Portuguese music genre fado has been granted World Heritage status.
Voted "Heritage of Humanity" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), fado is recognized in the declaration as a unique musical expression of great cultural and social significance, the heritage of which is to be safeguarded for future generations.
Patrons listening to Fado at Senhor Vinho — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt PhotoOften described as Portugal’s version of the blues, fado interprets saudade, an emotional, heartfelt yearning that is sung over mellow, plaintive guitars. Melancholy remains ingrained in the Portuguese psyche, and Lisbon’s profoundest passions and sorrows are expressed by fado, the haunting strains of which can be heard throughout the city.
A potent symbol of identity, fado is performed as often by women as men, always accompanied by the viola, an acoustic Spanish guitar, and the guitarra, a 12-string instrument shaped, rather aptly, like a teardrop.
This sentimental and often poignant expression of longing has been played out in Lisbon’s back-street cafés and restaurants for nearly 200 years, and an evening of fado is a wonderful way to absorb this most beguiling and seductive of musical styles.
Some of the city’s best fado houses are situated in the Alfama neighbourhood. Clube de Fado, run by renowned guitarist Mário Pacheco, is one of the most authentic venues. Attracting top singers like Maria Ana Bobone and Rodrigo Costa Félix, its reputation is such that the guest list is equally illustrious – Mariza, Portugal’s most famous fado singer, is a regular patron, and Richard Branson and Neil Armstrong are among the celebrities who have wined and dined here. Alfama is also home to another excellent fado restaurant, Parreirinha de Alfama. Owned by fadista Argentina Santos, this cosy and rustic establishment is also known for its genuine renditions and excellent cuisine.
On the other side of town tucked away in the smart Lapa district is the highly regarded Senhor Vinho. Artists such as António Zambujo and Joana Amendoeira sing under a wood-beamed ceiling enclosed by walls decorated with antique coach lamps and ceramic objets d’art. The atmosphere is formal but friendly. Wine connoisseurs will appreciate the wine list at this distinguished restaurant.
Hot Tip: for the most part, fado aficionados should avoid the plethora of restaurants in Bairro Alto. Most of these places cater to large tourist groups and the obligatory food and wine is of average equality, though the music will still impress. The exception is Café Luso. Built into the cellars of a 17th-century former manor house, this historic venue has played host to the greatest of them all, the late lamented Amália Rodrigues, who was the leading exponent of the genre for over 50 years. She would be so proud that UNESCO is singing fado’s praise.