I have a confession: I have had a long love-affair (obsession) with world music. No matter whether it’s African, American, Asian, Australian, European, Indian or Middle Eastern, something special just seems to happen when the varied cultures of the world either musically express themselves in ways outside of the Western, rock-pop based norm, or adapt this norm to suit their own particular circumstances and backgrounds. You can imagine my surprise, then, when The Rough Guide to Fado Legends landed on my (metaphorical) desk, for contained within were gems I had been unaware of.
To put it simply and bluntly, Fado is the urban folk music of Portugal, emerging in the late 1820s from the poorer neighbourhoods of Lisbon, its songs filled with characters representing the vibrant and crowded waterfront city it came from: lonely sailors, underhanded criminals, abandoned wives and restless girlfriends, downtrodden prostitutes and greedy mercenaries and the occasional pirate.
To do it justice, however, all that needs to be said is that Fado will break your heart.
It is music of regret, of despair, of yearning, of resignation and melancholy, of the end of love and love unrequited. It is sad but it is rarely depressing, and is often surprisingly imbued with a kind-of optimistic acceptance. It is simple without being simplistic, something that is hard to pull off. More often than not, the men and women chosen for The Rough Guide to Fado Legends are accompanied by the subdued strumming of one or two Portuguese Guitarras (Portuguese Guitar, a 12-string instrument that sounds like a cross between a steel-string guitar, a mandolin and a bouzouki), and the effect is devastating – the rich voices of these Fado legends are pushed up-front, almost naked and overflowing with feeling. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in Antonio dos Santos’ “Minha Alma de Amor Sedenta’ (tracks nine). Its lazily plucked chords gently sit beneath dos Santos’ plaintive voice, a subtle constant that supports his honeyed tone. Every now and then, though, it fades away completely and dos Santos’ voice drops to a whisper, a whisper full of sadness and longing.
If the music contained within The Rough Guide to Fado Legends doesn’ move you, then I doubt anything will.