant: that is, it is always the same throughout the music. It can be of seven, ten, or twelve syllables.
The number of stanzas is also regular and can be comprised of four (the most common), five, six or ten verses. There are, therefore, no sonnets in the repertoire of Traditional Fado. The way of rhyming depends mainly on the Fado and its structure, and there are some requirements concerning the rhythm of the words themselves, and their accentuation.
The case of “Fado Triplicado” (José Marques) is paradigmatic, with the second and fifth verses of each stanza “broken” into two parts and rhyming with each other and with the first and fourth verses. This serves to match the rhythm of the melody itself.
A beautiful example of a poem perfectly adapted to “Fado Triplicado” is “Princesa Prometida” by Aldina Duarte.
There are some exceptions to this rule: that is, Traditional Fados that escape what I explained above and that have their own metric.
Take the case of “Fado Modesto”, by Júlio Proença, which seems to have a refrain, but actually doesn’t, since there is no repetition of the lyrics.
This is the case of the theme “Antigamente”, by Frederico de Brito, as sung by Amália Rodrigues:
There is another curious example, where the melody offers such freedom to the singer, that lyrics or poems can be sung in quadras, quintillas or sextiles (always with verses of seven metric syllables) in it.
I’m referring to the much sung “Fado Pedro Rodrigues” (yes, that’s really the author’s name). Here are three good examples: in quadras, “A Minha Cor” by Manuel de Andrade, sung by João Braga; in quintilhas, “Pressentimentos” by Tiago Torres da Silva, sung by Linda Leonardo; in sextilhas, “Duas Lágrimas de Orvalho” by Linhares Barbosa, interpreted by Carlos do Carmo.
The same Fado, three different structures.
I must also mention the three simplest Fados in the Fado repertoire. Simple, because they have only two chords. But therein lies also their enormous complexity. They are Fados that don’t have a melody, which is “created” in the moment by the fadista. They are also, for this very reason, the most difficult to sing.
Fado Menor. Here with Sara Correia and Maria Emília – Poem by Vasco de Lima Couto:
Fado Corrido. Aqui com Fernando Maurício – Lyrics by João Linhares Barbosa:
Fado Mouraria, Here with Alfredo Marceneiro – Lyrics by João Linhares Barbosa:
In short, the Traditional Fados are melodies without refrain, of regular metric, and with no lyrics. Herein lies one of the great beauties of Fado.
The possibility that it allows singers to easily create their own repertoire, by simply finding or writing original or unpublished lyrics and combining them with a Fado that suits them. (That’s why I’m surprised that some refuse to do it, preferring to get almost exclusively the repertoire of others).
Notice that to “serve” the lyrics is not only that the structure of the melody and the lyrics coincide. We must also pay attention to the rhythm of the words, the content of the poem, the rhyme… but when all this is well done, then we have Fado.
Everything else will always depend on the interpretation of the fadista and musicians.
For those who want to learn more about this theme, I recommend some good sites/blogs about
fadosdofado.blogspot.com, by my dear friend José Fernandes Castro
RODRIGO COSTA FÉLIX
Is a fado singer with a thirty-year career, lyricist, producer, agent, and co-owner of the restaurant Fado ao Carmo. He has four records released, several prizes and distinctions – national and international – and a lifetime dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of the “song of Lisbon”.