Tag Archives: Mouraria

Fado’s invisible cities

19 May
Mouraria 1932

Mouraria 1932

It may be the case that, as Svetlana Boym claims, ‘places in the city are not merely architectural metaphors; they are also screen memories for urban dwellers, projections of contested remembrances.’  However, I would also suggest that it is necessary to keep in play the relationship between these types of space. I believe that fado song texts allow us to think of the city as both context and symbol. Taking on the dual roles of character and stage, the city acts very much as it might in a photograph or film; the same shift of focus from the cityscape to the human life within the cityscape occurs in fados, photographs and films. With the numerous references to the old city – the lost city that was the victim of demolition and renovation – the fado text becomes a snapshot of the past, rendered in sepia and always in danger of fading from view, of failing to be fixed for posterity.

Italo Calvino uses the imagery of the postcard to illustrate the role of the remembered city and the problems it forces upon both visitors and inhabitants, who find themselves contemplating it from the location of the remoulded city. Calvino describes Maurilia, one of his ‘invisible cities’, thus:

In Maurilia, the traveler is invited to visit the city and, at the same time, to examine some old post cards that show it as it used to be: the same identical square with a hen in the place of the bus station, a bandstand in the place of the overpass, two young ladies with white parasols in the place of the munitions factory. If the traveler does not wish to disappoint the inhabitants, he must praise the postcard city and prefer it to the present one, though he must be careful to contain his regret at the changes within definite limits: admitting that the magnificence and prosperity of the metropolis Maurilia, when compared to the old, provincial Maurilia, cannot compensate for a certain lost grace, which, however, can be appreciated only now in the old post cards, whereas before, when that provincial Maurilia was before one’s eyes, one saw absolutely nothing graceful and would see it even less today, if Maurilia had remained unchanged; and in any case the metropolis has the added attraction that, through what it has become, one can look back with nostalgia at what it was.

(Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, p. 30.)

One reason the city can be a source of nostalgia is that, despite the history of appeals to a rural Arcadia, the city of the past only ever survives as a fragment of the city of the present and loss is always referenced. The city is never static but is always rebuilding itself; the longing for stasis that has so often been connected to the (falsely remembered, idealized) countryside can as easily be transferred to the (falsely remembered, idealized) city of the past. The longing that is felt is the desire to see through the palimpsest that is the modern city.

The Reconstruction of LisbonAs Michael Colvin suggests, fados that bemoan the destruction and mourn the loss of the old Mouraria also come to stand as witnesses of the lost city, not only in recordings but also in forming the points of reference and even source materials for scholarly works on fado, such as Colvin’s own discussion of the neighbourhoods ‘condemned to progress’ by the Estado Novo.  The parts of the lower Mouraria that were left, such as the sixteenth-century hermitage of Nossa Senhora da Saude, become fetishized as remainders of the past: ‘The hermitage’s anomolic condition, perched unscathed among unsophisticated shopping centres and cement fountains … has made it a symbol of tradition in a Lisbon compelled to modernization.’  Fado, meanwhile, can act as a subversive text when highlighting not only the lost past but the wrong decisions made about the future: ‘Gabriel de Oliveira’s “Há Festa na Mouraria” has inspired a subversive trend in the fado novo: the idealization of a pre-Republican Mouraria … as an alternative to the Estado Novo’s notion of progress’.  If we compare the Maurilia of Calvino’s work with the Mouraria of fado songwriters we find a similar obsession with the city of the past, albeit articulated rather differently. Where Calvino’s narrator warns against praising the old at the expense of the new, many of the fados discussed by Michael Colvin have taken Mouraria as their subject matter have taken the opposite view. (See Michael Colvin, ‘Gabriel de Oliveira’s “Há Festa na Mouraria” and the Fado Novo’s Criticism of the Estado Novo’s Demolition of the Baixa Mouraria’, Portuguese Studies, 20 (2004) and his book The Reconstruction of Lisbon.)

Here, the city becomes both ‘theatre of memory’ and museum. It is not a museum that demands the silent contemplation of a preserved site but a modern, interactive museum, more akin to a performance space, where, as Kimberly DaCosta Holton points out, the ‘occularcentrism’ of traditional anthropology has been converted into an appeal to all the senses.  Yet, while museums have developed methodologies to bring the object ever closer to a point of virtual reality, the Baudrillardian conquest of the signifier over the signified has yet to come about.  This is in large part due to the act of ‘roping off’ that provides the necessary borderline between viewer and viewed; this may entail literal ropes, or it may involve a border of another sort, be it the walls of the museum or the entrance gate to the theme park, or the recorded boundaries of a song.

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The Real City

7 May

Martim Moniz Square

Michael Colvin has narrated the story of the demolition of the lower Mouraria area undertaken by the city planners of the Estado Novo from the 1930s to the 1960s and the effect this had on fado and the fadistas who called this part of the city their home. Colvin begins The Reconstruction of Lisbon (2008) with a description of the void that was the lower Mouraria and is now the vast and soulless Martim Moniz Square. Having been lured to the area by the romance of fado song texts, he soon comes to realize the reality:

The ideological tug of war between the Estado Novo’s modernization of Lisbon and glorification of Portugal’s past is palpable in the Baixa Mouraria. Tradition, as anything but an abstract notion, has lost! Street names tell the stories of inhabitants long gone: the palm tree on Rua da Palma; the plumbing on Rua dos Canos; the butchery on Rua do Açougue … The Mouraria is rich in history and tradition archived in memory, however, in terms of architecture and urban planning, it is sad, decayed, abandoned, depressing.

(Michael Colvin, The Reconstruction of Lisbon: Severa’s Legacy and the Fado’s Rewriting of Urban History (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008), p. 11.)

The tale Colvin proceeds to tell is both a sobering one, in terms of decisions taken and the possibilities ignored by the developers, and a hopeful one, in that he finds a song tradition that has maintained the hopes and alternative futures of the past in a critical nostalgia that stubbornly refuses to let go. Fados have become stand-ins for the vanished architectural delights as the remembered city is restored in the lines of songs and the resonance of guitarras. José Galhardo and Amadeu do Vale’s ‘Lisboa Antiga’, recorded by Hermínia Silva in 1958, is a fado that once again feminizes the city, speaking of its beauty and declaring it a princess. An associative fado, it stakes its claim on nostalgia, asking its listeners to remember ‘Esta Lisboa de outras eras … das toiradas reais / Das festas, das seculares procissões / Dos populares pregões matinais / Que já não voltam mais’ [This Lisbon of other times … of the royal bullfights / Of the festivals, of the secular processions / Of the popular morning street cries / That will never come back].  Other songs, such as ‘Mataram a Mouraria’ [They Killed the Mouraria] were more explicitly political.

Taking Place (I)

5 May

For the city is a poem … but not a classical poem, not a poem centered on a subject. It is a poem which deploys the signifier, and it is this deployment which the semiology of the city must ultimately attempt to grasp and to make sing.

(Roland Barthes, ‘Semiology and Urbanism’, in The Semiotic Challenge, tr. Richard Howard (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), p. 201.)

We witness the advent of the number. It comes with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one.

(Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, tr. Steven Rendall (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), p. v.)

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Fado and the Place of Longing takes as one of its subjects the centrality of the city of Lisbon in fado texts. Fado, through the combination of word, music and gesture that has become solidified as the music’s style, performs place in a very particular way, summoning up a mythology that attempts to trace the remembered and imagined city of the past via a poetics of haunting. At the same time certain locales of the physical city present themselves as exhibits in a ‘museum of song’, offering up haunted melodies of a Portuguese sonic past that serves to assert the city’s identity.

The ubiquity of Lisbon’s presence in fado lyrics is exemplified by the song ‘Vielas de Alfama’ [Alleyways of Alfama], created by Artur Ribeiro and Maximiano de Sousa (commonly known as Max) in the middle of the twentieth century and revisited at the start of the twenty-first by Mariza on her album Fado Curvo (2003). The song hymns the eponymous alleyways of the ancient Alfama quarter and of ‘old Lisbon’, claiming ‘Não há fado que não diga / Coisas do vosso passado’ [There isn’t a fado / That doesn’t speak of your past]. At the close of the refrain, the singer wishes ‘Quem me dera lá morar / P’ra viver junto do fado’ [If only I could live there / To live close to the fado’]. A fado menor performed by Carlos do Carmo and his mother Lucília goes even further: ‘Não há Lisboa sem fado, não há fado sem Lisboa’ [There is no Lisbon without fado, no fado without Lisbon]. Whether referencing the city as a whole or one of the neighbourhoods most associated with the genre – Alfama, Mouraria, Bairro Alto and Madragoa – fado texts provide topographies of loss that place the city as either object of desire or lack or as backdrop to another lost, remembered or desired object.

Mouraria Mural

‘Fado Lisboa’ is a song that celebrates the city as a whole. It was originally performed by Ercília Costa (one of the great fado stars of the twentieth century) in a revista from 1939, O Canto da Cigarra. The song has also been performed by Lucília do Carmo under the title ‘Sete Colinas’, after the ‘seven hills’ of Lisbon. It has a distinctly royal tone and speaks of Lisbon as ‘casta princesa’ [chaste princess], going on to declare how beautiful the city must be ‘Que tens de rastos aos pés / A majestade do Tejo’ [That you have kneeing at your feet / The majesty of the Tejo]. As in many songs about Lisbon, the city is explicitly feminized. It also stresses Lisbon as a centre of empire, praising the discoverers who found ‘so many deserted lands’ and the heroes created in Madragoa, one of the historic quarters of Lisbon.

Severa Memorial‘É Noite na Mouraria’ [It’s Night in Mouraria], a fado performed by Amália Rodrigues and her sister Celeste, moves us toward a more particular location. Later recorded by Katia Guerreiro and Mísia, it is a typical ‘atmosphere’ song, listing a number of the mythemes we have come to expect from a fado narrative: the low sound of a guitarra, a fado being sung in a dark alleyway, the whistle of a boat on the Tejo, a passing ruffian. This fado works as a companion piece to the classic song of fado’s ontology, ‘Tudo Isto É Fado’; the delivery is not dissimilar, comparable mythemes are present, and there is a declaration in the song that ‘all is fado / all is life’. Mouraria is also represented in fados that mention the Rua da Capelão, linked forever to the name of Maria Severa and to the birth of modern fado. The most famous, ‘Rua do Capelão’ (with words by Júlio Dantas and music by Frederico de Freitas), places the street at the centre of the Severa story. The site of Severa’s house is now commemorated in a very Portuguese fashion, having its own dedicated pattern in the calçada, the white and black cobbled pavements found throughout Lisbon. At the entrance to the street there is also a monument to mark its place in history, consisting of a sculpture of a guitarra with the words ‘Birthplace of fado’ beside it. In this way, fado does not only reflect the city’s presence, but asserts its own presence in the city. One can, if one desires, use the Rua do Capelão as the start of a walking tour of the city solely based on fadistic associations, from the labyrinth of Mouraria’s streets up the slopes surrounding the Castelo de São Jorge to the neighbourhoods of Alfama, Graça and Madragoa.

Severa calçada

Lucília do Carmo can again be our guide to Madragoa when she sings, in a fado named after the neighbourhood, of the Madragoa ‘of the bakers and fish sellers / Of tradition’. This is the ‘Lisbon that speaks to us / From another age’.  The verse of this fado utilizes an associative turn of phrase common to a number of ‘city fados’; another associative fado, ‘Ai Mouraria’ speaks of ‘the Mouraria of nightingales under the eaves’, ‘of pink dresses’, and ‘of Severa’.  These associations have a similar function to the texts written by the authors of the ‘I remember’ school, evoking both personal and collective memories. The ‘Mouraria of processions’ is also the Mouraria associated with the object of the singer’s affections: both are now gone.

Alfama doorway

Zooming in still further, we encounter the alleyway, an unavoidable feature of the neighbourhoods surrounding the Castle. Alleyways are both places of intimacy (as in ‘Vielas de Alfama’ where they are ‘kissed by the moonlight’) and transgression (like the alleyway in Júlio Dantas’s A Severa). In the fado ‘A Viela’ (‘The Alleyway’), we meet a ‘typical’ character walking from alleyway to alleyway and encountering a ‘lost woman’ there.  The fado was recorded by Alfredo Duarte, better known as ‘Marceneiro’ after the name of his trade (joiner). Born in 1891, Marceneiro had a closer connection than many to fado’s past by the time he was officially ordained the ‘king of fado’ in 1948. For many he was the living embodiment of the tradition, a castiço singer who, while born in the phonographic era, did not seem part of it. Indeed, Marceneiro was deeply suspicious of recordings; his true home was in the fado houses of Lisbon, where, from the mid-century onwards, he was considered a living legend. If, as Rodney Gallop had suggested in the 1930s, one had to go a club such as the Luso to hold the fado ‘surely in one’s grasp’, then one could look for no better guardian than Marceneiro. A regular at the Luso, he transcended the venue, connecting back to a time before the forced professionalization of fado performance. Marceneiro, then, is associated with the city not only because of fados like ‘A Viela’, but also in his very being, an authentic fadista who sang about the city, was mainly known in the city, and who represented the city (or a certain image of it) more than the cosmopolitan Amália. Much the same could be said for Fernando Farinha, with whom Marceneiro collaborated on occasion (most notably on the fado ‘Antes e Depois’). Farinha, known as the ‘Miúdo da Bica’ [Kid from Bica] after the neighbourhood in which he lived, sang mainly of his life and the city he lived in. Farinha was not averse to recording, however, nor to appearing in films, such as the one that bears his nickname. His most famous recording, ‘Belos Tempos’, is rich with nostalgia and describes a desire to go back to the time of Maria Severa. Like Severa, Farinha’s presence is marked in the city itself, on a plaque in Bica, the neighbourhood he helped to make famous.

Cover of "Cancao de Lisboa"We might say, then, that the discourse surrounding Marceneiro and Farinha is one rich with ‘authenticity work’.  This work is done through ceaseless reminders of the connection between the performer and the neighbourhood/city; Farinha is ‘do povo’ but also ‘da Bica’, ‘de Lisboa’ and, ultimately, ‘do fado’. From this position he could then make claims to the city and its music, as he did throughout his career. Marceneiro was a similarly ‘ordained’ commentator on the city, as can be heard on his version of Carlos Conde’s ‘Bairros de Lisboa’, where the city’s presence is introduced by the framing device of a walk through its streets. The verses, sung as a duet with Fernanda Maria, present a sort of competition between various neighbourhoods as to which is most relevant to fado:  Campo de Ourique is the most elevated, Alfama is the most famous, the most fadista and maritime, Mouraria evokes the most nostalgia, Bairro Alto is praised for its inhabitants, Madragoa for its youthful optimism. In the end, there is a realization that the city should not be reduced to its parts: ‘Why go any further / If Lisbon is all beautiful / And Lisbon is our neighbourhood!’

But, as is no doubt clear from many of the lyrics quoted above, the Lisbon being spoken about in many fados is a city of the past. If, having read the inscription on the monument at the entrance to the Rua do Capelão, we turn around and face the opposite direction, this city of the past quickly vanishes.