Tag Archives: Amalia

Voice (I)

18 Mar

The voice, above all, is that which is lost to the wind. Mafalda Arnauth reminds us of this in a song entitled ‘Esta Voz Que Me Atravessa’ [This Voice That Crosses Me]. The song speaks of a voice that does not live inside the singer but in a shadow beside her. In the second verse she sings, ‘Trago cravado no peito / Um resto de amor desfeito / Que quando eu canto me dói / Que me deixa a voz em ferida’ [I bear, embedded in my chest, / A shard of broken love / That hurts me when I sing / That leaves my voice wounded]. The final verse reveals that the voice that has possessed the singer is in fact that of Maria Severa and did not die with the fadista.  The singer is encountering a voice older than she. Here, the voice itself is the site for an acting out of the memory work supposedly undertaken by all fadistas who show fidelity to the originary figure of Severa. The voice becomes an object, like the shawl worn by female fadistas as a sign of mourning for Severa. This object bears none of the claims to originality familiar to so many commentaries on the individuality of the voice; rather, it is collectively owned, something to be taken up, borne and passed on.
There is a responsibility to fado singing, then, one that permits Mariza to name her first album Fado em Mim [Fado in Me] and to include on it a song explicitly about responsibility, ‘Ó Gente da Minha Terra’ [O People of My Land]. It might be more accurate to say that there is a responsibility to singing in general which fado recognizes. This allows the fadista António Zambujo, for example, to sing ‘Trago Alentejo na Voz’ [I Carry Alentejo in My Voice], in which the carrying of a place and style quite other to that of Lisbon fado can be voiced. Zambujo signals recognition of the polyphonic singing tradition common to the area of Alentejo in the south of Portugal, both in the lyrical message he delivers and in the addition of a male choir to his recording of the song.  Another example of this carrying of a responsibility can be found in the work of the fadista Gonçalo Salgueiro, especially his debut album …No Tempo das Cerejas (2002).

The album opens with a song entitled ‘Grito’ [Shout/Cry], a verse written by Amália and set to music by her former guitarist Carlos Gonçalves. Guitarra and viola set the musical scene for around half a minute before falling silent. The word ‘silêncio’ is voiced, stretching over ten otherwise silent seconds, with the majority of work being engaged on the middle vowel as Salgueiro introduces us immediately to his (at first subtle) vocal ornamentation. An audible intake of breath is then followed with the following section of the verse, still unaccompanied by the guitarists and with increasing ornamentation on each word:

Do silêncio faço um grito
E o corpo todo me dói
Deixai-me chorar um pouco

[From the silence I make a cry
And my whole body hurts
Leave me to weep a little]

Over the course of the first four lines, and occupying a significant section of the song in terms of duration, we experience what Simon Frith calls ‘the sheer physical pleasure of singing itself … the enjoyment a singer takes in particular movements of muscles’.  Furthermore, a message is communicated directly: voice will be central to this recording project. And so it turns out. Following a fairly strident rendition of ‘Meia Noite e uma Guitarra’, a different enjoyment of the voice that complements the subtle intricacy of the album’s opener, the third track comes in the form of a poem written by Maria de Lourdes DeCarvalho with Amália in mind and entitled ‘Tenho em Mim a Voz dum Povo’ [I Have in me Voice of a People]. The poem sings of  a ‘Voz com que canto e me encanto / Em cada canto do meu pranto / Uma estranha lágrima de fogo’ [Voice with which I sing and which enchants me / in each song of my lament / A strange tear of fire].

Responsibility is key here. Salgueiro is carrying a responsibility, as the liner notes to the CD make clear. He is in the tradition of Amália and veers, according to Rui Vieira Nery’s version of the singing-as-enjoyment phenomenon, between ‘the joy of risk-taking and a liking for conservatism’.  As the accompanying biography alerts us, Salgueiro was invited by João Braga to be part of a show that accompanied the moving of Amália’s body to the National Pantheon in 2001. There is a layering of responsibility here as Salgueiro is given the task of ‘carrying’ Amália in his voice and Amália is given the posthumous responsibility of eternal national recognition. In her third verse, DeCarvalho has Salgueiro speak on behalf of Amália of the latter’s new home alongside the poets Camões and Pessoa, a home that is both the Pantheon itself (the home of mortal remains) and the Infinite in which her ‘eternal soul’ will sing a song in the presence of God.

This appeal to God should not surprise us. Fado, like other cultural products and processes in Portugal, has deep connections with Catholicism and many of its key tropes (fate, sin, guilt, redemption) could be traced back to religious practices. We can find a fine example of the divine implications of the fado voice in a song written for Amália by Alberto Janes and entitled ‘Foi Deus’ [It Was God]. The song begins, not unlike ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’, with the singer claiming ignorance; in this case it is the reason for the sorrowful tone with which she sings fado of which she is ignorant. But this ignorance is superseded by the declaration that ‘It was God / That placed in my chest / A rosary of pain / For me to speak / And to cry while singing / He made the nightingale a poet / Put rosemary in the fields / Gave flowers to the Spring / Ah, and gave this voice to me’.  In one rather simplistic sense, this provides us with an ‘answer’ to a question posed by so many commentators about the ‘magical’ power of Amália’s voice. How did that voice allow her to transcend the politics and traditions of her time and become so ‘universally’ acknowledged? The answer appears that to be that it was not her voice after all but part of God’s plan. In Mafalda Arnauth’s ‘A Voz Que Me Atravessa’ the voice that passed through the singer, while capable of travelling across time and space, had mortal origins in the figure of Maria Severa. Here, the origins are explicitly divine. In one song, we hear the voice of the people; in the other, the voice of God.

Manuela Cook suggests that the fatalism of fado is generally connected to an earlier fatalism found in the Romans and Greeks and is in fact in tension with Catholic faith in which ‘a Christian healing power defies a non-Christian merciless destiny.’ But it is the latter, the ‘omnipotent but merciful God’, that Cook recognizes in Amália’s ‘Foi Deus’ rather than ‘ancient inexorable deities’.  Cook’s discussion of the role of women in fado singing covers the witnessing of the Fátima miracle in 1917, offering a useful reminder of the role of witnessing in religious lore. Many different religions place emphasis on witnessing, testifying, performative preaching, ritual and what Simon Frith calls ‘the collective voice of religious submission’.

Notions of submission and possession are frequently given voice in fados such as Maria da Fé’s ‘Cantarei Até Que a Voz Me Doa’ [I Will Sing Until My Voice Hurts].  This song is a speaking-out, or singing-out, a stubborn persistence to make oneself heard and to not have one’s voice lost to the ether. Like ‘A Voz Que Me Atravessa’ and ‘Foi Deus’, it represents a giving of oneself over to the voice and the song. But the reliance on another figure is lessened; neither God nor the mythological fadista are required. The witness here, like the witness in court, is someone who takes the stand and who is given their moment to speak out, licensed by the people to speak for the people. In this sense, it is a very public song and immediately brings to mind visions of its performance in a casa de fado such as the one Maria da Fé herself operates.

This emphasis on speaking out and on public voices should not distract us from the privacies and intimacies of speaking and listening allowed by sound recording. Aldina Duarte, no stranger to the casa de fado, nonetheless fashioned an intimate form of communication on her first album Apenas o Amor (2004) that could only have come about through the medium of recording.  The album is notable for having a sense of sonic intimacy that is attained by the unhurried nature of the arrangements and the way the voice and guitars have been miked and recorded, with a slight echo that serves to emphasize the clean silence surrounding the words and notes. This is further highlighted by songs which reference the affect of voice. The first song begins with the evocation of a ‘voice in the silence’, while the second opens with ‘the memory of a sad voice’; another speaks of ‘an unconscious voice / that deep down is always fado’. On the slower tracks, José Manuel Neto’s guitarra is a model of minimal accompaniment, allowing the voice room to materialize in the sonic field. It is no surprise that fellow musicians Carlos do Carmo and Jorge Palma, who both provide liner notes to the album, speak of silence in their comments.

As Simon Frith writes, ‘The microphone made it possible for singers to make musical sounds – soft sounds, close sounds – that had not really been heard before in terms of public performance … [it] allowed us to hear people in ways that normally implied intimacy – the whisper, the caress, the murmur.’  This intimacy is hymned in Alexandre O’Neil’s ‘Há Palavras Que Nos Beijam’ [There Are Words That Kiss Us], a poem that has been performed as a fado by Mariza and Cristina Branco.  Meanwhile, the ‘memória duma voz triste’ that Aldina Duarte sings about also suggests a carrying on the part of the listener too, a reminder that in listening something is placed in the mind, becoming a part of consciousness itself

Maria da Fé & Ana Moura, ‘Divino Fado’

Witnessing, Carrying, Bringing (I)

1 Mar

As suggested previously, the acts of carrying, bearing and bringing-to-bear are crucial to the process of witnessing. The kind of carrying I am thinking of can be heard in a fado written by Amália Rodrigues and recorded on one of her late albums. It is entitled ‘Trago Fados nos Sentidos’ [I Carry Fados in My Senses]:

Trago fados nos sentidos
Tristezas no coração
Trago os meus sonhos perdidos
Em noites de solidão.

Trago versos trago sons
D’uma grande sinfonia
Tocada em todos os tons
Da tristeza e d’agonia.

[I carry fados in my senses
Sadness in my heart
I bear my lost dreams
In nights of loneliness

I bear verses, I bear sounds
Of a grand symphony
Played in all the tones
From sadness to agony]

This is the form of witnessing which I believe is most important to fado, this sense of carrying and unburdening, of passing on. Interestingly, in other versions of this song such as that recorded by Cristina Branco, the word ‘fados’ is changed in the title and the verse to ‘fado’.  The change is slight but helps us to make the claim for fado not only as a series of witnessed symbols but also as a process of witnessing.

The verb ‘trazer’, from which ‘trago’ comes is very popular in fado texts. It can be translated variously as ‘to bring’, ‘to wear’, ‘to bear’ and ‘to carry’. Among contemporary fado lyricists, Helder Moutinho seems particularly fond of the verb. In ‘Ai do Vento’, he sings ‘Sao as saudades que nos trazem as tristezas…’ [It’s saudades that bring us sadness]; in ‘Ao Velho Cantor’, he addresses an ‘old singer of the past’ whose eyes ‘trazem imagens de fados’ [bear images of fados]; in ‘Não Guardo Saudade a Vida’ he claims ‘Trago a saudade esquecida’ [I carry a forgotten saudade]. One of Moutinho’s albums even bears the title Que Fado É Este Que Trago? [What Fado/Fate Is This That I Bear?]. Even when this verb is not used we find many lyrics which deal with what is borne or held inside by the singer, such as the ‘fado no peito’ [fado in my breast] in Moutinho’s ‘Lisboa das Mil Janelas’.

A vital correlative, and one which connects with the sense of fate, is the sense of being carried too, as in Ana Laíns’s ‘O Fado Que Me Traga’ [The Fado/Fate That Carries Me]. A crucial metaphor in bringing together these senses of carrying and being carried is the air, and especially the wind, that carries our testimony to others and delivers theirs to us. Helder Moutinho’s ‘Fado Refugio’ speaks of carrying ‘in my voice / the life that has been offered me’ and each verse contains the line ‘Eu trago na voz o vento’ [I carry the wind in my voice].  Many fados talk about the wind and things which are carried on the wind, not only the seagulls that populate numerous songs but also the uncertainties and hopes of the future. The wind is also a force against which things are fixed, so as not to blow away or be turned: the wind of change, or of destiny. The wind is both something that carries, upon which one can be passive, and something that threatens loss: words disappear into the wind. Ana Laíns’s ‘Pouco Tempo’ is an attempt to preserve what is being lost to the wind. This is the message the written text (a poem by Lídia Oliveira) tells us and to a certain extent it is the message that the song enacts; by being a song it is a song dispersed in the air and lost. Like the poem, though, the CD on which we find Laíns’s performance tells us something else: the concept has been fixed in rhyme, set to music (‘set’ promises permanence) and recorded.

‘Ai Mouraria’, recorded by a number of fadistas, speaks of ‘Amor que o vento, como um lamento / Levou consigo / Mas que ainda agora / A toda a hora / Trago comigo’ [Love that the wind, like a lament / Carried with it / But that still now / All the time / I carry with me].  In this song, the love that the singer remembers and that disappeared with the wind, is connected to the winds of change and destiny that would affect Mouraria itself, making it both an example of the kind of mourning work described by Michael Colvin and an example of the bringing together of personal and public memories. The numerous recordings of the song by Amália at different points in her career helped to ensure that this relationship remained in people’s minds.
By the 1960s, when Amália came to record this song once more, the trope of the wind was prevalent in many popular songs. Bob Dylan used it in a number of songs that looked back to the folk, blues and country traditions of singing about travelling and being ‘in the wind’. Most famous, however, would be his use of the trope as a political metaphor in ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. The lyric of that song finds an interesting parallel in a song entitled ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’ [Ballad of the Wind That Passes], written by the Portuguese poet Manuel Alegre and roughly contemporaneous with Dylan’s anthem.

Alegre had been imprisoned by the PIDE, the special police force of the Estado Novo, for his political views. Following his release he spent half a year in Angola, returning to Portugal in 1963 where he wrote ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’. The words were set to music by António Portugal and performed by Adriano Correia de Oliveira, a singer associated with the Coimbra fado. ‘Trova’ made an instant impression with listeners and became a popular staple of the student resistance against the Salazar regime much as Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ would in the US Civil Rights Movement.

Adriano’s version had three verses, which describe the poet asking the wind for news of his country but hearing nothing. The second verse claims that ‘There is always someone that sows / Songs on the wind that passes’, while the third affirms that ‘Even on the saddest night / During time of servitude / There is always someone who resists / There is always someone who says no’.  The verses provide a number of issues familiar to the other songs mentioned above, including the unanswering wind, a voice lost in the wind and a sense of futility. But the message changes and the crucial final lines get their full enunciatory power as the repeated words that resolve the song, becoming the ‘answer’ that had been missing. Manuel Alegre himself emphasized the importance of music in the creation of poems and poetry; music allowed the poem ‘to be a vehicle of history and memory, to sing of love or to give the signal of past or future epics, to inform and to form, to witness and to bear witness.’

Amália recorded Alegre’s poem in 1970 on Com Que Voz, her album of adaptations of great Portuguese poets, with different music composed by Alain Oulman. The version adds a verse that highlights the carrying nature of fate, describing rivers that ‘take dreams and leave sorrows’.  Amália recorded two more verses of the poem, making her version more wordy than Oliveira’s. She did not, however, include the outspoken final verse and, unusually for a fado, the final lines of her version are not stressed; instead the voice disappears and the guitars bring the piece to a restrained close. It could be argued that these two versions present opposing qualities of activity and passivity. Although Amália’s version is sometimes cited as an example of her alliance with committed leftists poets, the use of different music and the removal of the ‘call to arms’ could be said to severely lessen the impact, making it a universal song about love, exile and loss as Amália was to also say of the song ‘Abandono’ which she recorded around the same time.

Lula Pena – Troubadour

5 Jan

Lula Pena, Troubadour

It was gratifying to be able to include Lula Pena’s wonderful Troubadour in the PopMatters’ Best World Music albums of 2010. For those of us who rely primarily on recordings to hear her work, it had been a long wait since 1998’s classic [phados]. Here is what I wrote for the world music feature:

2010 proved to be another successful year for Portuguese fado and its derivatives. The fourth album by the brilliant young fadista Ana Moura received international distribution, while the second album by Deolinda was met with only marginally less acclaim than the group’s debut. But the real surprise came with the long-awaited follow-up to singer-guitarist Lula Pena’s classic 1998 album [phados]. Troubadour followed closely in its predecessor’s footsteps, offering up a stark, haunted take on fado that took in Portuguese folk music, French chanson, Latin American nueva canción and Anglo-American pop, all stripped down to the wood. Over seven longish “Acts”, Pena wove fragments from other writers into her own songs, using voice, guitar, and silence to mesmeric effect. Her take on the Amália Rodrigues classic “Fado de Cada Um” is startling, as is the closing number that mixes two distinctly non-fado songs, Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” and Mirah’s “Pollen”.

I would only add here that Troubadour is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of 2010 regardless of genre or marketing category. It made it into the general lists of Best Albums that I submitted to the two music sites I write for (PopMatters and Tiny Mix Tapes) but would have been too obscure a treasure to have made it onto the main lists of those sites. It is at times such as this that otherwise problematic categories such as “world music” can be useful, in providing a space for otherwise marginalised sounds. Credit should go to PopMatters, too, for consistently encouraging the coverage of international music on its pages. (Troubadour received critical acclaim in Portugal, featuring in the Best of 2010 lists of Time Out and Blitz, among other places.)

The following performance by Lula Pena opens with her take on “Fado de Cada Um”

Here is the version made famous by Amália Rodrigues in the film Fado, História de Uma Cantadeira:

And more from Lula Pena’s Troubadour:

There are a couple more videos available at the website of Mbari Music, along with a press release which offers a kind of “explanation” of Troubadour. The normal PR exaggerations aside, it contains some thought provoking comments about the “open” nature of Pena’s album, its emphasis on flow and transience, and its refusal of closure or memory. For Pena, it seems, the place of longing cannot be fixed or fastened down, not even provisionally. Rather, longing remains a constant source of becoming, an undoing of oneself and one’s sense of stability.

Lula Pena

Lágrima (II)

24 Apr

In my previous post, I presented an interpretation of Amália’s ‘Lágrima’ based on a move from what I called the studium of the song text to the punctum of the anguished performance. In a more recent version of ‘Lágrima’ by Jorge Fernando and Argentina Santos there is an even clearer example of such a move. Following a verse sung movingly but not dramatically by Fernando, a studium is set up of melancholic meditation on hurt and loss (fado’s bedrock, we might say). The entry of Argentina Santos’s vocal into this studium shatters (cuts) the ‘stillness’ of the preceding moments. Through her vocalizing, from the anguished cry of ‘se considero’ to the almost whispered final ‘uma lágrima’, Santos creates these puncta via stark contrasts with the surrounding song text. Fernando’s verse and the oboe/cello part create a ‘safe’ space of sadness. Santos’s voice, in its urgency and extremity, destroys this place and reminds us of the ‘real’ pain at the heart of the lyric. This echoes the contrast implicit in the verse structure where a fragmented line is offset against a developed line, the former containing the fetishized object (the immediate thought, the attempt, however doomed, at freedom from language), the latter the interpreted (Symbolic) meaning of the thought.

The fact that Fernando and Santos take ownership of ‘Lágrima’ in the way they do is important in terms of thinking about the fado ‘family tree’, a term which can be understood to relate both to the varieties of fado derived from the basic core of fado corrido, fado mouraria and fado menor, and to the symbolic lineage of fado performers through the years. In this case there is the association of Argentina Santos with a school of singers contemporaneous with Amália Rodrigues – though it should be noted that Santos, like many of her contemporaries, did not tend to be as adventurous as Rodrigues with the material she chose to sing, sticking to a far more ‘traditional’ repertoire. Jorge Fernando was a guitarist for Amália Rodrigues during the final part of her career before going on to release albums made up of his own material alongside work by other fadistas and to produce and play on Mariza’s first album, also contributing three songs to it (‘Chuva’, ‘Terra d’Água’ and ‘Oxalá’). Fernando, who also had a career as a pop singer-songwriter, played a major role in Ana Moura’s career as arranger, producer and songwriter. Like Paulo de Carvalho, Fernando acts as a bridge both between the old generation and the new and between pop and fado.

Prior to the Fernando/Santos recording of ‘Lágrima’, the song had appeared on other fado albums of the 1990s. Dulce Pontes recorded a version on Lágrimas (1993), an album that highlighted the sense of fusion that would come to determine much of novo fado. Emphasizing the notion of a ‘family tree’, Pontes prominently placed a genealogy on the album cover that stated: ‘Father – Zeca [José] Afonso; Mother – Amália Rodrigues; Grandparent – Portuguese folklore; Cousins – Bulgarian folklore, Arabic music’. The instrumentation on the album consisted of the classic fado accompaniment (viola, guitarra) but, with the addition of vocoder, Fairlight synthesizer, electric guitar, piano and orchestra, this was a clear departure from fado norms. The song selection was evidence that, with the passing of time, the strands of  folk and fado that had seemed so antithetical to each other in the post-revolutionary era could now be brought together in a useful synthesis: half of the album’s songs were ones associated with Amália Rodrigues, the other half with José Afonso. The mixture proved successful and the album has remained a constant seller nationally and internationally since its release in late 1993, judging by its perennial availability in European  record shops such as Fnac, Valentim de Carvalho, and HMV.

The appeal of Pontes’s voice seems to lie in its clarity and consistency and she has adopted a register that sits easily within a range of western popular musical styles, as is noticeable on her 2003 collaboration with Ennio Morricone, Focus, where she provides vocals in Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian to the familiar tunes of various Morricone soundtracks. As a consequence her music is arguably less subcultural than that of, say, Argentina Santos, a difference that can be read into Pontes’s rendition of ‘Lágrima’ on the 1993 album. This track, along with a version of Amália’s ‘Estranha Forma de Vida’, were recorded live in the studio, presumably to catch the feel of an ‘authentic’ fado performance. Yet, without the ‘grain’ and anguish that Amália and Santos bring to their renditions, the song emerges as ‘merely’ beautiful, somehow missing the cathartic elements of the older fadistas’ versions. In Lacanian terms, there is less a fencing-off of the Thing than an unwillingness to go anywhere close to it; in Barthesian terms, there is an excess of pheno-song and a lack of geno-song, a studium with no punctum. The traumatic potential of ‘Lágrima’ is here elided in a move that maintains the performance firmly within the Symbolic Order, a kind of sanitized mourning that is also to be found ten years later in the song ‘Amália por Amor’ on Focus.

Cover of Misia's RitualMísia, for her part, chose to revisit the song on her 2001 album Ritual, having already recorded a version for her second album in 1993. Where the earlier version, like Pontes’s from the same year, was fairly understated, the second presentation of the song utilized a style not dissimilar to that of Argentina Santos, stressing extremities of vocalization and putting particular emphasis on the key lyrical points discussed earlier. Mário Jorge Torres, in his liner notes to the CD, suggested this ‘new intensity and intentionality’ was due to the song’s inclusion in what was clearly a project inspired by the recent death of Amália. The musical arrangements and guitarra accompaniment are provided by Carlos Gonçalves, who had been Amália’s composer and accompanist during the last stage of her career and had composed the music to ‘Lágrima’. Like Jorge Fernando, Gonçalves here becomes a bridge between the old and new worlds of fado, providing new compositions for Mísia, such as that for ‘Xaile de Silêncio’, a poem sent to Mísia on the occasion of Amália’s death.

In addition to these tracks, Amália is referenced by the inclusion of two songs that seek to extend the late singer’s legacy through the addition of new elements. ‘Mistério Lunar’ is a modern poem put to music written by the famous  guitarrista Armandinho that Amália had sung with different words as ‘Fado Mayer’ in the 1950s. ‘Vivendo sem Mim’ is a poem written by Rodrigues, published in Versos but not recorded by her; here, it is put to music by Mário Pacheco and performed by Mísia and the pianist Christian Boissel in a move designed to evoke the way Amália rehearsed with Alain Oulman at the piano. By thus adding words to an ‘Amália’ tune and music to Amália’s words, Mísia suggests the ways in which this dialogic ‘ritual’ might proceed. The ritual extended beyond the song texts to the recording process too, with the use of valve microphones and single takes to emulate recording practices of the 1940s and 1950s.

(This montage of three versions of the song reaffirms my feelings about the power of the original, although I guess the poster feels differently about this than I do.)

Lágrima (I)

20 Apr

The song ‘Lágrima’, by Amália Rodrigues, appeared on the 1983 album of the same name, which featured lyrics exclusively written by Amália and set to music by the guitarrista Carlos Gonçalves. ‘Lágrima’ was the closing song on the album; its lyrics also appeared, alongside Amália’s other poems, in her book Versos (1997). They are as follows:

Cheia de penas
Cheia de penas me deito
E com mais penas
Com mais penas me levanto
No meu peito
Já me ficou no meu peito
Este jeito
O jeito de te querer tanto

Tenho por meu desespero
Dentro de mim
Dentro de mim um castigo
Não te quero
Eu digo que te não quero
E de noite
De noite sonho contigo

Se considero
Que um dia hei-de morrer
No desespero
Que tenho de te não ver
Estendo o meu xaile
Estendo o meu xaile no chão
Estendo o meu xaile
E deixo-me adormecer

Se eu soubesse
Se eu soubesse que morrendo
Tu me havias
Tu me havias de chorar
Uma lágrima
Por uma lágrima tua
Que alegria
Me deixaria matar

[Full of suffering
Full of suffering, I sleep
And with more suffering
With more suffering I awake
In my breast
Already lodged in my breast
Is this habit
The habit of wanting you so
I have my despair
Inside me
A punishment inside me
I don’t want you
I say that I don’t want you
And at night
At night I dream about you

If I consider
That one day I will die
In the desperation
That I have at not seeing you
I lay out my shawl
I lay out my shawl on the floor
I lay out my shawl
And let myself fall asleep

If I thought
If I thought that when I died
You would have to
You would have to cry
One tear
For one of your tears
How happy
I would be to die]

In considering the song I am drawing upon ideas articulated by Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes. I do so partly because these thinkers provide a useful vocabulary to attach to the expression of grief and partly because I wish to situate this exemplary instance of fado practice within the wider theories explored in Fado and the Place of Longing. Lacan, in his commitment to Freud, provides a useful connection to theories of mourning, remembering and working-through. Barthes, meanwhile, offers a vocabulary which is explicitly derived from the analysis of texts, whether written, visual or aural. Here, I find his theories of the visual field – as set out in his late work on photography, Camera Lucida – as relevant as his comments on music.

Lacan and Barthes are quite different thinkers with divergent agendas, but their theories do overlap at important places. For Lacan, the ‘Symbolic Order’ is that represented by society’s attempts to impose logic, structure and consistency upon the inconstant qualities of nature, a process carried out first and foremost through language. Against this is posited the ‘Imaginary’, those aspects of the subject’s quest for a wholeness that is always unattainable but always desired, as in the ‘Mirror Stage’ of Lacanian theory. The third Order, the ‘Real’, is that which cannot be symbolised and which exists beyond our attempts to explain inconstant nature. It is inconstant nature itself, which yet, paradoxically, always ‘comes back to the same place’. The Real is that which irrupts into the Symbolic as trauma. Its connections with trauma, jouissance and death distinguish it from the more comforting Imaginary. The writings of Barthes that I invoke here are those in which we find a breaking through of one (often ecstatic) mode of signifying into another, a rupture in the Symbolic Order that calls to mind the momentary glimpse of the Lacanian Real. The major examples of this type of Barthesian thinking are the concepts of plaisir and jouissance, of the geno- and pheno-song, and of the studium and punctum of the photographic image.

What is notable about the lyric of ‘Lágrima’ is what it has to say about absence, how, for the vocal subject, the object of desire does not exist because of a refusal to recognize her. The subject posits a possibility for the object of desire to exist by hypothesizing a recognition – the recognition that the object of desire will mourn her after her passing – that will in turn betray a desire, the object’s hitherto hidden desire for her. The price to be paid for this bringing-into-being of the object and the object’s desire is, here, the subject’s ceasing-to-be, her death.

What are the ‘pleasures’ suggested in the song? Or, rather, what are the signs of what Lacan calls ‘the pleasure of desiring, or, more precisely, the pleasure of experiencing unpleasure’?  In short: despair, unrequited love, the dream-world and death. What is moving and pleasurable for the listener are the lengths to which this subject will go to achieve that jouissance which, Lacan reminds us, is in actuality suffering and pain. What is the significance, in Lacanian terms, of the subject’s inability to perceive herself as fully constituted, or rather to see herself as constituted around a lack which she can only resolve by propelling herself from the Imaginary of fantasy to the Real of death? Or should one read the song less literally, as a song about the giving-up of oneself to the Other, an ‘inevitable’ love sacrifice or coming-into-symbolic-being?

We must also ask in what ways we can map musical meaning onto such a reading. One way might be to suggest that the lyrical structure of the poem has encouraged a musical arrangement which, in its simplicity, provides a drive towards emphasis on key lyrical moments. As Barthes notes of classical French mélodie:

What is engaged in these works is, much more than a musical style, a practical reflection (if one may put it like that) on the language; there is a progressive movement from the language to the poem, from the poem to the song and from the song to its performance. Which means that the mélodie has little to do with the history of music and much with the theory of the text.

(Roland Barthes, ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image-Music-Text, tr. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), p. 186.)

Applying Barthes’s notions of studium and punctum to ‘Lágrima’, we can attempt to sonorize these occularcentic figurations in an attempt to construct a theory of listening. For Barthes the studium is the cultural ‘participat[ion] in the figures, the faces, the gestures, the settings, the actions’, while the punctum is the ‘element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me’. In a sonorized version the studium is the song text, the instrumental, vocal and lyrical setting which, within a few short bars, confirms this as a typical fado, albeit of the modernized fado canção style. Into this text are then studded a number of puncta, which can be identified as follows: the first syllable of ‘penas’ in the first line, echoed in the repetitions of the word in the subsequent three lines; the third syllable of ‘desespero’ in the first line of second verse, again echoed; the interplay between ‘considero’ and ‘desespero’ in the third verse. The fourth verse holds back from delivering its punctum, waiting, according to standard fado practice, for the repeat of the final phrase; when it comes (and we can detect in that word’s double meaning an echo of Barthes’s idea that the voice ‘caresses, it grates, it cuts, it comes’), it does so as the entire phrase ‘que alegria me deixaria matar’.

I interpret these as puncta mainly due to the vocal articulation audible at these points and with the repetitive pathos to be found in these over-emphasized words and phrases. While it would be possible to describe this process merely as a succession of emphases without resorting to Barthesian terms, I am keen to anticipate a connection established in Fado and the Place of Longing between photography and fado texts, as I believe that one of the things these texts do is to participate in an ongoing ‘study’ of Lisbon(ness), in which the oft-hymned city is both studium and stadium of memory. While ‘Lágrima’ makes no explicit mention of place, I would maintain that it inherits a sense of place due to numerous connections between text and context; the ‘Lisbonness’ of fado, here, is a state of mind which may be cognitively inaccurate but is mythologically and psychologically vital.

Barthes has saved us the effort, to some extent, of converting his theory of seeing to a theory of listening by speaking elsewhere about the interplay of the pheno-song and geno-song in vocal music. However, what is less stressed in ‘The Grain of the Voice’ than in ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ and Camera Lucida is the sense of the cut that the ‘invasive’ element (punctum, jouissance, grain) inflicts on culture. Barthes writes of ‘the deep laceration the text of bliss inflicts upon language itself’  and, in a sentence that might equally be a definition of the Lacanian Real, of ‘the place where the death of language is glimpsed’. This cut is also a cutting-off, or fencing-off, the creation of ‘a site of bliss’ that is simultaneously a site of loss. As Catherine Belsey puts it:

The beautiful satisfies, Lacan argues, to the degree that it does, not by representing the real, nor by avoiding the drive, but instead by pointing to the lost real, while at the same time fencing-off any possibility that we might come too close to the Thing. Made objects offer a kind of satisfaction when the signifier encloses absence and at the same time offers pleasure.

(Catherine Belsey, Culture and the Real: Theorising Cultural Criticism (London and
New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 72)

Lacan himself provides us with another metaphor of enclosure when he claims that ‘it is obviously because truth is not pretty to look at that beauty is, if not its splendor, then at least its envelope’. Going further, he says that the beautiful ‘stops us, but it also points in the direction of the field of destruction’ and, later, that ‘the appearance of beauty intimidates and stops desire’. Bearing this in mind, is it possible to think of fado as representing a safe (and beautiful) way of (re)encountering trauma, of encircling the Thing? As Nick Cave observes, ‘the peculiar magic of the Love Song … is that it endures where the object of the song does not.’ Fado provides a place (street, alleyway, museum, theatre, text, envelope) to (re)visit the traumatic. It is one of those musics that subscribes to the Aristotelian principle of catharsis, purgation and abreaction to which Lacan also refers. The single tear that the singer of ‘Lágrima’ desires is both the tear that will cleanse or purge and the tear (cut) that will rend.

Amália (III)

19 Apr

Cover of Trova do Vento que PassaA glance through the part of Amália’s discography covering the years leading up to the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 reveals a bewildering array of material: fados (both castiços and canções), Portuguese folk songs, popular Lisbon marches, medieval poetry, French chansons, Italian and Spanish songs, Brazilian bossa nova, American show tunes, Christmas songs, and more. Throughout this period Amália remained steadfastly apolitical, though a number of her collaborators did not remain so distant; David Mourão-Ferreira, José Carlos Ary Dos Santos, Alexandre O’Neill and Manuel Alegre were all leftist poets who wrote works either specifically for her or which were requested by her or Alain Oulman to be sung in concerts and on recordings. It was Oulman who approached the exiled Manuel Alegre for permission to include his ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’ [Ballad of the Wind That Passes], a piece associated with the anti-fascist movement, on the 1970 album Com Que Voz. The recordings put out under her name in 1974 are perhaps the most telling: a reissue of Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Abandono’, now openly referred to by its alternative title ‘Fado Peniche’ in reference to the prison that had held many of the regime’s political prisoners (the song had been banned during Salazar’s rule); a single of Alegre’s ‘Meu Amor É Marinheiro’ which, with its cover photo of a navy recruit, played on the popularity of the armed forces following their role in the Revolution; a single of ‘Trova do Vento Que Passa’ backed by Mourão-Ferreira’s ‘Libertação’; and a version of Afonso’s ‘Grândola Vila Morena’.

Cover of Um Homem na CidadeIt was Amália’s simultaneous ability to court these poets while remaining free from the persecutions of the Estado Novo that came to infuriate many people and that still divides opinion on the singer now. For her critics, Amália’s political naivety smacked too much of the populism peddled by Salazar himself; this was hardly helped by the fact that fado and Amália had become synonymous and that, as fado now became tarred through association with the old regime, so, many felt, should its foremost proponent. This, allied to the sheer excitement of the new forms of music springing up in the wake of the canto de intervenção movement and imported Anglo-American rock music, helped to push fado out of the spotlight in the early days of democracy. Yet fado did not go away and neither did Amália, though her career took a definite downward turn within Portugal for a few years. It was during this period that Carlos do Carmo emerged as the new lantern bearer of fado. Less politically naive than Amália, Carmo brought a commitment to the ideas of the Revolution together with love, deep knowledge and experience of fado gained from his mother, the famous fadista Lucília do Carmo, and from the fado house he inherited from his father. Carmo worked frequently with the poet José Carlos Ary dos Santos and attempted, like Rodrigues and Afonso before him, to bridge the music of the city with that of the countryside. His most notable achievements in this respect were the albums Um Homem na Cidade (1977) and Um Homem no Pais (1983), built upon Santos’s lyrics.

Amalia RodriguesWhen Amália did return it was in triumph, performing to packed houses and initiating a new series of recordings which, though they would often veer towards the gimmicky, nonetheless paved the way for her powerful albums of self-written material at the beginning of the 1980s. It is perhaps worth considering Geoffrey O’Brien’s discussion of the return of Burt Bacharach in the 1990s when considering both Amália’s post-Revolution comeback and her audience’s willingness to re-embrace her. The songwriting process that Bacharach and his colleagues symbolize is comparable to the creative process of fado canção, which can be seen as the driving force behind the musical period covered in Fado and the Place of Longing. Like Rodrigues’s ‘classic’ period, Bacharach’s period was one of professionals – a Hollywood-style division of labour – as opposed to the singer-songwriter style that would come to dominate afterwards; O’Brien describes the process as ‘a combination of perfectionism and commercialism’.  Eduardo Sucena’s survey of songwriters, musicians and singers provides a good overview of how this relationship worked itself out in the fado world. As with the professional songwriters that O’Brien writes about, the creators of the fados canções produce a situation where there can be ‘no assumption … that the listeners could produce such a record themselves’. This allows further for the adoption of star persona than would be the case with more amateur forms of music making, leading to a situation where the performer’s career becomes mythologized and lived through by the performer’s public. It is the identification of the parallel existence of star and public that ensures the possibility of return:

In such a process, the myth of the original career is amplified by the myth of the return. Each step of the comeback is charted as part of a legendary progression: years of glory, years in limbo, years of triumphant rebirth. The past is symbolically brought into the present, so that through the contemplation of Bacharach and his music … latter-day devotees can gain access to a realm of lost bliss.

(Geoffrey O’Brien, Sonata for Jukebox: Pop Music, Memory, and the Imagined Life (New York: Counterpoint, 2004), pp. 8-9 – see also pp. 20-21 for the discussion of professional songwriters).

Amália hardly endured ‘years in limbo’ but it was very much the case that the spectacular nature of her past ensured her a place in the public consciousness that not only outlasted the brief unpopularity she experienced in the mid 1970s but enabled her to be reborn in the ‘latter-day devotees’ who would pioneer the novo fado of the 1990s onwards.

Amália (II)

16 Apr

Amália’s music can be read alongside not only her biography but also the history of Portugal. During the period of the Estado Novo (1933-1974) both urban fado and rural folk music were appropriated by António Salazar’s programme of nationalism, the former being strictly policed via the censorship of lyrics and the issuing of compulsory performance permits, the latter through the cultivation of ranchos folclóricos and the setting up of rural folklore competitions. Subsequently fado came to be associated by many people with the authoritarian regime. For Joaquim Pais de Brito, however, Amália was able to elide such an association:

During the Estado Novo fado survived in a rather ambiguous position; as it became stationed – through successive laws prohibiting it from being sung in public houses – within the casas típicas which, through their nature, had the bourgeoisie and tourists as their public, fado lived alongside the regime, which, while not adopting or promoting fado, did not distance itself from it either. This did not matter overly since the problem was resolved by Amália. The quality of Amália’s voice and the moment in which it appeared allowed, to a certain extent, the definitive stylisation of fado, exporting it and bringing to bear upon it major ‘erudite’ poets, all of them now writing for a single voice.

(Joaquim Pais do Brito, ‘Tudo Isto é Fado (II)’, Elo Associativo No. 19 (June 2001), Colectividades website, http://www.colectividades.org/elo/019/p25.html – link now dead.)

Leonor Lains makes a related point when she writes of Amália’s broad appeal: ‘She crossed all barriers and cultural prejudices. Amália had the gift of reconciling the urban with the rural, the cultured with the popular, through her unique quality of voice, full of sensual and musical emotion.’ Both de Brito’s and Lains’s points are relevant to another track from Busto, ‘Povo Que Lavas no Rio’ [You People Who Wash in the River]. The lyric, written by the poet Pedro Homem de Melo, works as both an evocation of rural values by a narrator who we assume to be a city dweller, or at least a person who has accepted a subject position that allows them to address the rural population with the familiar ‘tu’. The first verse begins with the lines ‘You people who wash in the river / Who cut with your axe / The planks of my coffin / There should be someone to defend you’. Subsequent verses speak of living among the people, of drinking from a cork cup and of the ‘scents of heather and mud’. Though there is an appeal to familiarity through a sense of belonging in the second and third verses, the distance maintained by the relationship described in the first is that which sets the underlying tone. Here the poet Homem de Melo and the singer Rodrigues take on the responsibility of hymning the people while also observing them at a geographical and temporal distance. The combination of romanticism and identification is one that aims for quite distinct audiences. Whether it is possible to find in Amália’s performance of the song the voice that de Brito tells us can resolve the problem of fado’s relationship to the Estado Novo is harder to gauge.

Cover of Folclore 3Another way in which Amália was able to bridge the divide between urban and rural populations was her tendency to mix traditional folk songs of Portugal and the Lusophone world into her repertory of fados. In 1967 Valentim de Carvalho released three EPs of folk songs: ‘Amália Canta Portugal’, ‘Malhão de Cinfães’ and ‘Folclore 3’. These were followed in 1971 by an LP, Amália Canta Portugal 2. The songs associated with this aspect of Amália’s work, such as ‘Caracóis’ or ‘Malhão de São Simão’, often used fado instrumentation but the vocal tended to be rather different to that generally found in fado singing – a difference that would no doubt be even more noticeable had Amália not been a fado singer by vocation.Cover of Caracois What Timothy Mitchell says of flamenco singing in relation to Spanish folk singing is comparable to the different use of emotional expression in fado and Portuguese folk singing: ‘the aesthetically differentiated moan of cante jondo can give the truth of the song style independent of the song lyrics, which do not even need to be intelligible; herein lies a crucial difference between deep song and Spanish folk song.’  It is worth remembering that lyrics are a crucial aspect of fado though it is also true, as in Mitchell’s point, that emotional melisma does much of the expressive work. In addition there are numerous examples of word fetishization in fado that shift the focus away from where it would be in a more narrative style ballad.  Homem de Melo’s poeticized account of life in the countryside is quite removed from the narrative ballad style, stressing as it does the cork cup, the heather and the mud over any conventional storyline.It is interesting to speculate on the characteristic of the solo voice in fado canção, articulating as it often does a single highly poeticized viewpoint, and to ask what it says about the relationship between the individual and the collective.

Certainly this type of song was considered by many fado aficionados to have little to do with the earlier fado, now coming to be known as fado castiço. Joaquim Pais de Brito stresses the links between fado’s origins and ideas of collectivity when he says of the fado world of the late nineteenth century, ‘it was an area where the excluded lived together: people from the street, immigrants, people without a past, people of mixed race, others who lived from the patronage of a decadent nobility.’  Music, and the venues in which it was created, brought people together in a way that, if less ritualized than in the villages, was nonetheless crucial in maintaining the social bond. For many, then, it was the subsequent journey fado took from the taverns to the theatre reviews that was responsible for erecting the wall between performer and audience, the fencing-off that, as in the museum and on the record, destroyed the possibility of a collectivized musical practice. Tearto Republica advertisementIt is at this same point that fado took on the responsibility of being the professional, ‘official’ Portuguese music of loss (or, as several fadologists would seem to prefer, the music of Portuguese loss, which is saying a rather different thing). Salazar’s policies undoubtedly exacerbated this process of fencing-off but did not create it. As with the emergence of rock ’n’ roll in the United States, there are a number of issues to consider when determining why fado canção emerged when it did and why Amália Rodrigues became its paradigmatic performer, ranging from changes in the law (here, the Novo Estado policies were crucially determinant but previously extant copyright laws should not be forgotten, affecting as they do the role of the artist in the period of mass mediation); migration to the cities; changes in recording and media technology; shifts in the high/low divide in the arts.

Whatever the purists thought, and despite (or because of?) the emphasis on the individual, Amália’s music remained popular throughout the 1960s. For three years running, from 1967 to 1969, she received the MIDEM award for the artist selling the most records in their country, a feat only equalled by the Beatles. The emerging protest song movement, the canto de intervenção, can be seen as a reaction to this dominance of the popular musical scene as much as to a perceived ideological impurity in fado. Many of the songwriters of canto de intervenção were also, in a way, more individualistic than the fado performers they sought to challenge. As with contemporaneous folk music movements in other countries there was, despite a strong desire to identify with the common man and woman, a tendency towards solo singer-songwriters keen to put their message across their way. The singer-songwriter, like the preacher, requires a charismatic individuality in order to be effective; at the same time they require a compliant congregation willing and able to take their message up and echo it with the power of choral unison. It was in his ability to do so that José Afonso took on the mantle of the musician of the revolutionary era in Portugal.

Amália (I)

16 Apr

The connection between Amália and the themes outlined in these posts is hopefully clear. On the one hand, there is her life and career, which can be quite easily presented in terms of melancholy and loss. This is not quite the path want to take, but that is not because I have a particular problem with such an approach. On the contrary, while the conflation of life and art is often a problem in the discussion of popular music, I do not see how it is possible to avoid such a process when dealing with performers who have explicitly connected the two. Some of this approach will certainly seep through my account of Amália, but I mainly want to use her career as a way to describe the fado world with which I deal in Fado and the Place of Longing, a world constructed from the tangled relations between authenticity, innovation and the culture industry.

Amália Rodrigues remains the single most paradigmatic performer in modern Portuguese musical culture for a number of reasons. Her career spanned a crucial period of change in Portugal and in the recording industry worldwide. Filipe La Féria summarizes these connections as follows: ‘Amália Rodrigues was born in the First Republic, lived with and for the Estado Novo and lived to see the 25 April Revolution. This can be seen as a very rich period and one that had a strong emotional effect on people.’ La Féria, the creator of an enormously popular musical based on her life and times, attributes the success of the show to the combination of a celebrity with whom the audience are able to identify and her negotiation of a history they too have either lived through or recently inherited. This identification is furthered in Amália’s own work, which manages, from early on in her career, to define a star persona based on a number of fado mythemes.

Amalia Rodrigues & MotherHer biographical details resound with references to poverty, to the Mouraria, to singing on the streets while selling fruit, to being discovered in the fado houses and wooed into the world of professional performance and recording, and, ultimately, to living her life in a fog of saudade and permanent unhappiness which no amount of success or fame could shift. The extent to which the development of this persona was deliberate or accidental seems to matter less than the place she came to occupy in the Portuguese imagination.

Poster for A SeveraBy the time Amália took on the role of Maria Severa in a 1955 Lisbon production of Júlio Dantas’s play, she had already surpassed that early fadista in terms of myth and prominence, due mainly to the success she had achieved internationally. While fado had hardly been unknown outside Portugal previously, it had never reached the level of exposure given it by Amália. Now an international star, she found herself being offered ever increasing opportunities, from performances worldwide to cinema roles nationally and in France. She had also demonstrated a strong desire to explore beyond the limits of traditional fado. It had become increasingly popular for fado singers in the 1940s to move away from the rigidly structured verses of the earlier period towards a freer style based on the work of contemporary poets such as Frederico de Brito. In addition to these newer styles of fado canção, Amália recorded other non-fado and folk songs, as well as Spanish flamenco, Mexican rancheras, and French, English and Italian versions of Portuguese songs (most famously ‘Coimbra’, released in an Italian version under the same title and refashioned as ‘Avril au Portugal’ and ‘April in Portugal’ elsewhere). This explorative aspect of Amália’s approach to her music encouraged musicians and songwriters to approach her with new ideas and led to collaborations that were to have an enormous impact on the direction fado would take.

Amalia & Alain OulmanOn the musical side it is generally agreed, and was frequently admitted by Amália herself, that it was the collaboration with the pianist and composer Alain Oulman which brought about the most far-reaching revolution in her fado style. What Oulman brought to Amália’s work was an ability to break free of established fado styles though a sophisticated musical language, while maintaining a strong link with the essential elements that kept the music recognizable as fado. Amália would rehearse with Oulman at the piano and he would occasionally accompany her on her recordings alongside the time-honoured guitarra and viola. Oulman’s arrangements allowed a greater variety of poetic styles to be utilized for fado lyrics, a development first brought to the public’s attention on the 1962 album Asas Fechadas, popularly known as Busto after the bust of Amália which adorned the cover.

Cover of Busto / Asas FechadasOf the nine tracks on the album seven have music written by Oulman. The lyrics are provided by Rodrigues herself (the famous ‘Estranha Forma de Vida’) and by the poets Luís de Macedo, Pedro Homem de Melo and, mostly, David Mourão-Ferreira, whose 1960 collection À Guitarra e à Viola had been dedicated to Amália and contained the verses for ‘Aves Agoirentas’ ‘Madrugada de Alfama’, ‘Maria Lisboa’ and the political fado ‘Abandono’, all included on Busto.  Rodrigues and Oulman also collaborated on the work of less contemporary poets; 1965 saw the release of the EP ‘Amália Canta Camões’ and the album Fado Português, the former containing three adaptations of Portugal’s national poet, the latter harbouring one of the Camões pieces, as well as a cantiga de amigo credited to the medieval troubadour Mendinho, and the title song based on José Régio’s poem, alongside work by Mourão-Ferreira, Homem de Melo and Macedo.

The third track on Busto, ‘Estranha Forma de Vida’ [Strange Way of Life], was notable for having a lyric by Amália herself:

Coração independente
Coração que não comando
Vive perdido entre a gente
Teimosamente sangrando
Coração independente

[Independent heart
Heart that I don’t command
Living lost among the people
Stubbornly bleeding
Independent heart]

The fatalism of fado is easily located in this song about an uncontrollable heart, along with a sense of estrangement or disquiet, most notable perhaps in the line about living lost among the people. The lyric was coupled with music by Alfredo Marceneiro, the leading fadista of the pre-Amália period and, as with most Marceneiro compositions, the melody is relatively simple. The significance of the track lies predominantly in the bringing together of these two major figures of twentieth century fado, an event whose importance is underlined by the song’s appearance on Busto alongside the work of Mourão-Ferreira and Oulman, and in the way that the song, alongside Alberto Janes’s ‘Foi Deus’, became an autobiographical marker – what Roland Barthes might call a ‘biographeme’ – of Amália herself.

Tudo Isto É Fado

15 Apr

Another oft-quoted introduction to fado’s ontology is a song made famous by Amália Rodrigues entitled ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’ [All of This Is Fado], in which the narrator initially claims not to know what fado is before going on to list a number of its features: ‘defeated souls, lost nights, bizarre shadows in the Mouraria’. The list continues as it leads to the famous refrain: ‘Amor, ciúme / Cinzas e lume / Dor e pecado / Tudo isto existe / Tudo isto é triste / Tudo isto é fado’ [Love, jealousy / Ashes and fire / Sorrow and sin / All of this exists / All of this is sad / All of this is fado.].

The song can be heard here. The full lyrics can be found here.

Sonically, the song provides as good an introduction as any to fado, opening with the distinctive tinkle of the guitarra, leading into the interplay between guitarra and viola (the Portuguese name for the Spanish guitar which is the other main accompanying instrument in fado) and providing an excellent example of Amália’s art as, within the space of the first short verse, she displays her famous melisma (‘perguntaste-me’) and hovers majestically on the word ‘fado’. The song, originally recorded by Rodrigues at Abbey Road in 1952, became one of those on which her reputation as the ‘queen of fado’ would rest.

Cover of José Régio's Fado

Another example of fado’s desire to explain itself can be found in a book of poems entitled Fado, produced by José Régio in 1941. Its most famous poem ‘Fado Português’ recounts the maritime myth of fado’s origins, identifying the strong connection to the sea found in Portugal’s history and the loneliness of the mariner in the midst of the watery expanse. ‘Fado’, we are told, ‘was born … In the breast of a sailor / Who, feeling sad, sang’. Régio’s poem was, perhaps inevitably, set to music and became part of Amália’s repertoire. Amália’s version, with music by Alain Oulman, shortened and slightly reworded Régio’s original poem.

Amália’s version can be heard here. Régio’s poem can be found here.

Cover of Fado, Alma de um Povo

The maritime myth is taken to arguably its greatest extreme in Maria Luísa Guerra’s Fado, Alma de um Povo [Fado, Soul of a People], in which the music is presented as an ‘existential cry’ born of the loneliness of the high seas. One of the reasons for the popularity of the maritime origin of fado is the connection to Portugal’s proud seafaring past and its significant colonial endeavours. While one searches in vain in narratives such as Guerra’s for any proof that what we know now as fado really owes its existence to these sailors, the connection to the sea cannot be dismissed. Lisbon has been an important port for centuries and has been witness to the comings and goings of myriad cultures; most commentators agree that it is this mixing of cultural practices along the banks of the Tejo River that most likely gave birth to fado and that, contrary to the nationalist insistence on Portuguese purity, Brazilians and Africans most likely had some involvement in the process.

Whatever the shortcomings of descriptions which lean towards mythology, many are excellent at delineating the world of fado texts, the basis of fado poetics. One could do worse than consult the chapter titles of Mascarenhas Barreto’s Fado: Lyrical Origins and Poetic Motivation to gain an insight into what fado is: Saudade, Bullfighting, Places, Street Cries, Windows/Eyes/Kisses, Sailors, Jealousy, Guitarras, and Destiny are among his principle topics. Guerra, meanwhile, provides her own ‘thematic profile’ of fado: love, hate, shame, separation, hurt, sadness, despair, betrayal, destiny, disgrace, solitude, luck, travel, memory, anxiety, bitterness, fatalism, forgetting, politics, tears, hope, passion, happiness, the human condition, time, life, death, saudade and fado itself. (These words should, of course, be witnessed in their original language: amor, ódio, ciúme, separação, dor, tristeza, despedida, traição, destino, desgraça, solidão, sorte, viagem, lembrança, ansiedade, amargura, fatalismo, esquecimento, política, lágrimas, esperança, paixão, felicidade, condição humana, tempo, vida, morte, saudade, fado.

This seems an extensive list and one which might well be applied to other song genres. Certainly, as one works through it and through the ensuing pages that Guerra devotes to each of these themes, one wonders if there is anything that fado is not about; Guerra herself suggests that it represents a phenomenology of life. Yet the list is also specific enough to give a fairly good demarcation of the world of fado songs. I would wish to add at least the following to it: an obsession with the city of Lisbon; a sense of witnessing, carrying and unburdening, connected to a number of the emotions listed above; and the act of being a fadista. This latter is summed up in Artur Ribeiro’s ‘O Fado de Ser Fadista’ [The Fado/Fate of Being a Fadista ], in which fado is described as ‘everything that happens / When we laugh or cry / When we recall or forget / When we hate or love’.  The question of whether fado was happy or sad was also addressed – poetically, if indecisively – by the great modernist poet Fernando Pessoa:

All poetry – and song is an assisted poetry – reflects what the soul lacks. For this reason, the song of sad people is happy and the song of happy people is sad. Fado is neither happy nor sad. It is an episode of the interval … Fado is the weariness of the strong soul, the gaze of contempt that Portugal directs to the God in whom it believed and who abandoned it.

(This statement, much cited but rarely referenced, appeared in a piece Pessoa wrote for Notícias Ilustrado, published on 14 April 1929.)

Cover of Pinto de Carvalho's Historia do Fado

While it is possible to find accounts of fado dating back to the eighteenth century, and while writers such as Guerra have been keen to highlight an archaeology of fado discourse stretching even further, the debates described here are generally sourced from a number of works that have appeared in the twentieth century. In many ways, the fadology alluded to here can be said to have been born with the twentieth century for two important reasons. Firstly, the appearance of José Pinto de Carvalho’s history of fado in 1903 serves as a major source for subsequent histories and thus casts a giant shadow across the historiography of the genre. Secondly, and more controversially, in considering fado as a durable musical genre from the perspective of the twenty-first century, I suggest that fado, like so many musical genres we are now accustomed to, is an invention of the phonographic era. It is this era, and in particular its twentieth century formulation, that has ‘fixed’ musical styles and genres like no other before it, even as it has allowed for seemingly endless new experimentation, cross-genre fusion and deconstruction.

Label from a fado 78

The phonographic era has also led to the possibility to disseminate the music to a much wider audience than ever before. While English language descriptions of fado practice from the nineteenth century are invariably sourced from travel literature, and while twentieth century folklorists and ethnomusicologists have continued to provide accounts from the field, it has nevertheless been possible for many to indulge in the virtual tourism of experiencing fado via its mediation in films and recordings. This has created a desire for information about the music in languages other than Portuguese. A comprehensive fado history in English has yet to be completed, although Paul Vernon’s A History of the Portuguese Fado goes part of the way towards achieving this goal. Vernon’s work leans heavily on Rodney Gallop’s analysis of fado from the 1930s and is somewhat lacking in translations of subsequent Portuguese scholarship. To find other work on fado in English, it has been necessary to seek out scholarly articles in music encyclopaedias and general accounts in world music guidebooks, magazines and websites, although happily this situation is starting to change.